Why Are Businesses on Main Street Closing?

In recent month, many businesses on Main Street have been either closing or relocating. Photo: Courtesy Main Street Santa Monica.

Looking at why so many restaurants are going out of businesses on this famed SM street.

By Keldine Hull

It’s a sequence of events the residents of Santa Monica have become all too familiar with: you head over to your favorite shop or restaurant only to find its doors permanently closed with no explanation or immediate plans to reopen. Main Street has suffered the loss of several popular businesses within the last few years, including Areal, Hinterland and New York based Bareburger, also located on Main Street, which was scheduled to close its only West Coast location last Friday.

Perhaps the most surprising closure is Chaya, which has been a part of the community for twenty-nine years. Yuta Tsunoda, President of Chaya Restaurants and M Café Partners, released a statement via the company’s website addressing their closure. “We sincerely appreciate all of the support you have shown us over the years,” Tsunoda begins. “We also want to thank our incredibly loyal staff and all the guests that have visited and supported us over the last 29 years, while allowing us to share and celebrate so many important milestones and memories. Being a part of the Venice community has been an incredible experience, and we will each continue to carry with us its indelible spirit.”

Main Street Business Improvement Association Executive Director Hunter Hall offers insight into why certain business make the difficult decision to close. “Whilst there is a laundry list of reasons why individual businesses decide to close, the usual suspects are always rent increases, the increased cost of labor and products and reduced foot traffic due to market forces like online retail and the surge of online food and grocery delivery, which reduces people’s need to leave the house for necessities.” Hall adds, “On top of that, Santa Monica is still trying to overcome its reputation as being a cumbersome city to open and operate a business in.”

Constant closures and empty spaces inevitably have a negative impact on Santa Monica and its residents. Hall explains, “The fact of the matter is that everything is cyclical and even though our organization and the other BIDs have been trying in earnest to communicate the warning signs of a retail and restaurant paradigm shift to the property owners of Santa Monica, it typically falls on deaf ears.” Hall continues, “There is a particularly aggravating lack of concern from absentee landlords and corporate real estate portfolios which is made worse by the fact that some property owners actually benefit from vacancies when it comes to tax time. That’s why one concept that has been discussed several times lately is that of a vacancy tax. This would dis-incentivize property owners from keeping a space vacant for too long and help to keep commercial districts thriving.”

Despite the not-so-merry outlook on the future of many business in Santa Monica, all hope is not lost. “When one business closes, another opens eventually,” Hall continues. “That injects some new blood into the street which is ultimately a positive thing. Hopefully, all new businesses will be able to survive and thrive instead of just struggle every day to pay an exorbitant amount of money for unrealistic and artificially inflated property values.”

In the upcoming months, both residents and visitors of Santa Monica will have several new events to look forward to that represent a silver lining in the current predicament. The goal is to invigorate the city and breathe new life into the community. “At MSBIA, we are committed to continuing our work improving the vitality of Main Street,” Hall explains. “We’ve got lots of exciting things in the pipeline, like our new Main Street Rewards program, which is a fantastic deal for anyone who lives and works in the area. We’re also working on new decorative lights with amplified music, similar to The Grove, and more street closure events like our upcoming Holiday Event this Saturday, December 1 at the California Heritage Museum, and Summer Soulstice 2019, which will be a full street closure from Pico Boulevard to the city limits. We plan on formally exploring the feasibility of a San Francisco style street trolley looping between Main Street and the Downtown Santa Monica area, which would be a nice amenity to locals and tourists.”

To learn more about the Main Street Rewards program, visit MainStreetSM.com/Rewards