Retail Shops Filling Up Downtown State Street; However, Many Long-Vacant Storefronts Remain Vacant

Since the beginning of the year, the South Coast’s most popular commercial district has churned over a new wave of retailers.

While restaurant spaces have been the most likely to see changes after two or three years, another wave of women’s retail clothing stores has surfaced on State Street. These include: francesca’s collections, which has stores in 41 states; and Bettie Page, which runs seven of its shops in the West.

This trend belies the long-held notion that State Street stores are run by mom-and-pop operations. Regional and national chains, such as Marshall’s, H&M and Forever 21, definitely dominate the district.

Meanwhile, on lower State Street, the most notable change will be the relocation of Baja Sharkeez Mexican Grill & Cantina from 416 State St. to the former site of Madison’s Sports Grill, 525 State St. Sharkeez has been at 416 State St. for about 13 years, while Madison’s, reportedly heading to Goleta, was at its former location since 1995.

“I just confirmed with the owner that our opening date is Thursday, May 3,” said Leigh Lupinacci at the Sharkeez corporate headquarters in Hermosa Beach. “Regarding the new owner of 416 State St., we are unsure of what his plans are going to be for that location.” Another Mexican restaurant reportedly is expected to open at 416 State St. eventually.

An April 14 going-away party is planned at the old Sharkeez location.

The Snack Shop, 801 State St., has been preparing to open for a month, but exactly when is unclear. It touts healthy on-the-go snacks while serving beer and wine. That two-story spot at the mouth of Paseo Nuevo used to be the boutique Katwalk until recently and was Rocks bar just a couple years ago.

On the retail clothing front, the high-end Coldwater Creek shop, 733 State St., is closing and will be replaced by the more affordable retailer American Apparel, which is moving from 1019 State St.

Jewelry by Gauthier has leased the 1,560 square foot space at 921 State St., occupied for two decades by Paper Star, which has been foundering for several years. Proprietor Diane Leon said four years ago she was trying to sell wedding announcements and offer related services, but the economy wasn’t cooperating. “It sucks,” she said at the time.

As one stationary store closes, another comes in. Paper Source, a national stationery store, opened in February at 1125 State St., next to Anthropologie and Free People.

Empty for more than four years, the storefront at 414 State St., former home to Pep Boys auto part shop, is being replaced with a 99 Cent Store, which will occupy the 16,900-square-foot space. Interior demolition and excavation are well under way, but it may be months before the project is completed.

Last year, Will Russ at the proposed Santa Barbara Rock Gym, 320-322 State St., signed a lease for a 5,000-square-foot facility, which he said would open in May. No sign of completion any time soon at the site. Russ could not be reached for comment.

At the renamed Maggie’s at State & A,1201 State St., interior reconstruction is nearing completion for what appears to be a summertime opening. Along with its large outdoor dining area, Gary Lynd sold the popular people-watching spot after 28 years to Barry and Margaret Shulman of Goleta in April 2011.

As new businesses move in, chronically hard-to-fill spots remain. Still vacant on downtown State Street are:

734 State St.: Ruby’s Café was closed three years ago. This space still has no new tenant.

700 State St.: Another long-vacant spot on the corner of Ortega Street is the former home of the Mexican restaurant Left at Albuquerque. It closed in 2009.

623 State St.: This is the space between the Volcom and Vans shops at this former T-shirt shop that’s been vacant for a couple years. It’s been rehabilitated, but remains unoccupied.

532 State St.: The former home to the Zia Café, which hasn’t served a meal in almost two years, is being sold, but has no new tenant.

521 State St.: This former home of Retroville is tough to fill, in part because the triple-net lease (which covers monthly rent, utilities and other services) at $3.25 for 2,300 square feet means the tenant must generate $7,400 per month just to cover its overhead.

403 State St.: It’s been vacant for about six years, but has undergone extensive interior floor demolition. It’s the former home to Esau’s Restaurant, which relocated on Chapala Street. No word on a new tenant.

111 State St.: The former home of Be Bop Burgers has been renovated, but no tenant has moved in yet. Nearby, at 121 State St. is the new Hotel Indigo, which used to be called the Hotel State Street. It has 41 rooms and a vacant spot for a restaurant where a Subway sandwich shop used to be.

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