What’s wrong with downtown Half Moon Bay?

By on Wed, March 14, 2007

High rents and a lack of tourists are taking their toll on Half Moon Bay’s Main Street, reports Julia Scott in the County Times.  Businesses catering to locals are barely hanging on or have just left downtown—and those catering to tourists are facing relentless pressure.

"We’re hitting rock bottom here. We’re going to lose a lot of businesses," said Nidia Nelson, owner of Nuestra Tierra, a Mexican Gallery on Half Moon Bay’s Main Street.

Nelson is one of several local merchants in prime locations along Main Street that normally benefit from gift shoppers out for a stroll on weekends as they search for jewelry, fine art or antiques. But merchants say the foot traffic isn’t there anymore, and many never recovered from the 20 percent slump they endured over Christmas. Then there are shop owners like Nelson, who are facing rent increases just as they near the desperation point.

Nelson opened Nuestra Tierra six years ago and has since spent $20,000 on capital improvements. Her rent, $3.25 per square foot, is the most expensive in town, and the landlord raises it every year. He told her that if she can’t pay it, others can, according to Nelson.

"And we won’t be able to pay it," she said.

Twelve retailers closed their doors last year in Half Moon Bay and more chains—Popeye’s, Jamba Juice, and Peet’s—are moving in.  Chamber of Commerce CEO Charise McHugh is quoted blaming Coastsiders for not shopping locally. Locally-oriented merchants blame a plague of galleries for raising rents. The impact of the closure of Devil’s Slide is still debated. And everyone seems to be unhappy with their landlord.


"The chamber is doing the best we can to get the word out," said McHugh. "We don’t have the power to tell people what kinds of shops they should open or tell landlords not to raise the rent.

The debate over the direction of Half Moon Bay’s downtown continues, but there seems to be no agreement on what the problem is, or whether there is even a problem.  The big retail chains understand that downtown is the next frontier. I visited Union Square this week for the first time in a couple of years, and it’s now more like Stanford Shopping Center with crosswalks than the shopping district of a world-class city.