Cape Town – Muizenberg business owners are considering a proposal to close off a historical road in the area to cars and make it pedestrian-only, in the hopes of stimulating foot traffic to shops and cafés.
Resident Tim Knight has drawn up the proposal to block off York Road to vehicles, turning it into a pedestrian thoroughfare, where restaurants can set out tables and market stalls can be erected on the road.
York Road is just over the railway line from Surfers Corner, and is home to Muizenberg stalwarts such as The Corner Surf Shop, the Empire Café and The Striped Horse Bar and Grill.
“Covid-19 and its lockdowns are destroying restaurants, cafés, pubs and shops all over South Africa. And iconic, historic York Road at Surfers Corner could go next,” Knight wrote.
“It’s time to save York Road by closing it to traffic. Turn it into a people place.
“One major advantage of a people- only York Road is that its restaurants and pubs will serve customers in the open air, where they are much less likely to be exposed to the pandemic.”
Knight said that all it would take is a large pot plant placed at the entrance to the road to block vehicle access and that the transition would cost the City and businesses nothing. He envisions the road to becoming a pedestrian and street stall hub like St George’s Mall in the city centre.
“Cape Town’s hugely successful St George’s Mall is full of life, colour, energy, pubs, restaurants, shops and – most importantly – people. People-only York Road will be an ideal base for farmers’ markets and the annual spring Muizenberg Festival. African cloths, carvings, local produce and a variety of other people-based offerings popular with locals and tourists will be sold.”
Knight said that York Road, as a pedestrian-only zone, could stimulate up to 30 businesses in the extended area.
However, some business owners feel that while the idea is promising, it’s premature, as businesses are still reeling from the financial blow of the Covid lockdown.
Jurie Blomerus, owner of the Striped Horse and Black Cat on York Road, said he supports the idea in theory, but the practicalities and responsibilities of managing an open street are too much for businesses to shoulder right now.
“It’s just not the right timing,” Blomerus said. “It’s Covid times. Financially, everyone is struggling. About 40% of the people who come to us are tourists, and who knows when they’ll be able to travel. Already business is so slow.”
He also said that security is a concern, with customers potentially being exposed to more petty crime if they are seated outside on the street.
“Muizenberg still is not totally free from petty crime. Just this Saturday night, a lady’s handbag was stolen so quickly. It’s very tricky to keep track of it. So now you’re creating a scenario where you’ll have to have security, and in the present economic situation, none of these businesses have money (to hire guards),” he said.
Blomerus also cited weather as a concern, as howling wind on many days could make sitting outdoors impractical, and also the administrative hoops to jump through given the historical value of the street.
Despite the obstacles, it remains an attractive idea, Blomerus said.
“Were thinking about it. Everyone wants to benefit, but no one wants the responsibility.”