continued Talk of rents sends Santillán back to the good days of the '60s, '70s, and '80s, when what he calls "the United States' communist phantom" brought a steady supply of servicemen and their visiting families to Southern California and over the border for day trips. "In those days," he smiles with the memory, "we used to write into the contract that the rent would go up 20 percent [of the original price] every year. So in ten years, $1000 rent would be $3000."
Again the smile fades and a look of resignation, albeit cheerful resignation, replaces it on Santillán's face. "I have an arcade with 32 spaces right behind this store. Most of my tenants remain, but only because I prefer to take lower rent than to have empty shops. So instead of the $1000 I used to get, I cut it to $500. Then, instead of $500, $250; instead of $250, $150."
Asked if people are paying on time, Santillán chuckles. "No, no, no, no, no. My brother is probably three or four months behind. But the owner of the building prefers to wait than to kick him out."
Like most in Tijuana who work in tourism-related businesses, Santillán points to 9/11 as the chief cause of Avenida Revolución's demise. But he sees it as the final ax chop that toppled a tree that began dying in 1989, when "the Iron Curtain fell. Then the Navy base in San Diego started to get smaller. The Navy left Miramar. El Toro is empty. Camp Pendleton has fewer Marines. All of that cut down our business here, but we were still okay until 9/11."
Business, Santillán says, has never recovered from the complete closure of the border in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and the longer northbound waits at the border since then. "Even if they opened up the border and made it a lot easier to go back and forth, those days won't come back, because the economy of the United States is not as good as it used to be, and because of the reduction in the military."
If 9/11 was the final blow that felled the money tree that Avenida Revolución once was, the chipper that will grind it into dust comes on January 1, 2008. "By January of 2008," Santillán explains through a burst of morbid laughter, "every U.S. citizen that comes to Mexico and wants to get back into the United States has to show a passport."