Published October 31st, 2018
Panel examines state of downtown retail in second city-led workshop
By Pippa Fisher
Panel of Lafayette business owners discuss the state of downtown retail Oct. 22. From left: Ford Andrews, Connie Collier, Larry Blodgett and Jennifer Perlmutter. Photo Jeff Heyman/City of Lafayette
Lafayette council members, members of the planning commission and members of the public had the state of downtown retail once again as their focus as a four-person panel of Lafayette business owners took a look at the pros and cons of doing business in the city.

The hour-long workshop, held before the regular Oct. 22 city council meeting, was the second such event. On July 23 a packed audience listened as a panel of four commercial real estate experts gave their opinions on how to attract and support quality businesses in Lafayette.

This second meeting's panel of experts was comprised instead of business owners: Connie Collier of Diablo Foods; Ford Andrews who owns Sideboard; Jennifer Perlmutter who is the founder of the Jennifer Perlmutter Gallery; and Larry Blodgett of Bodgett's Floor Covering, one of Lafayette's oldest retail establishments.

Once again Planning and Building Services Director Niroop Srivatsa moderated the discussion. She started by asking what challenges the panel members face as business operators. The responses included a shortage of qualified labor, a lack of convenient parking, the high costs of rent and tenant improvement and, for some more than others, the effect of the internet on business.

As for the positives of doing business in the city, all agreed that customer loyalty and an affluent demographic were strong pluses in Lafayette.

Blodgett pointed out that although his product could be bought online, "We are unique in service. People want to shop locally," he said.

"What can the city do to help?" asked Srivatsa. "I would love to see the Happy Valley Shopping Center remodeled," answered Collier. Perlmutter agreed and made the point that some blocks, such as the one that used to be home to the Rustic Tavern, lack beauty and need external improvement. She urged the city to consider encouragement of arts and culture downtown.

Blodgett raised the question of zoning, saying there is a need to streamline city processes, loosen zoning restrictions and create a synergy between businesses and retail.

But it was Ford who answered both the question of how the city can help, and Srivatsa's final question regarding their vision for the city in the future with his comment on making the downtown more pedestrian-friendly.

Council Member Ivor Samson made the point that, in order to create a pedestrian-friendly environment, Lafayette needs unique retailers to offer places that pedestrians want to go. Ford agreed and said that filling empty spots with the right tenants would be one of the several components of the solution, along with having more lighting to make the city more night-friendly for pedestrians.

Overall, the discussion echoed many of the points raised at the first workshop back in July. Residents are encouraged to weigh in on the discussion via the online forum.

Reach the reporter at:

Copyright Lamorinda Weekly, Moraga CA