Thriving East Salinas shopping district pumps cash into city coffers.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
In eclectic mix of locally owned shops and restaurants in East Salinas generate more sales tax revenue than most other shopping districts in the city. According to Salinas Redevelopment Agency Director Alan Stumpf, the Salinas United Business Association (SUBA) district brings in slightly less money than the monstrous North Salinas Auto Mall, and almost the same amount as Harden Ranch Plaza. That means the East Salinas business district pumps more cash into the city annually than the Northridge Mall, the giant Westridge Shopping Center that Costco Wholesale and Wal-Mart call home, the Oldtown shopping district, or any other big chain retail anchor in booming strip centers citywide.
What makes the SUBA district stand out from the Auto Mall or Harden Ranch is its primary makeup of mom-and-pop stores, entrepreneurs with a vision and a little cash who took a chance and hung out a shingle. Despite the risks, the thriving businesses have rendered the retail vacancy rate in East Salinas nonexistent.
“I can’t think of any vacancies off the top of my head,” says SUBA’s immediate past president Sal Jimenez. “If a place closes for business, there’s already people waiting to take it over.”
In 2001, SUBA was formed by a group of East Salinas business owners who represent the commercial corridors of East Market Street, East Alisal Street, and Sanborn Road. Its mission was straightforward: to improve the East Salinas business district. In just six years, SUBA has already surpassed even its own expectations.
But Jimenez doesn’t credit SUBA with the success. Instead, he says, it’s about community. “The district is a self-sustained commerce,” he says. “It’s a mixture of retail and community. The same people who live here shop here. It’s a tight-knit community. We all know each other. We shop here, eat here, get our vehicles worked on here. We interchange with each other daily.”
Still, SUBA has taken the lead in making the district more profitable, a pleasant place to shop and to spend. The organization and its 550-plus business members have played an instrumental role in changing the façade of the retail community: Getting PG&E to put overhead wires underground, creating a graffiti-abatement taskforce, doing cleanup, painting, and creating their Vision 2017 project—a 10-year plan to revamp and reinvent the district both aesthetically and fundamentally.
In collaboration with the Redevelopment Agency, the SUBA business district also has two dedicated police officers who patrol the community both in cars and on bicycles.
It’s that kind of overall reinvention Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue says he’s hoping to make citywide. Earlier this month, Donohue created a retail taskforce to study ways to bring new businesses to struggling areas of Salinas, like Oldtown.
It didn’t take long for Donohue to tap Jimenez for a position on the taskforce.
“Each area has their priorities, and the SUBA district has really been aggressive and successful in the way they draw and keep businesses,” Donohue says.
It’s what he says he wants to see citywide. “We’re preparing to reintroduce Salinas to the retail community,” Donohue says. “We’ll have public hearings and see what sorts of businesses community members want to see.” He’ll then tour business districts statewide to see what’s working and why. “What is clear to me is that Salinas has real opportunities.”
Jimenez thinks it can work. “Places like Oldtown have different challenges,” Jimenez says of Oldtown, with its small number of shoppers who live within walking distance. “Our dynamic is different. To be honest, we don’t need to attract businesses here [to the SUBA district].
“But the Oldtown Association is doing a great job. And you can really sense the wave of change coming.”
Donohue agrees. “East Salinas’ shopping district is stable and predictable. The challenge with places like Oldtown is going to be patience. Whether it’s the Maya or the hotel project or the Fox reopening, businesses keep hearing, ‘It’s coming. It’s coming.’ ”
“The bottom line,” Donohue adds, “is that we need to be aggressive in our economic strategies.” That’s why, he says, the retail taskforce and community input is vital to Salinas’ retail future. “We can talk about it all we want. But until we make changes in relationships and plans, nothing’s going to change. That’s what we’re setting out to do now.”