A plan to close a block off Vernon’s Main Street again this summer has sparked mixed feelings among area businesses.
The city closed the 2900 block of 30th Avenue to vehicles last summer to create a pedestrian plaza. Touted as a way to help businesses after a year and a half of COVID-19, the closure has allowed businesses to move additional seating outside, with events designed to draw people to the area on foot.
Plans are underway to repeat the closure this summer from July 1 to September 5. The Board will vote on whether to approve the idea in principle at its next meeting on Monday, April 25.
But first, the council will hear from John Harker – owner of the Raven Traders pawn shop in the 2900 block – to express his concerns.
“When there’s a major shutdown for a few months, it becomes a financial burden,” Harker said. He added that the shutdown was costing his business about $1,000 per month.
When asked why he thought the closure resulted in financial loss, Harker pointed to traffic disruption and the temporary loss of about 20 main parking spaces.
He said the city had agreed to leave open parking in the alley next to his business.
“But even with (alley parking) you take away 21 prime parking spots, it will affect everyone downtown,” he said. “And when you remove that traffic, it kills business.”
The city said it found “general support” for a closure this year in a survey of 30th Avenue businesses conducted by the Downtown Vernon Association, but Harker disputes the survey, saying there were businesses to whom he had talked about who hadn’t even heard about it after the fact.
The Morning Star spoke to 10 businesses at street level on the main block, as well as the block immediately to the west. Six of them were in favor of the closure, three were against and one was split in two, with one co-owner being for and the other against. In general, restaurants and cafes were more strongly in favor of closing than businesses outside the food industry.
Representing the team’s pedestrian square, Tanneke Oordt, owner of the Thirty One & Main boutique, pointed out that heat waves and nearby wildfires that rained ash on the town likely hampered the popularity of instead last summer.
In addition to supporting the closure, Oordt would like to see it expanded by an additional block or two.
“I would really like to see this block included,” she said. “I would like to see even a Saturday morning farmer’s market here. I think it would be a success.
Oordt says parking is not an issue in his mind; there’s plenty of parking elsewhere in the city center, and part of the beauty of the idea is getting people to walk around.
“I’m very supportive, and I think it would be good if we made it a bit more European.”