While the search continues for a new tenant to anchor the north end of the Third Street Promenade following the exit of Barnes & Noble, the local business district has launched a new concept to attract families to that stretch of the street.
Boldly painted Adirondack chairs, AstroTurf “lily pads,” selfwatering planters and spinning top chairs now pepper the 1200 block of the Promenade, inviting visitors to sit, rest and soak up some sunshine further away from one of Southern California’s biggest tourist attractions – The Santa Monica Pier.
“The whole tone and vibe has changed. It’s been remarkable and very well received,” said Downtown, Santa Monica,
Inc.’s CEO Kathleen Rawson. The 1200 block is the least popular end of the walking district, generating less than half
as many annual impressions than the 1400 block, which is adjacent to Santa Monica Place and steps away from The Pier (6.4 million impressions versus 14.2 million, according to DTSM’s annual report).
“It’s just so beautiful and the chairs are super comfortable,” said Spozhmi Zarifi, who has worked at the nearby Chase Bank branch for two decades. Zarifi said she recently brought her family to enjoy the chairs and game of corn hole.
The former Barnes & Noble will not be empty for long, a wellness-centered shared working space founded by a former We Work executive has claimed the top two floors.
Rawson confirmed Friday that Starbucks will open a coffee shop on the first floor.
That still leaves a significant bulk on the ground floor of 1201 Third Street Promenade empty amid a challenging retail landscape, as more shoppers buy goods online. The former bookstore tenant was hit hard by the so-called “retail apocalypse,” struggling to compete with e-readers and Amazon.
Barnes & Noble is not the only national chain to shutter stores in Santa Monica.
Total taxable sales on the Promenade fell 2.9 percent last year to $472 million. Overall, restaurants make up the bulk of spending downtown (31 percent) over apparel (20 percent) and department stores (15 percent). Occupancy is down four percent on the Promenade.
As landlords seek new kinds of tenants, the DTSM’s experiment seeks to meet the needs of visitors, locals and nearby employees. On Friday, a 30-year resident felt out a song on the keys of the north end’s new piano.
“You just go by the rhythm,” said Solomon Turner, who had rested his guitar on top of the instrument when he sat down to make up a song and take in the tranquil scene. He was enjoying the piano and the weather, but said he wished the city would do more to care for the homeless. There are more people sleeping on Santa Monica streets than at any other time since the city began keeping track.
Rawson recently brokered a deal between volunteers who offered a weekly vegan meal service on the block and the
Salvation Army to move the service indoors and off the north end of the street.
Mayor Ted Winterer told the Daily Press there was concern the weekly line-up of homeless people waiting for a meal was a deterrent to business owners considering replacing Barnes & Noble.
While a few of those homeless residents rested on the blue and green lawn chairs recently, the rest of the space seemed occupied by local workers and shoppers taking a break. Rawson said she’s seen nursing mothers, seniors and young families use the chairs throughout the week.
She said the furniture is there to stay for now and looks forward to hearing more feedback from the community.

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press

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