A pair of employees from the City of Hollister were busy working on a parklet that will sit in front of the Veterans' Memorial Building on San Benito Street. (Juan Reyes)
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It’s been more than a week since construction crews began erecting parklets along San Benito Street in Hollister, shutting down the once busy road.

But the city’s main strip in the downtown area along with 17 local businesses are set to reopen this weekend after being equipped with custom made pods for outdoor retail and dining. 

Several local construction crews and employees for the City of Hollister are still hard at work trying to finish up the parklets by the end of the week and have the road open for the first time since it closed for construction on Oct. 26. 

Kathina Szeto, owner of San Benito Bene on San Benito street, has benefited from the recent construction as more foot traffic has stepped inside to investigate what’s inside the shop. 

She mentioned that she’s always had support from some of Hollister’s longtime residents, especially those who remember what it was like to have a bustling downtown. But she believes the new transformation on the main strip can bring back that hometown feeling once again, allowing the younger generation to experience it for themselves.

“They can have a sense of a close-knit community,” Szeto said. 

The new parklet project also gives Hollister a sense of identity and it gives the city, as Szeto put it, a new “face.” She mentioned that there’s plenty of versatility within the businesses but maybe some people didn’t see it in the past, especially because San Benito Street was basically considered a highway.

“It’s great that the city was able to bring parklets into our historical downtown,” she said. “The consensus was to have a hometown atmosphere versus another highway, which will be missed as a thoroughfare. But the benefits of having a community space that actually generates income for our infrastructure is immense.”

JG Builder in Hollister took on a project to build five parklets for a group of businesses on San Benito Street. (Juan Reyes)

The revitalization of downtown Hollister is part of a plan to bring in more businesses, according to Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez. He anticipates big changes within the next two to three years and mentioned that they still need pushing along the idea. 

“It’s getting really good,” he said. “If we really want retail and a thriving downtown we need to put an investment in there.” 

The Hollister City Council unanimously approved a parklet program on Oct. 19 that assisted businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic and transformed most of the main strip into a one-way traffic flow.

The city authorized $80,000 to come from the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds, while San Benito County committed another $150,000 from its own CARES Act funds. The total cost of the program will not exceed $230,000, according to City Manager Brett Miller.

The parklet program provided funding to support local businesses in weatherizing their outdoor dining or retail space, offering safe outdoor options as they navigate through the Covid-19 pandemic, according to San Benito County officials.

City officials used a portion of the CARES Act funding to support a downtown beautification program that would support and highlight the parklets. Part of the plan for San Benito Street included resealing the street, restriping it and transitioning the parking spaces to reverse parking. 

The city added a new southbound bike lane along with a lower speed limit and more stop signs. Plus, they’re transitioning old light bulbs to energy efficient LED bulbs. 

Jojo Guerrero, owner of JG Builders in Hollister, brought his crew to knock out a group of six parklets including one for San Benito Bene.

Guerrero, who is a diabled veteran, mentioned that a portion of the proceeds will be used toward items for homemade care packages they put together for soldiers.  

“It’s near and dear to our hearts and that’s what we like to do,” he said. “My business partner has two sons that are also veterans, so we give back where we can.” 

Guerrero’s crew is also working on a parklet for Mad Pursuit Brewing Company on San Benito Street, which is still under construction itself.   

To celebrate the town’s recent parklet program, both the San Benito County Chamber of Commerce & Visitor’s Center and the Hollister Downtown Association will host a red ribbon cutting ceremony on Nov. 14 at the intersection of Fifth and San Benito streets from 11am to noon.

That means the clock is ticking for the JB Builders crew, but Guerrero is more than confident they’ll get the job done. His goal in all this is just to see the businesses flourish.

“Downtown businesses go in and out like crazy,” he said. “If this could help sustain business in our small community that would be awesome. If more businesses come in there would be more foot traffic, I think this is a good move on [Hollister’s] part.”  

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