TRUCKEE, Calif. — For Natasha Weissman, Truckee’s small-town feel and unique shopping experience led to her decision to open a small business downtown.
“I actually talked to several business owners before I opened … with several who felt like a corner had been turned in terms of the recession,” said Weissman, owner of Tahoe Oil & Spice. “… (Less business turnover) also gave me confidence in the area. It was that, ‘Hey, these stores that are here are making it.’”
Since opening on Dec. 6, 2013, in the Flying A building, business has been going “very well,” she said.
Overall, business in Truckee has experienced a similar trend, merchants and town officials told the Sierra Sun recently, leaving them and others cautiously optimistic about the future as the Great Recession continues to recede.
“As a whole, locally, I think things seem to be turning around,” said Mike Preaseau, owner of the Cooking Gallery and board president for the Truckee Downtown Merchants Association.
One small way to measure that is through sales tax revenue. In fiscal year 2007-08, the town collected about $3.7 million — that fell 23 percent to $2.82 million when the Great Recession hit in fiscal year 2008-09.
It continued to drop in 2009-10 to about $2.41 million, before growing to $2.9 million the next fiscal year. In 2012-13, sales tax revenue was up to roughly $2.93 million.
“We’re optimistic for sure,” Preaseau said. “Given the past, how slow it was just because of the economy, we saw that big dip, but it seems like we’re pulling out of that.”
By making cuts such as purchasing less inventory, Preaseau said the Cooking Gallery was able to weather the economic downturn.
But not all were as lucky.
James Macdonell, principal and broker of Main Street Commercial Real Estate, estimates there was a 15 percent vacancy rate in commercial row from 2008 to 2010. Today, it’s about 7 percent.
“There was a huge vacancy down here because a lot of people dropped out; they couldn’t take it, which negatively effected us,” said Preaseau, whose business is located on commercial row. “As a downtown, we want to have full buildings, so now you’re seeing businesses coming back into the downtown. You’re not seeing the vacancy rate we saw before, which is also a positive indicator.”
Still, some businesses have recently departed Truckee, including Porters Sports Lake Tahoe in the Crossroads Shopping Center after 54 years, and commercial row’s Backstreet Boutique, which closed in April after seven years, in the face of increasing rent rates.
Former owner of Backstreet Boutique Kim Keese said her monthly rent and common area maintenance would have increased 68 percent after her lease was up.
“We were doing very well,” she said. “... It was tough to let it go, but there was nothing I could do.”
‘KEEPS THE PRODUCT FRESH’
When asked how many businesses have recently left Truckee, Alex Terrazas, assistant town manager, said without a business license program, there’s no mechanism to accurately track merchants that leave and come to town.
Yet, on the town’s “Introducing New Truckee Businesses” web page, 12 confirmed new businesses ranging from restaurants to a butcher shop to salons have opened since 2013.
“(Since the recession) I think we saw some business changes, and I always say that’s a good thing because it keeps the product fresh,” said Lynn Saunders, president and CEO of the Truckee Donner Chamber of Commerce. “There are a lot of reasons why businesses change or shift, and often you don’t know all of the reasons, but I think with every business that leaves, it creates another opportunity for somebody who’s fresh, who has an innovative idea that they really want to try, to come in.”
Saunders said the chamber has received an increase in business inquiries — ranging from general questions about Truckee to known commercial locations — over the past few months.
When asked for a figure, however, she said the chamber doesn’t track it.
Yet, OpenCounter, a web-based tool that helps identify requirements, fees and processing time for someone interested in opening a Truckee business, has received roughly 38 inquires since it launched March 11, Terrazas said.
“It’s an exciting time, actually,” he said. “... We see space leasing up in the downtown. We see new investment and new businesses opening in the downtown.”
‘A VIBRANT DOWNTOWN’
On Wednesday, four commercial properties in the commercial row/Brickelltown area displayed “For Lease” signs, one sported a “For Lease/Sale” sign and one had a “For Sale” sign.
“I think for us in Truckee, it’s crucial to have a vibrant downtown because we’re the heart and soul of Truckee,” Preaseau said. “... Having a diverse and full downtown is one of the keys to making a vibrant downtown.”
Aiding that effort are town investments, including the $4.5 million Brickelltown Streetscape Project that will include sidewalk and streetscape improvements between Spring Street and McIver Roundabout, to beautify downtown and encourage visitation by locals and visitors.
“I think everybody’s very hopeful and optimistic that it’s going to be a huge success for Truckee,” Saunders said of the Brickelltown project. “... Connecting that whole way, I think will add, hopefully, a lot more traffic for all those businesses because I know it is a challenge when people get to the corner.”
In January 2014, Truckee Town Council approved two incentive programs — the Economic Development Support Program and Economic Development Fund Program — to help foster a healthy, year-round local economy by providing financial assistance for specific projects.
The town has received 14 applications for the support program that provides funding for special events, marketing activities and studies to further economic development; and 12 applications for the fund program that provides money for construction of public infrastructure.
The development fund has $2.4 million available for eligible projects, with $5.5 million requested. The support program has $235,000 available, with approximately $390,000 requested.
Staff is reviewing applications, and it’s anticipated recommendations for funding will be considered by town council this month.