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Retail Funk in Funk Zone

Merchants Riled Over Widespread Construction

<strong>CAN’T CATCH A BREAK: </strong> Jason Feist of J7 Surf Designs is one of many Funk Zone merchants upset about widespread construction.
Paul Wellman

With just 45 shopping days before Christmas, merchants in the city’s fabled Funk Zone were notified that State Street will be soon be squeezed down to only one lane ​— ​between Cabrillo Boulevard and the railroad tracks ​— ​to accommodate construction work for the new sidewalks, curbs, and gutters along the mountain side of State, which are part of the new La Entrada hotel project. Tim Gash, project manager for the Santa Barbara Public Works Department, said prospective shoppers at Surf N’ Wear’s Beach House and Mountain Air Sports would be allowed to turn from Cabrillo Boulevard onto State Street, but otherwise motorists will have to navigate alternate paths.

Gash met last week with merchants upset by the financial disruption inflicted on their businesses by an unprecedented cluster of major construction projects. “I met with everyone personally to hear their concerns,” he said. In recent months, that area has been the staging area for four massive construction efforts: La Entrada hotel and shops, the Cabrillo Bridge widening and replacement, Sonos’s reconfiguration of the Bekins building, and the new Moxi children’s museum. At least two long-established businesses ​— ​El Torito restaurant and the Mermaid’s Chest ​— ​have folded tent. Others are hanging on by their cuticles. “Oh man, it’s been brutal,” said Jason Feist of J7 Surf Designs and Blueline Stand Up Paddle on Mason Street. He estimated sales have dropped 70 percent. Feist said he understood the urgency of getting the work done expeditiously but explained he and other merchants would have preferred it be put off until after Christmas.

The construction work has kicked up serious dust, and contractors serving the four sites have gobbled up many of the parking spaces relied upon by Funk Zone businesses. With the Santa Barbara Police Department understaffed, merchants contend, there’s been a painful lack of parking enforcement. Gash said City Hall wanted construction on the public space improvements complete by the busy July Fourth weekend. That objective, he explained, drove the decision to begin construction before Christmas. Public parking, he said, can still be had at the downtown train depot, and he called on the area media to highlight that Funk Zone merchants are still open for business. “The problem,” he said, “is perception.”

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