Some merchants oppose Commercial St. plan
Some merchants want to see the brakes put on proposal to close this block of Commercial Street to vehicle traffic on weekends.
A proposal to close a section of Commercial Street to vehicular traffic on weekends is in a holding pattern by organizers caught up with a busy summer workload. Other merchants, meanwhile, are starting to question the merits of such a project.
Several worry that closing the street from the former Bank of America parking lot to the intersection of North Pine Street on weekends is a risky idea at a time when the downtown economic climate is inching its way to recovery.
Though the proposal has yet to be sent to Nevada City hall, Mayor Duane Strawser said he has heard from at least four major or established business owners in the boardwalk zone who don’t support the idea and have told him that the proposal could impact their business volume in a negative way.
Greg Cook, owner of Friar Tuck’s on the corner of North Pine and Commercial streets, told the Nevada City Advocate that closing the street on weekends could jeopardize his business.
He is concerned the move would make it more difficult for senior citizens and those with mobility issues to get dropped off for dinner.
For 38 years, Cook has owned and operated Friar Tuck’s, making him the longest running restaurant owner in Nevada City.
He believes that closing the streets to vehicles is a big-city idea that will upset traffic flow important to regular business while altering the town’s ambiance.
“My main concern is that it changes the look of the town,” said Cook, calling the plan “dangerous.”
“We just need to be really, really careful not to do anything radical,” he said.
Josh Orman, co-owner of Clavey Vineyards, said he helped draft the “Commercial Street Experience” with the intention of enhancing commerce in an area plagued with criminal activity and nuisance behavior problems centered at the town’s pilot boardwalk project.
Some locals are responding favorably to the idea.
“It would be friendlier for pedestrians. I think it would be positive,” said Ken Zeff of Chicago Park on a recent morning as he walked the sidewalk of Commercial Street with friends.
“Then you don’t have to be concerned about getting run over,” he added.
A number of hurdles accompany street closures. Besides legal concerns, such a project could require input from the Chamber of Commerce, Public Works, Police Department and City Engineer along with traffic and Planning Commission studies and citizen polls.
Orman said he sees potential in a pedestrian-friendly boulevard in front of his downtown tasting room, similar to cities like San Francisco and London.
He envisions merchants bringing tables for food and drink out into the street.
In theory, it’s a lovely idea, but brings up many issues, said Lorri Flores, Nevada City resident and owner of Pete’s Pizza on Commercial Street.
She says she doesn’t want to squash the community spirit behind the plan and sees the potential but she is curious about who will pay for the tables, move and store them, and wonders how they will sit level on a sloping street.
“To me there’s just a ton of question marks,” she said.
With the boardwalk located directly in front of her business in what used to be parking spaces, Flores said she can’t afford to lose anymore parking. Closing the street to vehicles will upset important truck deliveries on Friday and weekend produce shipments, she said.
With a new police chief in town and a stepped up level of law enforcement, Flores says behavior problems have improved although they haven’t gone away on the boardwalk.
Flores said there are still open drug deals, smoking that’s “out of control,” and a culture of disrespect that have driven some patrons away from Commercial Street altogether.
Closing the street, she said, may encourage an unwanted element and put more pressure on already taxed business owners to police their outdoor tables. She and other merchants, meanwhile, continue to pick up cigarette butts and other debris from the boardwalk daily.
“I can’t imagine me being anymore responsible than I already am,” Flores said.
With the summer growing season in full swing, vineyard manager and winemaker Orman has his hands full with his family’s Chicago Park vineyard and new tasting room. He has had to put his Nevada City street proposal on hold for now, but says it’s still on the to-do list.
It’s a project meant for the community, and he wants to work together with Commercial Street merchants so the idea doesn’t “lose steam.”
“I’m willing to explore options to get the project going,” he said.
Contact reporter Laura Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401-4877.