April 7, 2004 – The government is in the process of evaluating whether closing off the Main Street shopping district to vehicular traffic on heavy cruise ship days affects sales.
James O'Bryan, St. Thomas and Water Island administrator, said on Wednesday that several merchants lodged complaints that their businesses have suffered when Main Street between Post Office Square and the Enid M. Baa Library was turned into a mall with no traffic flowing through.
For the last two years, the Police Department has been closing off the street on days when five or more cruise ships were in port.
O'Bryan said the question is whether the economic advantage lies in turning Main Street into a pedestrian mall on those days or allowing traffic to flow through. "We have not scrapped the idea" of a mall, he added.
As part of the evaluation process, Tuesday was the second day that the street was left open to traffic with five ships in port. The first such day was in March, O'Bryan said. "After two more visits, we will sit with the police chief and representatives from the businesses to review the results of the survey," he said.
O'Bryan said he has been staying in touch informally with those merchants who raised complaints and that Main Street businesses themselves are keeping tabs on how their sales fluctuate and will report on their findings at the meeting to come.
Joe Aubain, executive director of the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce, said on Tuesday that there was no well-thought out plan in place for turning Main Street into a mall.
"What we've noticed," Aubain said, "is that when there is a mall, by afternoon the crowd is sparse." He added that when cars, taxis and safari buses are moving along the street, that keeps visitors on the sidewalk, and they are encouraged by all the "hustle" to go into the shops.
Aubain suggested that Main Street be kept open to traffic on heavy cruise ship days but "just have no parking" on those days.
Kathy Missen, vice president for Bernard K. Passman Gallery, a Main Street business, said she sees both sides of the situation. Her shop's sales are usually about the same whether Main Street has been turned into a mall or not, she said, but this may be because the store is located near the beginning the Post Office Square end of the street.
Tourists "are encouraged to go into the stores when the traffic is going through," Missen said. "The mall takes away from the hustle and bustle. It does take away the energy — but on the plus side, it's nice and peaceful."
Missen said she likes the "atmosphere" of the mall because there is less noises from traffic and no loud music from vehicles distracting clerks and customers.
She suggested putting trees and benches on Main Street when it is turned into a mall so that husbands will have a place to rest while their wives shop.
Also, she said, "if there was a central location for taxi drivers, it would be more fair to the drivers and would alleviate the traffic situation on Main Street."
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name, and the city and state/country or island where you reside.
Publisher's note : Like the St. Thomas Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.