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Calexico merchants seek economy boost

October 04, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — Looking to entice customers to Calexico's downtown shops and eateries, merchants and city officials gathered Wednesday night and talked about slashing prices, improving parking and banding together to put on a Halloween promotion.

The meeting had added importance for some because business downtown and throughout Calexico has suffered recently after stricter security regulations on both sides of the border have changed the way Mexican immigrants cross into the U.S.

According to statistics provided by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and anecdotal evidence from local merchants, fewer Mexican tourists are driving over the border through the downtown Calexico port and the number of tourists coming over to shop or eat has declined.

Libby Peraza, manager of the Calexico Valley Independent Bank branch and president of the Chamber of Commerce here, said, "We're all suffering a little through an economy that has hit us hard."

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She said deposits at the branch started to drop in the weeks following the attacks.

To reverse the recent trend, Peraza told the merchants to band together.

"We all need each other," she said.

Hildy Carrillo-Rivera, chamber executive director, told the merchants she needs them to cobble together statistics that would illustrate how their businesses have been affected recently.

"We need to know how much sales have gone down," she said.

She will use this information at a meeting next week with INS and U.S. Customs Service officials.

Increased security at the border will be addressed at that meeting but Carrillo-Rivera didn't blame the federal agencies for the recent downturn.

She did mention Mexican media outlets that have warned prospective tourists to stay away from the U.S. for safety reasons.

Carrillo-Rivera told the assembled merchants to advertise in Mexicali and get the word out that Calexico welcomes their business.

She announced a "Shop Calexico" campaign to capture local dollars of the employees of the school district and the city.

She said local employees who don't have to "sell 10 pairs of shoes at LA Fashion to make money" or "sell 12 dresses at Garlan's" should use their paychecks to help out the downtown merchants who do.

City Manager Richard Inman, city Chief Building Official Bob Williams and the assistant to the city manager, Nick Fenley, said the city supports their efforts and would work to maintain downtown's "vibrancy."

Police Chief Tommy Tunson said he would be increasing bike patrols downtown and will be working on plans to make sure people who cross the streets downtown are as safe as possible.

After the city officials made their comments, the merchants let loose with their ideas for improving the downtown shopping experience.

Four city councilmen listened to their comments, although the Brown Act did not allow them to talk about city matters as a group or address the merchants.

Joe Moreno, manager of Super Shopping-Apple Market, proposed free parking downtown to coordinate with the "Shop Calexico" campaign.

That idea was applauded by some but derided by those who said a person willing to drive to the downtown area and spend $100 on a pair of shoes would not think twice about paying a quarter for parking.

Ali Siadi, owner of three clothing and shoes stores downtown, said the meters are necessary because he has seen border-crossers park their cars in front of his stores just to walk over to Mexico, bypassing Calexico shops entirely.

Siadi and others said the real problem is employees of downtown stores parking in spaces that could be used by customers.

He proposed a system that would allow employees to park in side lots for free, clearing space for customers.

Inman wrote down the idea and offered his business cards to any other merchant who had a plan to improve the area.

Roy Dorantes of Western Auto said special sales would get customers back downtown. He proposed slashing prices and starting a special Halloween promotion to trumpet the discounted goods.

In the coming week, the merchants will meet again to work out the details of the promotion.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or claverie7@hotmail.com

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