Walking through downtown Watsonville on a warm fall day, the sidewalks were empty, save for barber Fernando Govea sweeping the slab of concrete in front of his West Beach Street shop.
Business is slow, he tells Watsonville City Manager Carlos Palacios in Spanish.
That sentiment was heard time and time again by volunteer crews traversing the downtown corridor for the annual Watsonville Business Walk, an event put on by the and the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture.
The , held at the end of September, aimed to reach out to small business owners to both collect information and offer support. Although the full report on Watsonville's business climate won't be complete for weeks, some trends emerged when the volunteers shared the feedback they received on the walk.
- Mom-and-pop establishments—like , which Govea and his wife, Griselda, have been running for 18 years—are struggling.
- Many business owners blamed the Great Recession. Downtown stores and restaurants are largely dependent on field worker traffic, which is less these days. Meanwhile, the cost of doing business—rent, buying product, wages—stay the same or even increase.
- Businesses elsewhere in the city reported they were doing about average or even well, like the auto body shops on Freedom Boulevard. A couple said they slammed lately and don't need any more business.
- The health care industry is doing well. Some are even expanding, like the on South Green Valley.
- Airport-area business are getting innovative and reaping rewards as a result.
The requests merchants made for assistance ran the gamut from trimming trees, adding public trash cans and power washing city-owned buildings to finding new storefronts for them and revitalizing downtown.
Watsonville City Councilman Lowell Hurst, who walked the newly-redone East Lake Shopping Center, said "many of the merchants are struggling, but they're optimistic," Hurst said.
It helps that the shopping center just got a facelift: a fresh seal on the parking lot and new tile roofs.
"It was really positive," Hurst said. "I'm filled with hope."