Just take a drive across the Coachella Valley. You’ll see construction projects left and right, but you’ll also see many empty. Failed businesses. And if you think it has to do with what city you live in, well you’d be wrong.
Business across the country is thriving. Unemployment reached one of the lowest numbers ever in May 20-18. And the Coachella Valley is also feeling the boom.
Virtually every city is growing. Desert Hot Springs Mayor Scott Matas says, “we’re seeing quite a bit of a boom.”
“Business is doing great,” says Palm Desert Director of Economic Development Martin Alvarez.
Cathedral City Director of Economic Development James Stone says, “business is thriving within the city.”
But at the same time, virtually every city has empty business.
Take downtown Indio for example. At one point it was the bustling center of the city. But now a stroll down Miles Avenue, you’ll see few people, and a lot of these empty businesses.
“It’s hit us hard. We’ve struggled for the last 8 to 9 years,” says Bill Tanghe, Owner of Johnson Photo.
Tanghe says his business in downtown Indio has struggled ever since the recession hit.
“We lost a lot. We lost a lot of businesses down here,” he says.
Back in the early 1900s, business there was the center of town. “I was told at one point there was 125 businesses in a six block radius,” he says.
Now the area looks empty. But the city says since the economy is doing well, that’s about to change. Indio City Manager Mark Scott says, “we actually just signed a deal with College of the Desert for a second campus in the downtown.”
So that will bring more investment to downtown, but it’s not the only problem spot. Toys R’ Us and Target recently closed its doors. Scott says that’s a nationwide problem, not an indicator of a struggling local economy.
“Big box retailers don’t do well anywhere. If it’s not called Walmart or Amazon they’re really not doing that well in anybody’s market,” says Scott.
What about other cities? In Desert Hot Springs, the Little Morongo Shopping Center has been near empty for years. Mayor Scott Matas says at first glance, it’s not appealing to retailers.
“Quite a bit of business can happen here, it’s just the traffic counts and people coming and going on the different routes doesn’t seem as much on paper,” says Matas.
Even popular Palm Springs has its areas.
Mayor Robert Moon says, “It’s interesting how culture changes and people’s shopping habits change. Because when the Old Palm Springs mall was built back in the 80’s that was the big thing to go inside a big mall that’s filled with pink marble and air conditioning, but that went away.”
And in Cathedral City, business on the Highway 111 corridor has been sparse although the city has plans to change that.
In Racho Mirage, there are scattered vacancies in The River and Rancho Las Palmas Shopping Center.
And look at Palm Desert. Even El Paseo has an 11% vacancy rate.
Martin Alvarez says, “as markets fluctuate you’ll see some vacancies come forward. But we’re in a positive situation right now where we’re actually seeing the vacancies continue to be reduced.”
And of course, all of the cities hope this trend continues. But even one of the wealthiest cities, Indian Wells, has empty stores. The Village Shopping Center, once anchored by Ralphs, sits mostly empty.
The La Quinta cove can’t seem to keep grocery stores. First it was Ralphs Supermarket, and just this year, Jules Market closed up.
La Quinta Mayor Linda Evans says, “when people say well why aren’t you putting a new grocery store there, well we don’t own it. And we have provided many leads to that property owner. And that’s a matter of okay well do you repurpose it?”
Across the Valley in Coachella, the same issues in specific shopping areas pop up. Assistant to the City Manager Jacob Alvarez says, “I think with the Coachella Valley, it’s kind of the new norm. With giants like Amazon occuring, it makes it hard for folks to get those walk-in buys.”
But even though there’ssome vacancies, Joshua Bonner CEO of the Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce says, in general, business in the desert is really booming.
He says, “from a valley business perspective, we like to see an increase in activity, an increase in hiring, and we’re seeing general expansion in the valley and that’s good.”
Good. But business owners like Bill Tanghe are still struggling, “I hold my breath, but cross my fingers, hoping that I’m going to be here long enough to at least see a bit of resurgence.”
So Tanghe says he’s cautiously optimistic.
Now the challenge for each of the nine cities is to bring in more foot traffic, and they all have big plans.