Telegraph Merchants Attempt to Extend Closing Hours

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Correction Appended

Telegraph Avenue may soon liven up its late-night commercial atmosphere, as its local business district and a number of merchants push for extended store hours that will cater to students and some community members' unconventional workday schedules.

On Wednesday, the city's Planning Commission will review a council referral based on a Telegraph Business Improvement District proposal requesting to lengthen the "by-right" - meaning closing - hours for Telegraph establishments, which would allow businesses to stay open until 3 a.m. Local businesses and the district have informally discussed the possibility of turning the avenue into a 24-hour commercial zone since 2007.

That same year, the city extended Telegraph businesses' by-right hours to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays for establishments that serve alcohol. Businesses that do not serve alcohol are allowed to stay open until 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Should businesses want to operate beyond these hours, they must apply for an Administrative Use Permit or Use Permit, according to a city staff report.

Roland Peterson, executive director of the district, said the district approached several establishments with the proposal, including the now-closed Blake's on Telegraph - which had been willing to extend its hours - and Raleigh's Bar and Grill, which did not offer its support.

But Peterson pointed to other businesses - such as CREAM, Top Dog and King Pin Donuts - that currently stay open until around 2 a.m. and have been successful. He said he hopes proprietors will realize that "customers patronize way into the night."

Caffe Mediterraneum owner Craig Becker, who is a main proponent of the proposal, said that by officially adjusting the by-right hours, a business would not have to apply for a use permit - the same permit and application process that discouraged Gordo Taqueria on Telegraph from extending their business hours, according to manager Tony Hernandez.

Peterson said his district is seeking to emulate other cities' adoptions of a 24-hour commercial zone that accommodates customers who do not have the "traditional 9-to-5 mindset."

"(We have) a perfect clientele built in - students, international students, graduate students - whose 24/7 lifestyles speak in favor of a 24-hour economy," Becker said.

According to Councilmember Kriss Worthington, businesses' extended hours of operation would appeal to some Southside residents who already have a tendency to stay up late, though he stressed that the late-night commercial atmosphere remains inappropriate near residential homes.

The district proposes to constrain late-night hours to businesses north of Dwight Way, which is further away from Telegraph's residential homes, according to Becker.

Despite the apparent appeal of a 2:30 a.m. dinner, there has been significant opposition to the idea of making Telegraph a 24-hour commercial zone.

Changes to business hours would allow bars to have "soft closings," enabling customers to stay in the establishments for an additional hour to "mitigate the problems caused by large groups of drinkers all hitting the sidewalk at 2 a.m.," according to a letter from the district to the Planning Commission.

Though bars will still have to stop selling liquor at 2 a.m., the Berkeley Police Department issued a memorandum that voiced its disapproval of extending the by-right hours. The department is concerned about public safety, since the number of patrolling officers decreases by half at 2 a.m., the memorandum said.

"It is customary and respectful that we/BPD will not speak to an issue or agenda item prior to its presentation, consideration and discussion by whatever entity - City Council and/or any city of Berkeley commission it comes before or relates to," Berkeley police Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said in an e-mail.

The city's planning and economic development staff does not recommend the extension of Telegraph's by-right hours.

"The question in my mind is whether businesses would want to extend their hours from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. and basically, I'm pretty skeptical about it," said Dave Fogarty, the city's economic development coordinator. He added that even if businesses do want to stay open later, the police department's rejection of the proposal should be taken into consideration.

Al Geyer, chair of the new Telegraph Merchants Association and owner of Annapurna, said though he cannot envision retail establishments remaining open all night, there should be no limit to operation hours if significant foot traffic is present in the stores and businesses are willing to stay.

Geyer added that the 24-hour commercial zone is not "for partying and bars," but would instead allow students to shop and do laundry at their convenience.

"(It's) a futuristic vision," he said. "I don't see it happening overnight, but the basic thing (is that) there should not be a limit."


Correction: Friday, March 4, 2011
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that businesses including Top Dog and King Pin Donuts are open until around 2 a.m. In fact, Top Dog is open until 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays and King Pin is open until 3 a.m. every day.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Karinina Cruz covers business. Contact her at [email protected]

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