"I about had a heart attack,” says Carrie Moore.
The once bustling Wednesday afternoon Carlsbad Farmers Market has re-opened with a fraction of its former clientele. “We don’t know if or when we will ever get back to those [packed] days at the market,” says Christine Davis executive director of the Carlsbad Village Association which oversees the 26-year-old attraction. “We are down from 52 vendors to 30 due to the mandatory spacing between booths.”
Dormant for two months due to the pandemic, commerce in Carlsbad’s downtown Village business district revived as Garcia’s Mexican restaurant was one of the first restaurants in North County to implement the parklet when Vigilucci’s Cucina Italiana and Mas Fina Cantina re-opened. But the owner of two different State Street restaurants says Covid-19 has brought dire consequences to his eateries and he’s asking the city of Carlsbad for some intervention to keep his restaurants afloat.
Carlsbad Farmer's Market before pandemic. “We don’t know if or when we will ever get back to those days."
Owner John Resnick operates Campfire and Jeune et Jolie, both on State Street. Last November, after being open less than a year, the French cuisine Jeune Et Jolie was named one of the 26 best restaurants in San Diego by Conde Nast Traveler.
“I am incredibly concerned for my two businesses and the 132 amazing people we employ,” Resnick told the Carlsbad city council in a letter. “Restaurants are particularly vulnerable,” because, he says, eateries often have small dining areas and “…margins are extremely thin...Time is of the essence.” He proposed two different ideas for the city to consider.
One is for restaurants to be allowed to have food and beverage service in their parking lots. The other more controversial idea has fellow State Street business owners talking: “I believe it would be in the city’s interest to temporarily convert [State Street] to a pedestrian thoroughfare for the summer.”
Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant was one of the first restaurants to implement the parklet.
Resnick apparently has influence. The city of Carlsbad is currently polling business owners and residents on State Street asking them if they would like all or part of their street to be closed to vehicles and open only for pedestrians. The plan to eliminate cars could impact just the 40 businesses on the one block area of used for the Farmer’s market (between Grand Avenue and Carlsbad Village Drive), or be expanded to include the entirety of the mile-long street.
“When I heard about it, I about had a heart attack,” says Carrie Moore, co-owner of the Trove Marketplace, an indoor emporium of some 70 different vendors. “It doesn’t work for me.” She says she understands the plan was connected with Councilmember Cori Schumacher’s overarching plan to bring a trolley system to Carlsbad. “If you want a village full of restaurants, then I guess it might work.” But Moore says a pedestrian-only State Street endangers stores that sell furniture or other large items. “Are they trying to destroy us?”
Vigilucci’s Cucina Italiana re-opened.
“It will handicap all businesses on this street except restaurants,” says Skylar Ireton, whose namesake Skylar’s Home and Patio is next door to the Trove Marketplace. Besides, he says, the city is still avoiding the major issue facing businesses in the downtown village area: a lack of parking. “I’ve been here for ten years and the city keeps saying they are going to build parking structures. But nothing ever gets done. They keep adding businesses but they never address the parking problem.”
Trove Marketplace’s Moore agrees. She says taking away parking is exactly the opposite of what the city of Carlsbad should be doing. “I have had people tell me they drove around the block four times before finally just giving up. They keep saying to use the train station parking but when everything gets back up and running again that fills up.”
Handel's handmade ice cream. "50 people lined up waiting for ice cream."
Davis says she was asked by the city of Carlsbad to poll State Street stakeholders about how they feel about banning cars on State Street. “A better word for it is ‘pedestrianization.’ ” She did not go into specifics about what she found. “It was very mixed,” she says about her polling results. “State Street is a unique mix of retail, restaurants, office suites and service businesses.” She admits that a car-less street is better for restaurants than furniture shops. “I’m sure there are some businesses that would not be happy. I think that the ones that look at it bringing in more foot traffic do see it as a benefit.”
Davis points out that Santa Monica has seen success with its pedestrian mall. “It is my understanding that Encinitas is looking into it as well.”
She says the business in Carlsbad's Village is booming. “There’s not much vacancy at all.” Davis notes that Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant was one of the first restaurants in North County to implement the parklet or curb café concept that allows the restaurant’s serving area to expand to a patio built on the street. “Now Vigilucci’s has done it.” She says that same spirit of city/business cooperation is guiding this current drive to help restaurants in the Coronavirus era.
David Graham is chief innovation officer for the city of Carlsbad. He says at this time it does not seem like the State Street businesses or the city council have reached a decision. “We don’t yet have a consensus.” He says the city will continue to poll the State Streeters not yet contacted by the Carlsbad Village Association. It is expected the Carlsbad city council will revisit the pedestrianization of State Street in June.
Cindy Wright of Mulloys Fine Jewelry does not want to close State Street to traffic. “I don’t think it will help. As it is, the farmer’s market kills our business every Wednesday.”
Will Lerner is a bartender at the Village Pub, one of Carlsbad’s oldest businesses. “I’m thinking it’s a really good idea. If you want to call it a village, then let’s make it a village and give people the freedom to roam.” He says the diagonal parking in front of his bar is dangerous. “I’ve seen a lot of near misses.” Lerner says Carlsbad locals who complain about no parking say it's much worse in San Diego neighborhoods, “Where you can drive around for an hour and never find a spot.”
Lerner says he does not know when his own Village Pub will reopen since his tiny landmark bar does not serve food.
Mas Fina Cantina employee Eric Beaumont is not a fan of a pedestrian-only State Street, or civic master-planning in general. “I hate the part of Mission Avenue in Oceanside that is one-way only.”
Skylar Ireton’s furniture store is across the street from a business that he says will thrive with or without traffic, with or without a pandemic. He says Handel's handmade ice cream has a line down the block throughout most of the day. “I remember on March 20, which was right after the lockdown started, they had 50 people lined up waiting for ice cream. The line never stops.”