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Debate Over COVID-Era Parklets Dividing San Anselmo Downtown Retailers

SAN ANSELMO (CBS SF) -- Curbside parklets gave restaurants a vital economic lifeline during the height of the COVID pandemic, but now their future is the source of a heated debate among downtown San Anselmo business owners.

Officials recently delayed a vote on whether to make parklets permanent and they're not alone. Many other Bay Area cities are also struggling to find a solution and the right balance.

Belinda Wickwire invested her heart and soul into her downtown San Anselmo jewelry store.

"This is my blood, sweat, and tears," said Wickwire, owner of Belinda Wickwire Jewelry. "I'm here all the time. It's a dream for me to have a store. So for that to be taken away, it just breaks my heart."

She said the parklet that gave the next-door restaurant, Cucina San Anselmo, is now endangering her survival.

"The sightline was immediately gone," she said. "As you drive by, it's no longer you see my store."

She and some retailers said the parklets also take away valuable parking spots.

"A lot of my customers are older people and they can't walk and they can't bike here," said Wickwire.

"When people circle town and they don't find a place to stop, they don't come spend money in our stores. And that's real problem for us," said Staysea Colteaux, owner of Dogville, a pet boutique store.

They raised the question -- "Is it fair to take public spaces and turn them into private use for the restaurants?"

"I have no issue with paying maybe a fee, to have, to rent those parking spaces or whatever would be fair to town," said Donna Seymour, owner of Cucina San Anselmo.

Seymour said the parklet and outdoor dining are why her 24-year-old restaurant is still in business.

"There're still a lot of people who are not willing to go inside," Seymour said. "There's still people who are unvaccinated. There are still people worried about upticks in cases."

Supporters said the parklets provide vibrancy in downtown and attract foot traffic.

"Absolutely benefits us," said Frank Gomez, owner of Wink Optics. "We've seen our practice grow through COVID and as the parklets are here. And I asked the patients how they heard about us. 'Oh, we were down here dining at Cucica'"

Both sides have so far failed to reach a compromise.

"Let's have that discussion and if everything is back to normal, if that's a possibility, I'd be happy to take the parklet down," said Seymour.

"We just want to get along and succeed together," said Wickwire.

At the most recent meeting, San Anselmo town leaders directed staff to come up with a solution that can benefit both restaurants and retailers.

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