New York Times Weighs In on Santa Ana’s Downtown

The nation’s newspaper of record covered the issues facing Downtown Santa Ana in the October 31th edition (editor’s note; the story appeared on the NYTimes website Sunday night Pacific time, so we got the date wrong in the original post. Our apologies/editor).  While the story could have been significantly longer, some new information has come forward about the changes affecting Downtown Santa Ana that I haven’t seen reported elsewhere (photo courtesy of New York Times).

The first thing is that the traditional Latino businesses seem to be suffering dramatically from the economic downturn and that developers Irv and Ryan Chase have actually reduced rents for some of these businesses to help keep them in business.  And despite the downturn and the support from the Chases,  it’s market forces that are dictating change in Santa Ana.

From the story:

Fourth Street — also known as Calle Cuatro — has long been the center of Latino business in Orange County, the place where Mexican immigrants could find nearly anything they might have looked for in their homelands. Along some stretches, it is impossible to hear anything but Spanish. The signs beckon customers to travel to Guadalajara or buy a pair of snakeskin cowboy boots for a “super discuento,” and the sidewalk vendors shout, “Frutas, frutas,” as they call attention to their freshly cut coconuts and mangos.

But as the economy has soured, many of these stores have struggled to stay afloat. Some stores closed, others asked their landlords for a reduction in rent. At the same time, several property owners began pressing to create a group to improve downtown Santa Ana.

The owners, who were mostly white, were determined to make it more welcoming to English-speaking clients and bring in customers from more affluent parts of Orange County. What they really wanted to do, opponents said, was scrub away any suggestion that it is an immigrant hub, in a city that is 85 percent Latino. Fiesta Marketplace changed its name to “East End,” and the pink buildings that might evoke a Mexican plaza were repainted in muted hues. A few stores put up signs proclaiming, “Stop ethnic cleansing.”

Supporters of the changes say any charge of racism ignores the fact that nearly all of the new businesses that have opened in the last two years are owned and operated by Latinos.


Irving Chase said that he had gone to great lengths to help many of the struggling businesses, reducing their rent by as much as 75 percent.

“They’re in business because I’m propping them up,” he said. “But I can’t do that forever. Some of them are going to make it because they are going to change, and others are just going to keep doing things the way they’ve always done, and they will fail.”

His son said he had purposely kept vacancies in his buildings for more than a year, waiting for just the right tenants. When one barber shop owner approached him, he initially said he was not interested, but when he looked at the Web site for the shop, he realized that the “cool retro vibe would be something totally different for the area,” Ryan Chase said. Now, the American Barber Shop has a prime corner of Fourth Street, with its vintage barber chairs clearly visible from the street.

Still, PBID has it’s detractors and many are upset with the Chase family for the changes being made in the area.  But regardless of what the Chase’s have done, customers are what these downtown businesses need the most.

If you want Latino businesses to succeed, the customers need to come.  If Latino customers won’t come, it’s hard to fault businesses that can attract customers from starting up.


  3 comments for “New York Times Weighs In on Santa Ana’s Downtown

  1. cook
    October 31, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    50,000 ethnic Mexicans left, moved away, since the collapsing economy of Orange County.

    These people lived, packed in, head to toe in the local flop houses and sub rented garages, car ports, basements, etc.

    Those are the people who shopped in the Fiesta Market place area, and they left.

    No job – No money – Why stay?

    The landlords earn their living off of the rents they charge on their building, and with many of those businesses closing shop and going out of business and most of those left unable to pay the rent on their stores. What is the owner to do?

    The land lords of that area are not forcing out the Mexican, Those people went home leaving the business without customers to survive. And that will be shown in the final census 2010 report that comes out this December.

  2. November 2, 2011 at 8:27 am

    Now Ms. Alvarez will call the NY Times a racist nazi rag and the author Joseph Goebbels.

    Ironically, she will never acknowledge anything tangentially related to the facts reported by the NY Times, or that Irv Chase has propped upo some of these businesses for years through rent reductions (which commercial landlords NEVER want to give to a business that is showing signs of insolvency.)

    The PBID has been a success – and will continue to be a success. The sad reality is that we are in a major economic downturn, and thyere has been a massive loss of undocumented labor and a hug impact on the migrant latino community economically. These businesses are failing because they cater to a non-diverse section of the community, and like all businesses they must adapt to survive. They are unwilling to do so. Chase is being pilloried for trying to help them, without acknowledgement or thanks. Ms. Alvarez is sadly blind to these fundamental economic realities, or callously ignoring them to for short term political advantage. My guess is she wants to be mayor, and will challenge Pulido in the next election.

    The businesses who have gotten rent reductions should be publically identified, so we can see how the owners have been engaging in this debate.

    Thanks to NY Times for the great story – and honest reporting. Another Hoax revealed.

  3. Dan Chmielewski
    November 2, 2011 at 9:17 am

    The downside of the Chase’s identifying businesses who got a rent cut is that those businesses are are paying their rent should call him up and say “what the hell?”

    Chase has every right to evict them for non-payment of rent. Would these business owners expect their customers to pay 75 percent off their products and services? No they wouldn’t.

    There is a lot of empty storefronts to run a business from in Santa Ana; if you don’t like the deal the Chase’s offer or paying into the PBID, locate your shop elsewhere. It’s a big city with lots of neighborhood retail space.

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