Is it possible to rescue downtown?
Few days ago I was walking through an alley in downtown Calexico, an area that, at a glance, might appear to be a ghost town.
Just on Monday several workers were extracting racks from the now semi-empty building of what used to be home of the JC Penney store. It was a sad picture, particularly for some like my mother, who patronized the store for years.
The store had been for decades a well- stocked source for clothing, housewares and other items. That began to change a few weeks ago when the chain announced a liquidation sale leading up to the store’s closure.
The corporation decided to shut the store’s doors on Sunday, on American Mother’s Day. By Wednesday, workers were uninstalling the old store signs and placing them on a private company hired to clean the building.
This is not the first in the line of businesses exiting the once attractive, bustling area. Western Auto, Imperial Stores, Rite Aid, Bank of America and Selwick’s are only few of many other businesses no longer there.
That does not mean businesses can’t succeed there. Take as an example the 7 Eleven store at Rockwood Avenue. On any given morning, shoppers form long lines in order to buy their coffee, bread, milk, sport beverages, newspapers and other products. The hardworking employees of the convenience store must do miracles every single day to keep the store clean while assisting customers. On some occasions, employees must manage two cash registers simultaneously for clients to pay and leave the premises as soon as possible.
Next to the convenience store, San Diego-based Jack in the Box is full of diners from dawn to dusk as well.
Some other businesses, while not overcrowded, have kept making money for many years, maintaining their doors opened and retaining employment opportunities for locals and others from beyond.
So what is the key to resurrecting an apparently depressed area like downtown Calexico? And how can it be replicated and sustained in other communities in our Valley?
I am far from being an authority on this subject, so I am unable to provide a definitive answer to these questions. However, I have an idea of what could work to revitalize the area.
First, authorities and businesses must find a niche. Border crossing times, particularly on foot, has turned crazy over the years, but that has not affected some shining stores. As said above, some companies or business owners had found the way to be successful.
At the same time, despite the political climate of the past two years, stakeholders have to determine a way to facilitate crossing at the border. It is true the pedestrian port of entry has the highest demand during weekday mornings, but with maybe few changes visitors can cross faster, giving local businesses a bigger chance to sell more. That would mean increased tax revenue for the city.
Please, please, please, study customers, pedestrians and even local residents. They are the blood of our commercial veins. The county released not so long ago the results of a study about some purchasing patterns of visitors. But it must go deeper, and such information has to be shared with those involved in local business.
And for city council members and city officials, I urge them to ease the burden of doing business downtown, particularly with permits, fees and public safety services for the rebirth of the area.