At first, Christian Nardi assumed she was alone when business started flagging two years ago. Owner of Bee Hive, an independent children's bookstore on Montezuma Avenue, Nardi will have run her store for seven years this November. She also hosts story times and book clubs, and works with public school teachers and librarians to provide not just a store but a community resource.
"As an independent kids bookstore, it was easy to think that it's my store, my model, what I'm doing," Nardi says. "I was kind of struggling with this on my own, doing everything I could do fight the downturn."
This summer, she says, "it has been the quietest it's ever been. … Saturdays are cut in half in terms of sales."
So when Nardi saw Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber at a July MIX Santa Fe event, she approached him. "I just said, I'm really struggling, it's downtown Santa Fe, it's Main Street and it's … ghost-town quiet." She proposed to Webber a block party to create more energy. She says the mayor was open to the idea and suggested Nardi reach out to other businesses to gauge interest.
That's when she learned she wasn't alone—her neighbors were struggling too.
About a dozen of them are now set to meet with Webber and other city representatives Sept. 18 to brainstorm.
As business owners started talking, a narrative emerged pointing to myriad challenges that have curtailed pedestrian traffic—and with it, customers—in the area. Two years ago, the Sanbusco Center closed and Cost Plus World Market moved. In summer 2016, the City of Santa Fe raised meter parking rates from $1 to $2 for the first hour. Then, last spring, construction began on Sanbusco by New Mexico School for the Arts, which plans to open its new campus in fall 2019. That construction further strangled parking as well as both vehicular and walking traffic from the busy Railyard area to the main stretch of Guadalupe. While the Railyard area booms with traffic and events, streets just a few blocks over are quiet.
"It's become extremely inaccessible," Nardi says. "If you come down here, like right now, 11 am on a Tuesday or 3 on a Thursday, it's quiet. There's nobody walking around. I think all of these factors—no shopping, no parking, no pride, no love, no energy—has just made such an impact on this neighborhood."
Linda Doria, owner of The Beat Goes On, located in the Guadalupe Center, says her 20-year-old consignment clothing business remains solid, which she attributes partially to having designated parking and to her longtime destination shopper clientele. But she has tracked, through written surveys with customers, a 30 percent downtick in walk-in traffic during the busy times of year.
"That, to me, is a pretty strong indication that pedestrian traffic has decreased," she says. One of the ideas Doria plans to propose to the city is creating signage to emphasize the neighborhood. "I don't know what the answers are," she says, "but we need to raise our voices as a group of business owners and say, 'Hey, we're here, we're part of the Railyard, we're a vibrant part of the City of Santa Fe in terms of shopping and galleries and restaurants, and we need to be recognized."
Barry Secular, co-owner of Cowgirl BBQ on Guadalupe Street, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, says right now the business "has the least amount of foot traffic that I can actually remember." In addition to the parking woes, Secular also points to the city's Santa Fe Pick-Up shuttle, which ferries passengers from the Rail Runner Railyard station to various spots around town, such as the Plaza, museums and Canyon Road.
"They created a jitney van that picks up people right on Montezuma [Avenue] before they've even set foot into the neighborhood, and then whisks them out of the neighborhood," he says.
All the businesses specifically point to daytime as when the neighborhood is suffering. Marja Martin, owner of the popular one-year-old dinner restaurant Paloma on Guadalupe Avenue, says this became particularly noticeable when she tried to launch a weekend brunch.
"We had a gorgeous sexy delicious brunch on Saturdays and Sundays and we couldn't fill it," she says. "We thought there would be street traffic … people walking by."
Regina Wheeler, the city's new Public Works Department director, says she sees some relief coming in both plans for increased parking areas for the Railyard and a new self-serve pay system at all city lots, along with an app that allows people to check meters on their phones and reload them.
New life is on the way when NMSA opens in 2019, followed by the New Mexico Museum of Art's Vladem Contemporary on Montezuma Avenue in 2020. For Nardi and others, that's positive. But they also need to survive in the interim.
"This neighborhood is in transition," she says. "The shopping emptied out in preparation for the next phase of this neighborhood, and the next phase is very long in coming."