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.