Santa Monica's open-air food market is scheduled to return to its usual daytime hours next week, but a city official said the summertime experiment with later hours may be extended at least through the end of Daylight Saving Time.
The market, which usually is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays at the Third Street Mall, shifted to a 2-to-8 p.m. schedule for the last two months. Several merchants are campaigning to keep the afternoon and evening hours because they say market shoppers clog up parking places during the day.
"I couldn't believe it, because I had obvious benefits (from the summer hours)," said Garry Neville, owner of the Darwin Restaurant and Bar at Wilshire Boulevard near 3rd Street.
He said the restaurant, which previously took in $400 to $700 at noontime on a typical Wednesday, has been earning as much as $1,700 for lunch since the market hours were pushed back.
When the market is open, Neville said, "it's like having a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus right in the middle of a busy neighborhood."
But with the later hours, more parking spaces became available for mall patrons, while office workers leaving downtown in the evening opened up spaces for the market.
Neville said he has gained the support of at least 13 of the merchants in the mall, and he expects to gather more signatures on a petition calling for later market hours.
Peggy Curran, the city's director of community and economic development, said the public also has reacted favorably to the summer hours.
Many Santa Monicans who were unable to shop at the market because of work schedules found it accessible for the first time, she said.
Also, farmers' receipts were higher than they usually are in the summer, she said.
Although many of the farmers complained that Santa Monica's later hours left them little time to drive back home and prepare for the next day's market elsewhere, Curran said "they're very happy that we hold the market, so they're pretty cooperative."
If the Third Street Development Corp., which sponsors the 4-year-old market, recommends that the hours be extended again, "I think there'd be a likely positive reception," she said.
The City Council will make the final decision, she added. In any case, the late hours probably would not be maintained after Daylight Saving Time ends in October. "It's a daylight question," she said. "It just doesn't work after dark."
Amy Krivis of the Third Street Development Corp. said no decision has been made. "I just don't know if it will be feasible," she said, adding that problems include security and lighting.