The prolonged economic downturn has hit all of Santa Monica’s commercial districts, but the Pico district hasn’t been hit as hard as the rest.
Jennifer Taylor, the City of Santa Monica’s liaison to the Pico Improvement Organization (PIO) said, “overall, Pico Boulevard is still holding its own because it continues to provide essential goods and services that local businesses and residents require.” Pico has also attracted a number of new businesses in the past year that are offering moderately priced meals and merchandise that “meet the needs in this economy of what people want.”
Taylor also noted that Pico “hasn’t seen a big spike in vacancies” and that most of the storefronts that are empty will soon be occupied. Instead, the lower rents in the district have “created opportunities for new businesses.”
Sales at the Pico Farmer’s Market are also up because more people are cooking at home these days and are interested in sustainable, healthy, and high-quality ingredients. One of the area’s new restaurants, Jose’s, is featuring menu items that use ingredients from the Farmer’s Market. Some of these sales are the result of the City’s buy local campaign which has encouraged residents and businesses to support local services and businesses.
Pico businesses are also trying to “diversify their customer base” said Taylor, to survive in this economy. One new clothing store is not only operating a retail store but also selling wholesale merchandise online to other businesses. Some restaurants are providing catering and take-out services in addition to sit-down meals.
The Chair of PIO, Robert Kronovet, who owns Kronovet Realty Company said Pico is continuing to do well because of business from Santa Monica College students, tourist business from the Grayline’s Hop On, Hop Off bus and because it has good Big Blue Bus service. He also mentioned the advertising program that helps all new businesses that apply for a business license in the district. This program includes $1,200 in advertising through door hangers to 6,000 nearby residents. The money is raised through the district’s business license fees.
Kronovet also mentioned that commercial rents have dropped about 10 to15 percent during the recession and his in his view the market for both commercial and residential properties has bottomed out.
PIO’s secretary, David Ruiz, stated that Pico’s more affordable rents “are why businesses stay in business on Pico” and why new businesses want to open there. He also mentioned that the PIO would be hosting its Fifth Annual Pico Festival on Oct. 16 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. It started as an art walk, then they added a car show but it is now also a festival so that “more businesses can participate.” One of PIO’s long-range goals is to add more cafes in order to make Pico Boulevard more pedestrian oriented.
Two new Pico businesses that opened last March: Upper West and Bite Bar and Bakery. The manager of the Upper West restaurant, Fred Eli, stated that their Pico location is great for reasonable business dining because there are a lot of high tech and pre- and post-production companies nearby. They are also trying to “attract people from different areas that usually don’t come” to the Pico area to eat out.
Bite Bar and Bakery’s chief/owner, Elizabeth Goel, chose Pico Boulevard because the storefront space she rented was just right for her “casual gourmet” business. To her the “area has great potential,” but things have “been challenging because people are watching what they are spending.” Since opening she has been making adjustments to her business and is encouraging feedback from her customers.
More information about the PIO can be found at www.picopassport.com.