Faced with the expectation of a difficult holiday retail season, the Del Mar Village Association (DMVA) is looking to brighten the spirits of both merchants and residents while getting a few more shoppers into stores.
Last month the association received approval from the Del Mar City Council to install new holiday light fixtures on street light poles throughout downtown. Paid for by the association, the 14 shooting star displays will contain low-energy LED lights and accompany the usual holiday banners on poles.
Walt Beerle, the DMVA's president, said the light displays are part of an attempt to put a positive spin on an economy that has many retailers greatly concerned.
Time to rally
"I know other downtowns are cutting back on their holiday budgets," Beerle said. "We're trying to do the opposite. We're trying to brighten things up. We want to be proactive and highlight the village. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, we have to rally."
In an indication of just how anxious the city might be to attract shoppers, at last Monday's Del Mar City Council meeting DMVA Executive Director Jen Grove requested, and was granted, a holiday reprieve from downtown parking enforcement.
Park for free
Starting Nov. 29 and continuing for three consecutive Saturdays, the city will suspend all parking enforcement along Camino del Mar and 15th Street. Additionally, free parking will be available Dec. 24, Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.
Metered parking will still be enforced in beach areas, but not in the parking structure beneath the L'Auberge hotel. Although not official yet, the council, as it has in the past, is expected to have free parking throughout the entire city on Christmas and New Year's Day.
The parking suspension is expected to cost the city about $750 a day in lost parking revenue, according to City Manager Karen Brust.
Grove points to free parking at other area shopping malls as a reason for the action.
"We have to compete to keep our town alive," Grove said. "It's pretty easy to pull into Flower Hill or UTC and not have to worry about parking while you're shopping."
But once in town, will shoppers find a sufficient variety of items found at those malls?
"Some see the glass as half-empty, I see it as half-full," Grove said. "Shoppers could see a book at Earthsong that they might have otherwise bought at Barnes & Noble or find a dress at Ryan's that could be found at Nordstrom. It's about awareness."
As in previous years, the Village Association is instituting an incentive voucher program. If shoppers spend $75 during the holiday season at any store, they will receive a $15 spending voucher good at any Del Mar restaurant.
"It was definitely easier to convince merchants to participate this year than in previous years," Grove said.
Many Del Mar merchants are notorious for their inconsistent hours of operation and Grove acknowledges that a festive nighttime environment is of little good if there are no open stores to welcome shoppers.
She said merchants have already been approached about increasing hours and will also be approached about keeping their employees from taking up parking spaces downtown, especially on free-parking days.
"It's really about educating them," she said.
With five storefronts currently empty along the city's main street and one vacancy in the Del Mar Plaza, the town is not yet on life-support, Beerle said. But he is worried those numbers could dramatically increase after the holiday season.
"Everything is tied to the hip here," he said. "We have to help sustain these stores. After the holidays there could be a day of reckoning."