SILVER CITY – An evolving strategy to help encourage Silver City area residents to come out and support downtown businesses while still observing the restrictions set out by the state’s COVID-19 emergency public health orders might be gaining some traction.
Operation Love Local is the name of the event, which saw part of Bullard Street closed for most of the day Friday through Sunday recent weekends. The first weekend, the street was closed off at 10 a.m. and then promptly reopened at 8 p.m. – no matter whether people were still seated outside. It saw a smaller turnout than the weekend of June 12, when officials reopened the street with a more gentle touch around 9 p.m.
Some business owners blamed a lack of marketing for the relatively small turnout, while others blamed it on hot weather that made hanging out on the blacktop less appealing than catching some shade out by the Gila River, for example.
“You can clean your house, buy the drinks, make the food – but if you throw a party without inviting anybody? Nobody will come,” said Jim Druffel, who with his wife, Tatiana Kurakin, runs an art and antiques business downtown. “You’ve got to get the word out. This is like hitchhiking in your own backyard.”
As a matter of fact, on Saturday there was a small crew filming a video for Silver City MainStreet’s Facebook page to help promote the downtown reopening.
“We’re creating a video with the town, Silver City MainStreet and the Silver City Grant County Chamber of Commerce, in order to market the Grant County reopening,” said Charmeine Wait, executive director of Silver City MainStreet.
Kurakin and Druffel both said that in addition to what they considered basically ineffective social media- and radio-focused marketing efforts on MainStreet’s part, the lack of signage and the presence of orange traffic barrels and “ROAD CLOSED” signs placed at either end of the street were unappealing.
“It looks like they’re going to dig something up,” Kurakin said.
Charles Hubbard came from Hurley to “support the populace,” precisely because he is a radio listener, however.
“I was listening to 950 AM, and – I’m a Rush (Limbaugh) fan, you see – they were advertising that the street would be closed. I’m going to talk to them about putting up signs, though, that say ‘park and come in.'”
Gary Menely was visiting Silver City from his home in Show Low, Arizona.
“This is a regular trip we do about once a year,” he said. “We stay at the Drifter every time, and when we went to eat at Jalisco (Cafe on Friday) night, we saw the street was closed, and thought we would come check it out.
“I need to get some of that ice cream before we go back,” he added.
Operation Love Local’s street closure was intended to foster more outdoor seating capacity for restaurants and provide a large open space for families and friends to mingle while social distancing, and visit shops and any booths that business owners might set up outside.
The Tatiana Maria Gallery definitely had an unusually high number of visitors, its owners said – although that didn’t necessarily translate to an increase in sales.
Under the most recent public health order, restaurants are only allowed to seat 50% of their fire-code capacity, while retail businesses may only allow customers up to 25% of their stores’ capacity inside their doors at one time.
The street closure treads a fine line between encouraging people to come downtown to a relatively small area and still abiding the state prohibition on mass gatherings.
Only a few businesses set up outside in the street, but kids, in particular, seemed to really like the closure, and anyone without an ice cream cone in their hand looked out of place. The Pretty Sweet Emporium had a line waiting to get inside to purchase ice cream for at least part of Saturday afternoon.
Little Toad Creek Brewery and Distillery set up a fenced-in seating area within which folks could order alcoholic beverages and food, in accordance with town codes and state law. It wasn’t pretty, but it was popular – adults seemed to enjoy the novelty of the street closure as much as kids did, or almost as much.
“You don’t have to look around everywhere for cars every time you go in the street,” said 8-year-old Astrid Eagle. “It’s more fun – we can do whatever we want.”
Skateboarders and bicyclists cruised up and down Bullard Street throughout the day Saturday. The closed-off section probably hosted around 75 or so families, couples and friends in pods of two to five people populating it at around 3 p.m. At least one restaurant had a social-distancing-appropriate musical act scheduled for the evening – a solo performance. Sunday appeared to be a less popular day to come downtown, but the weather was nice and not too sunny all three days.
Businesses that had been closed for months under the governor’s shutdown orders, like the Pink Store and the Silver City Book Shop, had foot traffic galore. A.J. Tow, who owns Twin Sisters Cycling and Fitness, said he can hardly keep up with demand lately for the bicycles, skateboards and accessories that he sells – but that wasn’t thanks to the street closure.
“I did put some stuff in the street, and sold everything,” he said. “But anything bike or outdoor activity related is selling like crazy right now. Manufacturers are sold out! I had a kid come up from Las Cruces to pick up a mountain bike, because he called 20 other shops and they were all sold out. And now, there’s getting to be a bike parts shortage; and there are no helmets. Short-board trucks are completely sold out.”
Tow’s primary complaint about the promotion was a technical one.
“I don’t mind the street closure, but Friday is when the town picks up our cardboard recycling, usually, so that wasn’t ideal,” he said.
MainStreet and Silver City officials planned to meet last week and decide whether to continue their experiment, according to Town Manager Alex Brown. One complaint that several businesses had was that the town and MainStreet seemed to decide to close the street in an effort to help local businesses, but did so without consulting with business owners.
“It’s not well planned out,” Kurakin said, doubting the claim by Wait that “90%” of the businesses along Bullard Street “love” the street closure.
Wait told the Daily Press on Saturday that even if officials decide to stop closing the short section of Bullard Street for three-day periods each weekend, she thinks a once-weekly closure might be equally effective in drawing Grant Count residents into the historic district of Silver City.
“Maybe Thursdays,” she said. “We’ve got 28,000 people in Grant County: Come on out! But please, wear a mask and respect social distancing.”