The city is losing its retail competitiveness to its neighbors, officials warned last week, reporting that total sales declined for the first time in nearly a decade last year, with only the Glendale Galleria continuing the steady increases of the 1980s.
A consultant hired by the city to study shopping patterns reported to the Redevelopment Agency on Saturday that high-volume discount stores, such as IKEA and the Home Club in Burbank, and specialty boutiques in Pasadena are luring Glendale residents out of the city to shop.
A survey of six categories of goods and services showed, for example, that only 47% of Glendale residents shopped for home furnishings in the city this year, compared to 74% in 1983, said marketing consultant Martha Thayer, president of Thayer Keener.
“We’re not capturing the market share,” City Manager David H. Ramsay told the agency members during a daylong study session on strategies to make the city more competitive. “The numbers are going the wrong way.”
Thayer’s study found that last year, as the recession hit full force, sales by non-Galleria merchants plummeted 18.5% to $132 million, the lowest in a decade.
Meanwhile, retailers in the Glendale Galleria reached a peak of $353.2 million in sales in 1990, but that wasn’t enough to keep the city’s total from a 9.5% decline.
The city receives a portion of the retail sales tax, which is one of its main sources of revenue.
Members of the City Council, who also serve as the Redevelopment Agency, discussed a number of measures to restore the city’s attractiveness to shoppers, but settled on no immediate plan.
Among the suggestions were remaking downtown; using direct incentives to retailers, such as remodeling assistance, and appointing an economic development council made up of business people, who would act as liaison between the Redevelopment Agency and retailers interested in locating in the city.
Mayor Ginger Bremberg said she was worried that retail incentives would divert money from redevelopment projects, such as the Galleria III or the renovation of the Alex Theatre into a performing arts center.
But Councilman Larry Zarian argued for an aggressive approach, including easing zoning restrictions.
“We need to emulate other cities to see if we can create the same type of atmosphere and capture that dollar,” Zarian said. “We can’t be complacent.”
In the past, Zarian argued, city regulations inadvertently discouraged retailers from relocating to the city.
“We did everything to discourage Mi Piace restaurant from moving to Glendale,” Zarian said, referring to the popular Italian restaurant-bakery that had considered the city as a possible site nearly three years ago, but chose Pasadena instead.
“You can’t get in,” Zarian said. “People from Glendale eat lunch and dinner there all the time.”
Bremberg, however, said she could not support lowering standards. “I do not believe in relaxing codes,” Bremberg said. “But I do believe in making it convenient.”
Bremberg suggested distributing a brochure outlining procedure needed to establish a business in Glendale.
The agency also directed city staff to make a list of proposals to rejuvenate the downtown retail district.
These might include improving downtown lighting to encourage walking after dark, devising a sign system to direct visitors downtown, forming a central valet program to increase parking and employing unarmed patrols by police officers or security guards on downtown streets.
The agency also proposed designating individual retail districts that would encompass no more than three blocks of retailers, who would coordinate operating hours, advertising, tenant compatibility, entertainment and food service.
However, city officials balked at offering subsidies, such as constructing a parking structure or purchasing land for a single retailer. Instead, the agency might create parking for a group of stores or help assemble land for a retailer who might be interested in scattered properties.