shoppers downtown

The return of Barnes & Noble to the Promenade opened a new chapter in Santa Monica’s economic story but the post-Covid narrative of the city’s business community has been hard to write with big departures from some areas and more recently, a wave of openings.

With local officials looking for ways to revitalize the Promenade, SMDP asked shoppers downtown what they thought of the city’s overall retail environment. Shoppers had mixed opinions about the current state of retail and businesses.

Marina Del Rey resident Elon Magana said Santa Monica is regaining its economic vitality with a resurgence of stores opening but said more expensive stores are dominating the Promenade while smaller and independent businesses go under.

“I mean yeah, there are a few businesses popping up. It’s changing, it’s definitely changing. It looks to me as if they are trying to get some more higher end stores too on the promenade. And I notice some of the boutique stores are closing their doors. It’s still a mixed bag. You can get a lot of variety here, as I said it looks like it’s trying to go higher end,” said Magana.

Princess Davis, an employee on the promenade from Inglewood said since Covid, the promenade has dwindled and high rents are part of the problem.

“I notice a lot of businesses leaving, I don’t really think I notice anything new. A lot of them are leaving more than they are opening up. I work here, so I see how many businesses are leaving on a daily basis. This area is very popular, and as you can see there is a lot of foot traffic, while meanwhile there are areas which are more in the residential, not so much. I think it is good. As you can see in this area specifically, there is a lot of retail and a lot of stores. I think the price is what has been causing the struggle for some vendors,” said Davis.

Santa Monica resident Keira Yanez also said she thought businesses were struggling with high rents that prompted waves of openings and closings.

“I feel like Main st. completely changed. A lot of the businesses that were originally there closed down and new ones popped up. And they closed down again. Same with here, I work just down the street on Wilshire, so I am on the Promenade all the time. Stuff closes then reopens, then closes again. There is constant cycling of different businesses because I guess the rent is so high here that businesses can’t continue. Even big brands, it’s crazy,” said Yanez.

Resident Iraj Saif said that the reason for the downfall of the Promenade is due to the populations of homeless people.

“Prior to the pandemic it was really thrilling, but with the homeless and the government doesn’t have a program to house them and take care of them. Unfortunately, things are down. About 30% of businesses have closed. Montana is more vibrant because 3rd St. is exposed to the train which everyone gets off of on 4th St. They are not being taken care of. We have addicts, and also homeless which are all mixed instead of housing them separately and taking care of them. I notice they are going out of business because maybe 3rd St. is not ready socially or economically ” said Saif.

Several shoppers familiar with the Santa Monica area said the Montana Ave. shopping area is thriving in comparison to the Downtown shopping scene.

Venice resident Yousef Aman said the Promenade in specific offered little to entice him compared to other shopping areas.

“We love Montana. Montana seems more for locals than tourists, while the Promenade seems more for tourists. It’s the middle of summer, it should be packed. If you aren’t going for the main usual suspect, Lululemon, Nike, whatever, I would shop outside the main chains. You can find better boutiques in Venice. We would go to Abbot Kinney over Montana even though it’s very similar,” he said.

There was little consensus on what would make the Promenade in specific more appealing with some shoppers wanting more big brands, some wanting more independent options, some cited more diversity in food options as a draw and others said they wanted different kinds of clothing options.

“All of these brands are fast fashion brands,” said Washington resident Caroline Ariz. “I know I am really into thrifting so I’ve moved away from these types of stores. They are less appealing, especially with the prices. I know this isn’t the area for thrift stores or maybe more vintage stores but that would be cool.”

Regardless, shoppers felt it was expensive to buy goods in the city.

Danita Barigye, a visitor from Uganda explained her perspective on prices in Santa Monica.

“It is pricey as hell. Right now I just spent $80 on 5 things. $80 in Uganda can get you like 15 things. It’s expensive, but it’s also understandable seeing that everything that is expensive has to meet up with other prices like if taxes and rent is high,” said Barigye.

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...