There’s an eerie quiet hanging in the air on Main Street with over 35 retail spaces advertised for lease, according to a Daily Press count.
As businesses enter the 10th month of the pandemic, remaining merchants face an uphill battle with 25 percent restrictions on retail capacity alongside the loss of outdoor dining and associated foot traffic.
Local business association leaders believe the area will bounce back to a vibrant commercial center when restrictions ease. The reopening of outdoor dining on Friday will certainly help. But for many businesses the question is, will it be enough?
“We are really struggling, we used to have a very steady flow of traffic all the time. The second shutdown definitely hurt us a lot. Now it’s good to even see five people coming into the store in one day,” said Joshua Jackson Wilson, one of two remaining employees at The Closet Trading Company.
Many stores appear closed but are actually ‘on pause’ as they await the return of outdoor dining, lease renegotiations, government relief, or easing of restrictions. This further decreases the number of visitors in the area and has a knock-on effect for businesses that remain open.
“The biggest thing is the restaurants closing because now there’s no foot traffic to speak of. There’s also a problem with vacancies on both sides of my store which further hampers my sales,” said Linda Oppenheim, Owner of Arts & Letters.
Even without counting temporary closures, Main Street has suffered major casualties including the loss of 41-year-old institution Enterprise Fish Co, the closure of large Coffee Bean and Muji stores, and the shutdown of small boutiques like Mohawk, Bollman Hats, and Pamela Barish.
For the businesses keeping their doors open, survival is measured day-by-day.
“It’s extremely difficult to stay open. We’ve maybe seen a 40 percent decrease in clientele since outdoor dining closed,” said Matthieu Thouvard, Owner of The Place to Be bakery. “I’m here at 2:30 a.m. every day to bake everything fresh. At the end of the day, I’m giving lots of leftovers to shelters, but I would prefer to sell them, because I’m working very early for not so much money.”
The Main Street Business Improvement Association and Ocean Park Association believe outdoor dining will be the biggest driver of short-term economic recovery and are developing plans to reopen and expand Main Street’s Al-Fresco program.
“We were one of the first places in LA to get outdoor dining and that’s because as soon as the shutdown happened, we immediately knew exactly what the remedy was going to be not just for restaurants, but also for the general liveliness of the street,” said MSBIA Executive Director Hunter Hall.
MSBIA’s proposed ‘Al-Fresco 2.0’ program would close certain restaurant dense blocks of Main Street Friday through Sunday and allow restaurants to spread tables out into the street. This would increase both the number of tables available and distance between diners.
In the immediate future the two associations are emphasizing actions individuals can take to support merchants.
“It comes down to what we can do day-to-day to help in little ways that add up to a lot: pick up your order yourself because more of the revenue will go to the restaurateur, leave a good tip, tell your friends to shop local,” said OPA President Marc Morgenstern.
While current conditions are dire, Morgenstern and Hall said they believe Main Street will recover in time and remain a bustling and diverse business district.
Hall, who has extensive disaster management experience, said that in the long-term there will be benefits that come from the extreme economic challenges of the pandemic.
“The businesses that do survive will emerge better poised, stronger, with a way better handle on how to deal with financial adversity,” said Hall. “For all the businesses that have closed, there’s probably a greater number of businesses looking to get a foothold. There’s been more lease activity in the past nine months than I’ve seen on Main Street in the past nine years.”