At a time when many of her working class peers were struggling through the recession this spring, Sandra Billorin realized her American dream and in May she opened Mil Colores Outlet Store, a clothing store, on Mission Street.
“Since I came here I always wanted to have a store,” said the Nicaraguan native who immigrated to the United States during the Central American wars of the 1980s. “It’s time.”
That’s proven true for others as well. The empty storefronts that made the Mission Street corridor a depression era snapshot in January, have started to fill. Landlords have lowered rents and found entrepreneurs like Billorin willing to move in.
When Dairo Romero, a community organizer for the Mission Economic Development Agency, surveyed Mission Street in January, he found 38 vacant storefronts. Last week Mission Loc@l counted 28 empty storefronts. Four of those have already been rented.
Even during good times, the odds of staying open for more than four years are 50-50. But for Billorin and others, the recession is also an opportunity.
Romero, who has been with the development agency for three years, and others said that lower rent is the main reason the street now has a new boutique, dentist office, remittance center and stores selling everything from cell phones to avocados. Even the non profit Romero works for is filling the vacancies and will soon be at 2301 Mission St. Walgreens too will open up a new store at 3030 Mission St.
Many of the new stores, including Mil Colores, serve the Latino community and it’s too soon to tell if they will survive. Some of the street’s taquerias that depend on Latino workers are struggling as the high unemployment rate in construction has affected many immigrants, but so far Mil Colores is doing fine.
“People here don’t go downtown to Macy’s,” Romero said. “They feel more comfortable shopping here.”
Another example of a store serving the Latino clientele is the dollar stores like One $ Only at 2665 Mission. It opened earlier last month. “The 99 cents store sells the things that the people need,” Romero said. “A lot of people don’t like them, but those are the ones that can pay 11 or 12,000 for big locales.”
Mil Colores, La Oxaquena, a restaurant, and the Artillery Apparel Gallery, a design store, all benefited from lowered rents.
Casa Guadalupe, a grocery store at 2598 Folsom St., just opened Casa Guadalupe 3 at 2999 Mission in the same block as Casa Guadalupe 2. The owners of Casa Guadalupe declined to talk to Mission Loc@l, but Romero said they opened the new Casa to attract a different clientele with different products.
Casa 2 is packed with ethnic products; some are even double stacked in the aisles all the way to the top. Casa 3 is well organized, though it currently carries almost all the same products at the same price.
Stephanie Ballinas, 21, said she likes the new storefront because it’s closer to her house, though she noted that it is a bit more expensive than the other ones. Salvador Saldana, 65, a nearby resident, said he welcomes the store where he can get products from his native El Salvador.
“I think it is good for the community because it is more accessible,” Saldana said.
It was unemployment that inspired Ivan Lopez, 23, to open the Artillery Apparel Gallery in May. For months, he hunted for work as an artist to pay off student loans. “If nobody hired him, we’d have to be part of the solution,” said his mother, Astrid Lopez.
Lopez was able to get the location near the 24th Street BART for $2.17 a sq. ft. Storefronts in the Mission range from $1 to $4 a sq. ft. He said they were able to rent the 1,380 square foot locale because rents have decreased.
Opening a store like the gallery on Mission Street, which sells apparel handmade by artists, is a challenge said Lopez.
“We were worried about opening a store like this on Mission [St.],” the Mission native said. Though, he added that he feels like his store has been well received so far.
In June, Billorin’s store did well enough to pay the rent and invest in more inventory including Levis—a new brand for her. Business is slow towards the end of the month because people are saving to pay their rent, she said “People come in and tell me ‘when I get money I am going to start shopping here,’” she said.
Billorin said she’s confident because people in the neighborhood know her from her last job waiting tables at Jim’s Restaurant. She worked there for 10 years and now many of her former clients, have stopped in.
She also says, it’s all about quality.
“Quality things will speak for themselves, that’s my motto,” she said.
Empty Storefronts from Cesar Chavez Street to 16th Street
New tenants this year: 10= Green
Soon to be: 3= Orange
Permit Palpitations: 2=White
For rent or for sale: 10=Yellow
Vacant, no apparent plans: 9=Red
Map by ANDREA BRAMBILA & RIGOBERTO HERNANDEZ