Burlingame Avenue still open for business

August 5, 2008 7:18:55 PM PDT
The economic downturn is fueling fear among residents in a mid-Peninsula town about a wave of store closures on one of the Bay Area's most upscale business districts. City Hall is putting up an unprecedented fight against those rumors.

Six blocks of high-end stores and gourmet restaurants cater to the affluent mid-Peninsula residents of Burlingame and Hillsborough. However, these days as you walk the avenue, you can't help but notice the empty storefronts, the "for lease" signs and the closeout sales like the one at Ann Taylor Loft.

All this is causing concern among the avenue regulars. City Hall has been inundated with callers worried that retailers are leaving town en masse.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of Burlingame Avenue's death are greatly exaggerated according to City Hall which even issued a press release to stop all the rumor-mongering.

"The downtown is doing quite well," said Bill Meeker, head of Burlingame's community development. "We've in fact experienced a 7 percent increase in sales tax revenue over the same quarter last year."

Corporate retailers have taken over many mom and pop stores on the avenue, but some of them have closed because of their own financial problems. The Sharper Image has been replaced by another shop. A rug store replaced Bombay when it closed its doors. Talbots is also gone and no new tenant has occupied the space. The closings fueled concern of more to come.

The biggest shock of all is the demise of Burlingame Stationers, owned by one family for more than 75 years. Manager Gayle Harrington says the owners can't afford a rent increase while profit margins are dropping.

"We've had a lot of tears. Hugs and tears. It's sad, very sad," said Harrington.

Many mom and pop stores here have moved to Broadway, a business district where the rents are much cheaper.

Isabelle Depaz moved her store, All That Glitters. After 25 years, her lease was not renewed.

"Broadway is the way we used to be 25 years ago on the other side of Burlingame. More individual little stores," said Depaz.

Some call this Rodeo Drive North. The rents are not as high, but many store owners complain their rents have doubled or tripled. Still, the Chamber of Commerce says there is a lot of demand.

They say they're getting calls all the time for space on Burlingame Avenue, despite the high rents.

As the press release says, "Burlingame is open for business."


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