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Downtown SLO loses more than a dozen shops to COVID-19

Posted at 9:59 AM, Jul 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-07 17:43:06-04

Correction: The Flip Flop Shops store has moved to 716 Higuera Street in San Luis Obispo.

The continued spread of COVID-19 and the state's delicate re-opening plan has had a heavy financial impact on the Central Coast, forcing dozens of businesses to go under.

In Downtown San Luis Obispo, several shops sit vacant and "for lease" signs are propped up in the windows.

"The Peet's location, they were there for 13 years," Adam Quaglino, a property manager for Quaglino Properties, said. "It came as a little bit of a shock, they were in the middle of their lease."

Quaglino is now tasked with leasing the 1,600 square-foot space on Higuera Street.

Peet's Coffee is one of many businesses in downtown San Luis Obispo snuffed out by the pandemic.

"Downtown has always been a challenge for a lot of reasons, there's limited parking and things like that," Quaglino said.

The usual hurdles of doing business downtown, where rent is notably higher than elsewhere in town, pale in comparison to the sudden shutdown of the state's economy.

"There's no question that this has been a challenging time for downtown," Downtown SLO CEO Bettina Swigger said.

Through weekly Zoom conferences, Swigger and her team help business owners understand the phases of re-opening and the resources available.

Downtown SLO is in the process of distributing bags of gloves, masks, paper towels, and hand sanitizer to its members.

The City also rolled out its street dining program, to close off vehicle traffic to allow for more spaced out dining.

Despite the city's efforts to help, Swigger can count at least 15 shuttered shops in the Downtown area, including Sock Drawer, Grill House, Bella B., Fiore, Asian Bistro, and Jules D.

But Swigger said not all of them are gone for good.

"We have seen the businesses that were able to diversify and put their services online be more successful and in some ways," Swigger said. "This has accelerated their plans to create more of an online platform."

But cyber shopping isn't good for property managers like Quaglino.

"In our line of business, the only way we make revenue is if we collect rent," Quaglino said.

Quaglino said he's willing to work with financially strapped tenants by extending their rent freeze or other finding other solutions to help them stay in business.

Ultimately, he said he believes the best way to fill the vacancies at Peet's Coffee and nearby Jules D is to support tenants invested in this community.

"These corporate businesses aren't invested in our community like a local company or someone that actually lives here," Quaglino said.

And Swigger agrees that SLO's success, it's survival, depends on community investment and support.

"The people who work in our downtown stores are our friends and neighbors," Swigger said.

In the flurry of closures are some new businesses like Tortilla Town and Federico's that are new to the Downtown district.

**This story previously included Apropos as a business that is closing but the business owner said the shop remains open.