Sara Berns, executive director of Discover PB, the business improvement district, noted retail is struggling locally and nationally with online shopping and rising costs on goods, labor and rents.
“For various reasons, [success] is harder, particularly here in PB,” Berns said. “People shop for experience over necessity, which is why we are focused on Garnet Avenue Vision, and making Garnet a more complete street with space for events (like the Farmers Market), place-making, public gathering and increasing foot traffic that creates an environment for browsing.”
Two ideas previously vetted in PB, a Garnet Vision Plan and a Better Block Concept, are being revived and reconsidered as alternative strategies for luring customers to shop on Garnet.
The Better Block project is a demonstration tool that rebuilds an area to show the positive impact of creating a more walkable, vibrant neighborhood center. Berns said the idea would be to take one block, say Garnet between Mission Boulevard and Bayard Street, and implement concepts from the Garnet Vision to improve the shopping experience.
In 2011, about the time the ecodistrict was being formed in PB, several public meetings were also held to get community input on how the business district shopping experience might be improved.
“Part of that, was looking at opportunities with the new Mid-Coast Trolley Corridor,” said Berns. “We had a bunch of community forums, town halls and charettes to come up with Garnet Vision, concepts and ideas on mobility and connectivity.”
Berns said research revealed Mission Boulevard acted like a “moat” dividing beachgoers from the business district.
“One of the things we kept coming up with is that people at the beach need places to eat, buy flip-flops or a towel, but there was no direction into the business district,” said Berns.
Berns said the issue then became, “How do you funnel people driving to the beach into our side streets and inside our stores to pick up on that foot traffic?"
“We looked at Garnet, that already had a very high pedestrian- and bike-riding rate, and what could we do to make it a more complete street, to make sure pedestrians and bike-riders have an equal experience with cars, focusing on mobility and connectivity,” Berns said. “How do we move people west-east and vice versa, to and from the beach.
“You do that by adding bike safety infrastructure (markings, separated lanes), making Garnet one-way (street), widening the sidewalks without losing parking and making it more safe for people on the sidewalks,” Berns said.
The ultimate goal, added Berns, would be to create a more complete Garnet Avenue that gives an equal experience to cyclists and pedestrians.
“If Garnet were one-way, you could have wider sidewalks, clearer crosswalks, (traffic calming) bulb outs at intersections to make it safer for pedestrians to cross the street, more green lanes and buffered areas for bikes and reversed diagonal parking (cars backing in improving visibility),” she said.
While the way in which people shop is rapidly changing, there's still a place for proven business models, noted Berns, suggesting how brick-and-mortar retail operates needs to be tweaked — not abandoned.
“Retail, which is dependent on foot traffic, is tough and hospitality and retail feed off each other,” she said. “But you don't go to Garnet because you need to buy a suit. You go to Garnet because you want to experience a day out shopping.”
Berns said the objective would be to readjust the shopping experience to be had on Garnet Avenue.
“We want to create an experience where people who want to go out and have lunch, can then walk around and window shop and wander into stores,” she said. “People want activity. They want events to bring them out to shop.”