Businesses on Burlingame Avenue are hoping free parking and appearances by Saint Nicholas will spark spirited spending among shoppers this holiday season.
The upcoming holidays will be the first big test for the area’s newly created, controversial business improvement district. Board members have been working furiously in recent weeks to organize promotions that they hope will draw people downtown.
“We’re trying to do everything we can right out of the gate to make it a success, make everyone feel good about it,” said Melissa Cutter, owner of the Les Deux Copines women’s clothing boutique and a member of the district’s board.
The kick-off will be the city’s annual tree-lighting ceremony at City Hall on Dec. 3, though businesses decided to cancel the accompanying holiday parade on Burlingame Avenue because many felt the street closures were too disruptive, Cutter said.
Instead, the district is sponsoring a children’s play area with activities and live music, and a Santa Claus appearance at a nearby bookstore. The city has also agreed to make the metered parking lots free from 3 to 6 p.m. on Dec. 3 and the three following Thursdays, which will also feature Santa Claus events.
The district agreed to chip in $3,000 to cover the estimated loss of $7,000 in meter and parking fine revenue, and hopes the free parking combined with longer store hours, streetscape decorations and seasonal specials will help keep struggling businesses afloat.
“The way it’s going for some retailers, this may be a make-or-break holiday season for them,” said Dale Ferrel, president of the district’s board and owner of the Paper Caper store, “so we really want to be there for our members to try to increase their business.”
An October survey from the National Retail Federation found U.S. consumers plan to spend $688.87 on holiday-related shopping this year, up slightly from last year’s $681.83.
Cutter said the board is listening to suggestions from merchants, many of whom opposed the district before the city council approved it in September. The city received 216 official protests from merchants, though not all of them were valid.
Ferrel estimated the district is spending about $20,000 on holiday events — a significant chunk of the district’s projected $90,000 in annual revenue, which Ferrel said shows how important the holiday shopping season is.
“They are focused on bringing people downtown and getting all of the members of the district happy with the holidays, seeing some benefits from it,” said Patricia Love, the city’s economic development director.