As the economy slowly comes back to life, downtown Mesa is seeing vacant space filled by new businesses and existing ones expanding their presence.
Last week, Sugar Shack opened in the building vacated by Blimpie, at Main and Center streets. It is the latest creation of Omar de la Cruz, who also owns Mangos Mexican Cafe & Bakery, and de la Cruz Bistro in downtown Mesa.
And this week, Domestic Bliss has opened its new location fronting Main at Robson. The store is temporarily smaller than its previous location, in the same building, but it will be expanding its presence in the building this spring.In the past couple of years, the downtown area lost about 20 businesses, bringing the total to roughly 430. But there's now an uptick in interest in the region, said Tom Verplogen, president and board secretary of the Downtown Mesa Association.
"Downtown is a mainstay," he said. "It's 130-plus years old, so it has a lot of history, and there's certain draws to the area being the cultural, civic and governmental center, as well as the 400-plus businesses down here. Since the first of the year, there's been considerably more interest than there was last quarter."
Verplogen said he's regularly talking to businesses interested in leasing or purchasing vacant commercial space in the downtown area.
"I was just talking to someone who wants to put a restaurant in," he said. "Where S'Bistro went out, I think we'll have a restaurant in there ... within six months."
Numerous new businesses have opened in recent months, including Nunthaporn's Thai Cuisine, Sun Dust Gallery, and Cucina di Vita Italian Deli.
"Out of the whole square mile, there's 62 properties that are for sale or lease within the downtown area, and half of that is within the six blocks between West First Street and West First Avenue, from Center Street back to Country Club Drive," Verplogen said. "There's some older buildings that need work ... but that's where there's a concentration of properties available and that's where we're getting the inquiries."
Omar de la Cruz opened Mangos more than 13 years ago and then opened de la Cruz Bistro a year and a half ago at the start of the economic downturn.
"It was really slow, but it did well," he said. "Things significantly slowed down, but we are seeing things coming around. Mangos has been busy and our bistro has been busy, and we've had a good response here at Sugar Shack so far."
Mesa is changing, and therefore downtown Mesa is changing, and that's good for business, de la Cruz said.
"It used to be almost a sleepy town and now we have the traffic, and we're trying to bring the night life downtown," he said. "With the bistro, we have live entertainment on the weekends, and hopefully other people will follow. Little by little, we're trying to get things going in the evening."
Dan and Kristin Alber opened Domestic Bliss in summer 1999. According to their Web site, "the streets were torn up and morale was down. People discouraged us from opening a boutique in a struggling downtown. Despite the odds, we decided that Mesa was a good place for us to start."
Through the years the business has grown, and in 2005 the Albers moved it to the C.M. Berge building, which the couple renovated in 2004. Domestic Bliss was located along Robson, but when another tenant's lease expired, the couple wanted to move the store to the vacated space fronting Main.
"It's quite a bit smaller so we're just going to take in the best of all of our little sections, from our baby clothing to home accessories, and put it in that corner," Dan Alber said. "In the spring, we're going to open a new concept in the back, so we're going to open a second store back there."
The store survived the recession and is continuing to do OK, he said.
"People still like to shop; they still like to see unique things ... and what we really love to do is find the items, the unique, fun things, and it's been going decent," Alber said. "We feel like this is a good time for us to do this (two-store) concept."
The C.M. Berge building remains fully occupied on the first and second floors with a wide mix of tenants, he said.
"Even in this economy, we have some of the best tenants you could ask for, from interior designers and graphic designers, to a frame shop company, weight training and corporate offices," Alber said.