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Just two doors down from the tanning studio is Mondo Gelato, whose owners signed their retail lease in 2006. As one of the first tenants to move in on the block, the management is familiar with the tough business environment. “When we first moved in, the economy was doing well,” says managing partner Jerome Chan. “The housing market was doing well. Everyone was buying and moving in to this area. Now everyone is moving out of this area. It’s pretty much vacant.”

According to Grubb & Ellis’s “Retail Trends Report — First Half 2009,” downtown had a vacancy rate of 8.3 percent, while the county overall had a rate of 5.6 percent. However, those numbers do not include subleases or vacant spaces that are not available on the market. Also, downtown covers a large area, including the much-coveted Gaslamp District. Chan, who is 27 years old, believes the vacancy rate for retail spots in the ballpark district is “around 40 percent.” While there are storefronts that have been recently vacated, others have been empty for about three years. Some locals believe that property owners need to stop holding out for high lease rates and simply cut their losses.

“They’re losing money every month, and they’re never going to make that money back,” says Jeremy Day. “Just cut the prices now and fill it up. Renegotiate later.”

Facing what they expect to be another slow fall and winter season, both Day and Chan are depending on salaries from other employment — Day as a firefighter and Chan as a software consultant. As Day puts it, “Fortunately, I have another job. Fortunate, because my business is probably not going to give me a paycheck for a while. But it would be nice to be a business owner and not be an employee somewhere else. It takes away from this tremendously. If this was my sole project, I could do a lot more. But I can’t. I have to work every day.”

Despite news of their neighbors’ closing, the local shopkeepers that I spoke with remain convinced that things in the ballpark district will turn around, “Hopefully sooner than later.” They remain optimistic that new buildings due for completion in 2010 and early 2011 — like Strata, a luxury apartment high-rise on the corner of Tenth and Market, and the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, on Island between 11th and Park — will bring more customers to their shops. In the meantime, according to one business owner, “We’re doing whatever it takes just to hang in there.” To attract more customers, First Degree Tanning Studio is planning on adding more services, such as manicures, pedicures, and spray tanning. Mondo Gelato is discussing the idea of offering goods on consignment from local bakeries.

“I have a hard time giving up,” says Day. “I put in too much time and too much effort to say, ‘I’m going to walk away with a loss.’ ”

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More from SDReader


pellis Nov. 11, 2009 @ 1:09 p.m.

I enjoy East Village a lot, but it was built in time of collective temporary insanity. Sure, the demographic in East Village may be young professionals now, but is it possible to fill all the very large, shiny condos and apartments with yuppies? Where are they all going to come from? It doesn't seem like the commercial buildings downtown are filling with businesses to supply jobs to this demographic of East Village tenants any time soon.

Without businesses bringing residents seeking convenience, prices will have to drop to attract retirees and blue collar workers and schools will have to come in to attract families.

I suspect this will all work itself out eventually. These buildings aren't going anywhere and if business doesn't come back, the market will punish the building owners until a happy equilibrium is met. Until then, I'll keep supporting the local businesses as much as I can afford to and hope for the best.


bootsdady Nov. 12, 2009 @ 2:31 p.m.

Ha Ha, I was pondering that veary same question when they were building those buildings in 06,07. With the SunShine tax being as high as it is who can afford two,three grand or more in rent in San Diego?


HonestGovernment Nov. 18, 2009 @ 9:09 a.m.

And yet......the CCDC and the City's Economic Development division never stop lusting after the dollars they can force businesses to hand over. The East Village Business Improvement District was initiated and formed by CCDC and various other City pro-privatization zealots this past May. The businesses that are struggling to survive now have the new requirement to pay a business tax to the East Village Association. This is extra business license tax of $250 to $600 annually, going to a private "nonprofit." For that, the empty and failing businesses may see powerwashing of sidewalks, expensive decorative trash cans, banners... yeah, that'll sure bring the customers and fill the condos. I, for one, always refuse to buy anything from any business unless I see that the sidewalk in front of the shop has been powerwashed!!! You can read all about it in the Council docket for May 26, 2009, Item-332.


HonestGovernment Nov. 18, 2009 @ 9:31 a.m.

And while you're at it, take a look at the staff bios of the company contracted to promote the East Village BID:


In San Diego, consultant contracts to promote privatized tax bases are a lucrative enterprise. The next best lucrative activity in San Diego is contracting with the nonprofits for services paid with the privatized taxes.


SurfPuppy619 Nov. 18, 2009 @ 10:50 a.m.

CCDC ois nothing more than a gov extention/lobbying group of the major SD developers.

As for those condos and who is going to buy them-the answer is no one-at leats not at their current priccing levels.

I predict that virtually all high rise condo projects in the area will go back to the lenders-who will promtly sell them at a huge loss, depressing the markets even further. I have seen this too many time sin the past. The absolute worst example was the RTC back in the early 90's, who did sweetheart real etsate "pooling" deals with major REITS and big buck private parties, limiting the exposure and bidding to less than 2-3% of prosective buyers-thereby blocking out 95%+ of the market and getting the lowest of low ball prices for their buddies at teh REITS.


Fred Williams Nov. 18, 2009 @ 9:27 p.m.

San Diego government still claims the Ballpark District and East Village are a stunning success.

Does anyone in San Diego believe them anymore? How can they expect us to believe them about their newest gifts to the wealthy and well-connected --

  • Another stadium for the Chargers
  • Another convention center expansion for the hotel owners
  • Another gift to John Moores in the form of a huge library with a "school" grafted onto it
  • A vast new City Hall

Malin Burnham, a business partner of John Moores, notorious Peregrine fraudster and corrupt owner of current and former public officials, tells the world that only the elite 1% can understand how these deals work.

Yes. It's true.

That one percent, of which Malin is a born member, stuffs their pockets with gobs of taxpayer money, while the ninety nine percent will be paying off development bonds for the next thirty years.


JF Nov. 19, 2009 @ 7:07 a.m.

San Diego government still claims the Ballpark District and East Village are a stunning success.

It will be! We just need to build the new stadium first!

The ironic thing about the EVBID is that the people who are created it are the same folks opposed to actually paying for proper fire protection downtown. I'm sure you've heard me say that there are fewer firefighters stationed downtown now than there were 35 years ago. And the firefighters who are there are often already tied up with medical calls -- something that they didn't do back then. It's not unusual to find one engine available to cover from Point Loma to the Nat'l City border.


SurfPuppy619 Nov. 19, 2009 @ noon

I'm sure you've heard me say that there are fewer firefighters stationed downtown now than there were 35 years ago.



35 years ago GED educated FF's didn't earn $200K per year in compensation.


JF Nov. 22, 2009 @ 6:33 a.m.

35 years ago GED educated FF's didn't earn $200K per year in compensation.

Polly want a cracker?


Ponzi Nov. 22, 2009 @ 8:17 a.m.

It doesn't look vibrant to me, it looks like a ghost town whenever I am in that area. It doesn't feel like a bustling city or busy neighborhood, it feels like it's under Marshall Law.


HonestGovernment Nov. 22, 2009 @ 11:17 a.m.

The problem in San Diego, fumber, is that the Republican mayors and councilmembers treat taxpayer money like private toilet paper. Speaking for myself, higher city/county-wide taxes going into the General Fund would be very welcome! But to the Repub administrators in SD, the idea of real taxes is horrifying and toxic, at least if they want to appeal to their anti-tax supporters. But they do know the back door to privatizing taxation, and boy, they go in and out of it like slick little slime balls.

If all of the privately controlled tax dollars extorted from area-specific business owners and property owners, and handed over to individual area nonprofits to play quasi-government with, were instead rightfully collected from all city/county taxpayers and added to the General Fund, San Diego would be doing all right.

Millions and millions of privately controlled taxes are paying business associations and nonprofit exec directors undeserved salaries, $60K-$75K/year. Add to that their office supplies, office rent, websites, newsletters, insurance, on and on...there is very little bang for the buck for all of the imposed private taxes controlled by business associations/nonprofits. Check it out for yourself via 990 forms, BID/PBID/MAD/Redevelopment PAC council data and meeting minutes, and CDBG allocations.


SurfPuppy619 Nov. 22, 2009 @ 11:22 a.m.

The problem in San Diego, fumber, is that the Republican mayors and councilmembers treat taxpayer money like private toilet paper

Fumblers comment was just removed.


Fred Williams Nov. 23, 2009 @ 7:21 p.m.

HonestGovernment, you've put your finger on the situation. Those "associations/nonprofits" we support, whether we want to or not, or frequently staffed by insiders rather than professionals. They end up squandering a lot money on administrative expenses, expensive contracts for their friends, and high staff salaries.

But it's peanuts compared to CCDC's fraud, waste, and abuse.

Which pales in comparison with the tens of millions we give away, the well-documented result of bribery, to the Spanos and Moores sports-entertainment and real estate development companies.

Which is still just a speck compared to the financial hole we dug when we decided to raise pensions and benefits without planning to pay for them.

...and surprise! Those pensions and benefits were foisted on us by the union leaders who elected some of those politicians. Those union leaders leaned on city employees to keep their mouths shut about these scams...the city employees obeyed, helping to cover up the mess. They were paid to keep quiet about their fears for the future, and to not oppose the pipe dreams of the McGrory and Golden that bankrupted this city.

It's a full circle, or even a Mobius strip, eternally punishing the citizens of the city and enriching a small well-connected group of immoral swindlers.

To find the names of these swindlers, just search the UT archives for the last two decades with the key words "civic leader".


DX Dec. 8, 2009 @ 2:06 a.m.

As a downtown/east village resident since 1994 many changes have been witnessed. In 1994 this area had definitely seen better days. The neighborhood had a real 1940/1950's vibe to it yet had apparently seen better days sometime earlier than when I moved here. As a newcomer to the area it wasn't me among those comlaining about anything and I was not among those pounding their pud about "upgrading the neighborhod." The flurry of building upgrades apparently have successfully resulted in much the same thing except now there is an early 21st century look them.


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