Michael Akhavan is the general manager of California Rent-a-Car near the airport. Akhavan's business has dropped so dramatically that one wonders how he keeps the doors open. "Our business is 75 to 80 percent lower than last year. That's because, on top of our regular rentals, we rent to a lot of foreign students, and they're just not coming like they were. They came from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and Europe, but I'm afraid that the parents have taken a position not to send their kids to the U.S. to study English. Actually, right after the attack, we did not feel it as much as we do right now. There was little immediate impact. It's gradually dropped off. June, July, and August are usually our best months, and right now it's been our worst season. I haven't been able to make up for any of the lost income. I'm not just surprised, but disappointed too. UCSD also used to bring business, because they had summer dormitories for foreign students, and they are down big-time. The vacancies are a lot more than last year. I'm hoping things will turn around soon."
At A-Official Passport photos, manager Joe Harris has seen a decline in business, but it's not all because of the 9/11 crisis. "People are not flying, and those who are flying are going domestic. Travel is still way down. On 9/11, everybody stopped flying. It just came to a standstill. But the reason it stopped was because the postal system went into competition with us, taking passport photos. They do the photos for $15, which is more than we charge. But the post office doesn't send out customers for passport photos or have them look in the Yellow Pages anymore. Any advertising we do has no effect on passport-related services anymore since the post office went into business. They charge more than anyone else, but most people don't bother to shop. This new thing came down from San Francisco. I've checked around in various states, and it seems that California is the only one doing this at the post offices. They don't do it in Florida or New York. I'm 50 percent down from a year ago. People that deal in domestic travel can't be hurting that bad. It's tough to get a flight!"
Steve Moshki manages A-1 Rent-a-Car on Kettner Boulevard. "I'd say we've dropped about 30 to 35 percent of our business in the last year. Right after the attack, they shut down the airport for a week and there was no business. We haven't been able to make it up at all. Overall everything in travel business has dropped. We got hurt really bad."
Dave Davis owns Toby's Candle Company at the Sessions Shop in Old Town. He estimates that he relies on tourists for at least 75 percent of his business. "It has been down. We're down maybe about 10 percent from previous years, so we figure it has to do with 9/11. Right after the attack, it was pretty quiet around here, because people just weren't traveling or moving around. We still had business. It didn't drop off completely, but it was still pretty quiet. Of course, that time of the year, September, is when tourism goes down for us. As of yet, we still haven't been able to make up for the lost business. This year, this summer's been good. July and August and part of September are usually our three biggest months. We're hoping to recoup some of those losses. I think the travel-oriented businesses are probably suffering more than the gift-buying businesses. People are still looking for gifts."
Not everyone in the travel and tourism business is crying doom and gloom, however. Henry Parkins manages 5-Star Parking's Park, Shuttle and Fly on Pacific Highway at Sassafras Street, a large parking lot that offers shuttle service to and from Lindbergh Field. "Business dropped off at first after 9/11, but now we're right back; in fact, we're above last year's numbers. I think it's because of this particular location and how well it's doing, because I've heard that it's off in other areas. If you go back against last year's numbers, we're above it. I wasn't at this location when the 9/11 attack took place — I was downtown then, but I was with the company, and I remember looking at the numbers and going, 'Wow!' It was a drop off. I can't share the actual numbers, but I can tell you that we're above last year's numbers. I know that government garages had to go to new security, so anyone involved with that was fired immediately. It was no fault of our own; they were just kicked out for new security. We lost federal parking — and, of course, the Hall of Justice — immediately after 9/11, so that affected us. We lost both those accounts."
Richard Abdala manages Ampco System Parking's Aladdin Parking Complex at Laurel Street and Kettner Boulevard. "One year later, we find ourselves just a little bit behind where we were a year ago. We've almost fully recuperated. Right after the attack, our business went completely down, but everyone else's travel business went down too. Our garage didn't get any more customers on the day of the attack. All day long we were just busing people back from the airport. After that, there were just a few people coming back but not on planes. Then, for a few weeks after that, it was very, very slow. We're getting back on track now, but we're a little bit behind, maybe 5 percent. I imagine other tourist businesses in San Diego got hurt worse than we were, because we cater more to people leaving town rather than people coming into town."
One of the first (or last) restaurants many visitors to San Diego will eat at is Denny's at Pacific Highway and Hawthorn Street near the airport. Manager Michael Schoonover says that business is just fine. "Things are back to normal. We're actually up about 10 percent. In the summertime, probably 40 percent of our business is visitors, and after 9/11 it dropped! We went from doing $45,000 to $50,000 a week down to about $3000. That's a time of year when our business starts to drop off anyway, the end of September, but it lasted about three months, maybe a little longer. I guess everyone's just not afraid to travel anymore. A lot of people are out and about, taking vacations, but they're driving instead of flying."