Sundays On Telegraph start slow, but show potential

Children and adults enjoy the chalk zone at a recent Sundays on Telegraph event. Photo: Ted Friedman

After low turnouts at the first three Sundays on Telegraph events, organizers hope that better weather and increased awareness will draw bigger crowds in the coming weeks.

“It’s a work in progress,” said Janet Klein, who serves as coordinator and liaison between the Telegraph Business Improvement District and the office of Mayor Tom Bates.

Sundays on Telegraph, or SoTelegraph, is a new weekly street fair that closes off two blocks of Telegraph Avenue, from Durant Avenue to Haste Street. The original plan was that from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. every Sunday from June 9 through September 27, music, activities and weekend strollers would be free to take over the neighborhood. It is an attempt by the City of Berkeley to revamp the area as a cultural destination — one of many ideas that have been proposed over the years — particularly during the time of year when most UC Berkeley students have left town.

But the program did not have a particularly inspired start.

Members of the UC Berkeley marching band liven up the atmosphere on Telegraph Avenue. Photo: Ted Friedman

Nick Lowe of Bill’s Footwear said the first Sunday was “really slow,” and managers at nearby businesses, including Fat Slice Pizza and Gordo Taqueria, agreed that they didn’t notice a significant difference in the number of customers they served on the past few Sundays compared to other days of the week.

Of the three Sunday events so far, two have seen cloudy or even rainy weather, which may have been partly responsible for the minimal visitor turnout. However, things picked up on the most recent Sunday, when — despite the clouds and occasional drizzle — lively performances by about 20 members of the UC Berkeley marching band attracted crowds.

Klein, along with many business owners, is optimistic about the fairs’ potential to develop and gain popularity as word gets out. Mayor Bates explained that the initial advertising budget proved to be insufficient, and the organizers have since decided to put more money behind it. The city and the Telegraph Business Improvement District each fund half of the fairs’ overall budget.

“We’re finding that we need to bring more activities that people are going to know about in advance,” Bates said, adding that they are working to increase their advertising presence on social media outlets.

The city has a number of acts lined up for the coming weeks, including members of the Berkeley Jazzschool, a Hawaiian band and hula dancer, a West African music group, a harp player, a dance troupe, and a rock-and-roll band composed of 10-year-olds. This weekend will feature chess tournaments, and they will also continue to reserve a sidewalk chalk area, which has been popular among both kids and adults.

“The thing that most excites me about the fair is it’s meant to grow,” said Al Geyer of Annapurna, a specialty gift shop that has operated on Telegraph for 44 years. Geyer has been involved with the fairs’ organization.

“We’re trying to create something out of nothing,” he explained. “It’s coming along.”

Alex Popov, who owns Pappy’s Grill and Sports Bar, said he, too, sees SoTelegraph’s potential, but he added that it needs more promotion and better signage. By the looks of the barricades that blocked off the street, he said, one couldn’t tell if Telegraph was having a street fair or undergoing road work.

“I think it’ll definitely catch on, it’s just a matter of getting the word out,” Popov said.

Community members helped paint a temporary mural last Sunday between Channing Way and Haste Street. Photo: Al Geyer

One street vendor, who preferred not to be named, said that the street fairs present a difficult situation for vendors. Because the street is blocked off to cars, pedestrians roam both the sidewalks and the middle of the street, and vendors have to tend to customers on both sides of their booths.

“It’s like fishing with two nets on either side of the boat,” said the vendor, who sells handmade rings and has been working on Telegraph for 35 years.

Along with many of its neighbor businesses, Pappy’s did not organize a promotional sale or set up food outdoors during the past two Sundays on Telegraph events. However, Popov said they plan to set up tables outside the next time around, taking the common approach among neighboring businesses, which seem to be waiting to see how things go.

On SoTelegraph’s initial Sunday, the team at Annapurna set up a giant white plywood structure against the storefront and invited fair attendees to help create a community mural. Paint in five different colors was provided, and over 150 people added their artistic touches to the wall, including Bates. Organizers are planning to repeat the mural event soon, and set up the next “canvas” along the fences that surround the vacant lot at the corner of Telegraph and Haste.

Geyer has other ideas in store for upcoming Sundays. At the July 14 event, he plans to set up what he calls a “silent disco,” in which people dance in the street to music only they can hear through headphones. He also hopes the committee will be able to hire jugglers and organize hacky sack contests.

“We’re experimenting and we’re trying to make improvements,” Bates said, adding that the organizers are open to hearing ideas from community members. “If somebody has a good idea or somebody wants to try something, we’re up for it.”

Klein, who has coordinated the annual Telegraph Avenue holiday street fair for over 10 years, explained that SoTelegraph focuses on bringing attention to the businesses and vendors located on the street itself, whereas the holiday fair is always packed with booths and entertainment because the city invites outside vendors and artists to come.

“We’re trying to build up the base community,” she said. She added that part of the holiday fair’s success also comes from its development over 30 years.

Asked at a City Council meeting in early June about the success so far of SoTelegraph, Mayor Bates said he would consider the first six weeks a trial period and that if it hadn’t taken off by then, they might cancel it.

More recently, both he and Klein said the current hope is to keep it going into September.

Wooing larger stores may be key to Telegraph’s success (05.24.13)
Tackling Telegraph Avenue: Is this time different? (03.01.13)
Can Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue get it mojo back? (04.18.12)

Camille Baptista is a summer intern at Berkeleyside. She studies creative writing and human rights at Barnard in New York City, where she writes for the Columbia Daily Spectator.

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  • Woolsey

    It might take more that 6 weeks for people to become aware of it. Also some sort of advertising would help.

  • Shutter

    Oh, people know about it alright. They just don’t want to go up to the Avenue.

  • park people

    Chess tournament? Silent disco? Aren’t they afraid of the street becoming over-crowded?

  • sky

    Compare this to the Solano Stroll…

  • Bryan Garcia

    I had no idea about it until I happened to be in the area a couple of Sundays ago. There wasn’t really a whole lot going on, though. Mostly just the same old junk vendors set up on the sidewalks. What little activities and entertainment that did seem to be going on was too spread out. I’m sure the weather didn’t help, though.

    The holiday street fair also at least has vendors that aren’t usually there.

  • Dave

    Why would anyone want to bring their kids within two blocks of “People’s Park”? Suppose the kids wanted to play there? That’s what kids, with their misguided priorities, think parks are for. “Hey kids, let’s go to the park and watch people shoot up and poo in the trees!”

  • guest

    It’s funny you should say that, Dave, because the People’s Park stage for the recent world music festival attracted a large crowd and was a very family friendly event. Didn’t Berkeleyside cover it? The festival drew far more people to Telegraph than this event has.

  • Bill N

    I agree better advertising would help. “The original plan was that from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. every Sunday from June 9 through September 27.” Is that still the plan?

  • Dave

    It is a different place when there is an event there (somebody cares). I’m just talking about any old Sunday or other day, for that matter. Would YOU take a blanket, a book, some food and a couple of little kids, say “Just don’t go into the street!” to the kids and let them run around, make friends, explore? I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t fifteen years ago when my kids were that age (they were just plain afraid of the people there, anyway). I wouldn’t now. Or would you think “Okay, Willard Park is just a few blocks away, let’s go there!” In those intervening years, the state of the park has pretty much spread to Telegraph Ave. Until it’s cleaned up, Telegraph will continue to deteriorate. A decade or so ago I went to Telegraph almost every Sunday. Now I only go if I *must* to go to Moe’s, which, unfortunately given other options, is rare. Face it, it’s not a “park”. It just isn’t. I don’t know what to call it. It’s just a large vacant lot occupied by junkies and the homeless. I’m not devoid of sympathy for either group, but denying the reality of the situation and it’s effect on Telegraph business is just, well, denial.

  • Dave

    Grammer police: “rare = rarely”, “it’s effect => its effect”. Sheesh Dave.

  • guest

    The problem for a lot of us who don’t avoid Telegraph is that descriptions like yours just don’t jibe with what we observe. I grant that bad behavior occurs around those parts but the scale seems to be greatly exaggerated with some. To me it looks like the avenue struggles because it lost live shows and a full bar at Blakes, the Sequoia burned down, Cody’s went out of business, and the price of attending Cal went through the roof.

  • susankl

    I read the Chronicle every day and Berkeleyside, too. Never heard of this. “More advertising” would help? How about “some advertising?”

  • susankl

    spelling police?

  • 2ndGenBerkeleyan

    I like the implicit irony of “GrammEr police”…
    Totally agree with the substance of your comments, btw… As a long time Berkeley “vet”.

  • Iris

    I also had no idea this is going on until I heard about it last week from a friend. There is no advertising, and interested vendors who sell at the holiday fair (I usually do), or hold licenses with the city are not informed. Both Janet and the city of Berkeley have our contact info, and it makes me wonder why they don’t try to bring in some different crafts.

  • Dave

    Yes, but why did those things happen? This spot, where basically the south end of UC–Zellerbach, Hertz, sports, museums–meets the rest of the world should be hopping. Any business should be able to succeed there. I’m sure there were long stretches of time when I’ve walked up there at least weekly, and this is my conclusion. The scale doesn’t have to be exaggerated over a long enough duration (twenty years in my case). Consistency will do. With the exception of Cody’s, nothing you mentioned wouldn’t normally be the destination of students (no shortage, despite the price). That doesn’t work over the summer. That’s the purpose of this exercise, right? A street that has been reduced to selling lunch, cheap clothes and music to students can’t make it over the summer (despite one of the more choice locations in the East Bay), let’s try closing off the street and setting up a bunch of booths.

    Well, good luck. Really. I couldn’t wish better than for the businesses there. But I will bet that “descriptions like mine” are the more common among the hundreds of thousands of people who’s attention you are trying to get, and until the “park”, and the attendant aggressive panhandlers, junkies, mentally ill homeless people, defecation, and shooting up are *demonstrably* in the past, that neighborhood just won’t be anywhere anyone wants to go.

  • The_Sharkey

    You’re not exaggerating. The people who support the park are just so dulled to the kind of anti-social behavior you’re talking about that they don’t think it’s a problem.

    Telly has been gross for decades, and the cause of that grossness are the gutter punks and the homeless encampment that lives in People’s Park.

  • Dave

    Ha!! Yeah, I saw that but it could go on forever. Decided to stop while I was behind.

  • Annie Painter

    The same vendors for 35 years? Try encouraging some once-a-year or one-off local vendors to set up. Maybe people don’t come to Telegraph because they remember it as a gritty, unpleasant scene with socially maladapted young shiftless people squatting on the sidewalk and in the gutters. The one reasonable restaurant has been burned out and left as a vacant lot. What exactly were you expecting with this transformation on Sundays?

  • Larry

    Never heard of this. I’ll check it out today. Apparently, until something is covered in Berkeleyside, it doesn’t exist!

  • Young alum

    “Price of attending Cal went through the roof” and yet the pricey/trendy American Apparel & Urban Oufitters stores (which cater to Cal students) are doing great. Lets get real. Also, ironically, one of the consequences of higher tuition has been the university accepting more monied out-of-staters. Sooo . . . . It really is about bad fit (adidas shop), options that just no longer work(books & music), and an over all sense of grit and crime that persist. Much of which spills over from the transient camps in PP.

  • guest

    > “one of the consequences of higher tuition has been the university accepting more monied out-of-staters.”

    As a proxy for trends in student spending, do you happen to know how average student levels of student debt at Cal have changed over time, compared to inflation?

  • guest

    I’m sure there are sincere people working on this, but really, the notion that this sort of effort would/could make a difference is sad.

  • Young alum

    I don’t, however I do know that nationally, Cal students graduate with significantly lower debt than their counterparts at Virginia, MIchigan, etc. Furthermore, with the recent Blue & Gold Plan which waives tuition for students whose families earn less than 80k per year, as well as the new Middle Class Plan, which caps the total parent contribution at 15% for families who earn 80-140k, these students have a better outlook than when I graduated even a few years ago. BTW they are not using state money to pay for this, it is a combination of philanthropy and revenue for increased out-of-state students.

    Again, this is all about fit. The Apple store on 4th St is one of their worst performing stores in Northern California. Many people in the area dont even know it exist. Even at this price point, this is the kind of thing that would thrive on a revamped telegraph. From tourists to the constant flow of a student base who primarily uses Apple products.

  • erik

    Dave is right. This area should be crowded and vibrant but nobody wants to go out shopping or to dinner in an area this unpleasant. Efforts like this are comical and illustrate avoidance on the part of the city (and UCB) of the real issues. Until it is cleaned up and safer nothing will change.

  • guest

    > “Until it is cleaned up and safer nothing will change.”

    Sounds like a cargo cult theory.

  • The_Sharkey

    Sounds like common sense.

  • nice article……..