SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Featuring music, food, produce, and many other activities, Downtown Fridays has quickly become a popular place to be in Santa Maria.
"It's been unbelievable, way past our expectations," said event coordinator Ed Carcarey. "I really thought when we first started to expect maybe 1,000 to 1,500 people because we just didn't know. It had never been done before. I'm blown away by the support we're getting."
Carcarey said the event, which began on April 15 in the Santa Maria Town Center West parking lot, attracted 7,000 visitors on its opening night and is now averaging around 3,000.
"Here's something to do on a Friday night, and it's safe and family friendly, and it doesn't cost anything to come to it," said Carcarey. "There's no parking charge, there's no admission charge. People can come and sit and listen to some really great music. They can grab a beer or some wine, go to the kids zone, there's 70 booths of produce or food, all in one place."
Downtown Fridays was created as a result of the City's "Downtown Plan," which is a blueprint to help draw in more visitors to the downtown area. It was started not only to give residents and visitors something to do, but also provide a boost to nearby businesses.
In the Town Center West shopping center where the event is located, many business owners say they're happy with the results so far.
"I've seen the progress and our business is growing more," said manager Nancy Ayala, Woody's "Boba" Drinks. "There's more customers coming during the farmers market and after, so for us, for our small business, it's great."
Ayala noted her business is now staying open later on Friday nights to try and take advantage of the increased amount of people who are in the shopping center.
"We have seen new faces and there's a lot of customers that have come from San Luis Obispo to our business," said Ayala. "They come to visit the farmers market and it's nice to see people from other places."
Businesses credit extra foot traffic for drawing new customers.
"People that haven't heard of our business are finally realizing that we're in Town Center West," said assistant manager Laura Maza, Aloha Cleaners and Alterations. "So it's impacting our business in a positive way."
One major concern for businesses in the shopping center is parking, which becomes extremely limited during the event's three hours of operation.
"It does pose an inconvenience for our customers in ways because we're a stop-and-go business," said Maze. "You come here to pick up your things and go, and it makes it hard for them to park."
Maze added it's also difficult to park for employees who work in the shopping center.
The parking issue though may soon improve. Carcarey is hoping Downtown Fridays can move out of the parking lot to the street on Broadway.
"Close it between Cook and Main Streets," said Carcarey. "We would take a side and have the vendors set up. I could set up 100 vendors instead of 70 at that point. We'd have music on both ends of it and we're right in the middle of downtown, so it's fun because you're doing a festival on the street, plus it opens 150 to 200 parking spots up, we eliminate a lot of parking problems that we're currently happening."
The plan, however, comes with major obstacles. Carcarey points out Broadway, which also serves as State Highway 135, is under the jurisdiction of Caltrans, and would need state approval to close down the road each week.
While that plan remains on the drawing board, event organizers have been able to make smaller changes during the first three months.
"We're constantly tinkering," said Carcarey. "The last thing we've changed is we have two stages now. One stage plays English music and one plays Spanish and they're on polar opposite sides and now we've got two places that we can serve our communities."
Downtown Fridays will run through October 28. It is held weekly at Town Center West from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
For more information, visit http://www.cityofsantamaria.org/residents/downtown-fridays