Some pundits are blaming just one or two reasons for the demise of many State Street businesses, but it’s really a triple storm with a few extra waves thrown into the troubled waters.
After walking up and down the county’s most visible commercial corridor since 1988, I’ve noticed at least four recurring problems;
1.) scruffy, belligerent panhandlers, some old, some new; 2.) increasing triple-net leases, which include rent, utilities and services such a security; 3.) the rise of online retail purchasing as opposed to in-store buying; and 4.) costly interior infrastructure deterioration, which is something you can’t always see from the street.
Not just one of these factors can be blamed stores going under.
Some local politicians and business people say the transients drive customers away. Sure they do, but the some of the same bums have been there for years and a new batch of transients passes through every week. Police have cracked down by using Community Service Officers with limited success. Many of the homeless tell police just don’t want help.
The rising the cost of leases doesn’t help either, but that doesn’t always spell the end of a business. Take Blush Restaurant, 630 State St., for instance. The restaurant operators own the entire building and business seemed fair. They just decided to use the eatery for “special events.”
Look at the demise of Bucatini, 436 State St., after about three decades of dishing pretty good Italian food. Business may have been better in years past, but 30 years is a long time to do anything.
Some say the rise of buying online instead at brick-and-mortar stores is the only reason for stores shuttering. It’s true many people on State Street like to window shop, but not everything is available online. Even if it was, many people like to see and feel exactly what they are purchasing.
Perhaps, the big exception to that is the closure of Macy’s on State and Ortega streets. But then Macy’s in La Cumbre Plaza remains. However, for how long?
Finally, it appears most people aren’t aware that many water and sewage pipes in State Street buildings are almost 100 years old, dating back to the 1927 Santa Barbara earthquake. They just can’t be repaired; usually they must be replaced at a high price. Reportedly, that is why the once-popular Italian restaurant Palazzio, 1026 State St., has been closed for almost four years.
In any commercial corridor, unique, sudden financial problems also can close a business. Such is the case with Caffe Primo, 516 State St. Open for about a year and a half, the Securities and Exchange Commission cracked down on the owner and he lost all his businesses.
Anyway, stay tuned and expect more ebb and flow on the county’s most visible shopping area as cruise ship passengers continue to flock in.