Shops and eateries hit hard by OC Streetcar project look forward to its completion
Construction of the OC Streetcar project began in January, and seven months later, businesses along 4th Street remain affected as the 4-mile urban rail system takes shape. Sidewalk closures and roadwork have brought foot and vehicle traffic to a halt.
Yet despite the challenges, many shops and restaurants in the neighborhood are open and ready to serve.
“I am blessed that I am on a corner,” said Teresa Saldivar, owner and operator of Teresa’s Jewelers, which sits on the corner of 4th and Broadway.
Saldivar has been working in Downtown Santa Ana since she was a teenager, taking tickets at the Yost Theater. She opened her jewelry store with her sister in November 1985 and offers custom and designer jewelry for sale as well as watch and jewelry repair.
“We are the only jewelry store in Southern California that I know of that does newborn ear piercings,” Saldivar said.
Saldivar also said she loves her community. “Honestly, it has been great. It has been awesome working in downtown,” she said. “But right now, it has been difficult.”
In May, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved Supervisor Katrina Foley’s proposal to support businesses affected by streetcar construction and the ongoing pandemic with $1.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds.
Despite the assistance, it can be difficult to navigate 4th Street as construction continues. On July 11, the city website announced a full closure of Main Street intersections at 4th Street and Santa Ana Boulevard.
“The closures will be in effect 24 hours a day for the duration of the work in this area,” the statement reads.
But business owners say there are good reasons customers should brave the dust and demolition.
“Downtown Santa Ana is so vivid, so full of life, so full of different options,” said Loreta Ruiz, owner of La Vegana Mexicana at 4th Street Market.
Her vegan restaurant began five years ago as a pop-up, working out of the market’s commissary kitchen, and has made a name for itself with vegan tamales and more. On July 8, the eatery soft-opened in a larger space.
“We are very excited that we upgraded to a larger stall inside 4th Street Market,” Ruiz said. “Hopefully, that will also come with a larger menu.”
While Ruiz has been successful enough to expand, she and other business owners still face challenges as a result of the street closures.
“Not has only 4th street been closed but also the avenues that bring you from the freeway. That makes it very difficult for people to get here,” Ruiz said. “We know that we have gotten feedback from customers saying ‘We were driving around and we couldn’t find a way and we got tired and left.’”
ShariNori, another 4th Street Market vendor, has had a similar experience.
“We are known for our omakase boxes and party platters with high-end fish and waygu,” said chef and owner Brian Kim.
The luxury sushi spot puts a multicourse fine dining experience into a bento box. Kim, who also goes by Chef Han, was inspired by his experience working in the kitchen at Nobu and by his father, also a chef. Originally, Kim’s concept worked as a pop-up using the market’s commissary kitchen, and he found success during the pandemic doing curbside orders.
“We did curbside, but now since everything is all blocked off we stopped doing curbside pickup,” said Kim. “That was when our sales dropped a lot.”
ShariNori has instead decided to focus on an a la carte menu with sashimi and specialty rolls at its stall in the market and invest more in its dry-aged fish program. Next month, Kim hopes to roll out a tasting menu. He is optimistic about the future.
“I feel like it is only going to get better. When they finish this project, it is going to be nice for the city,” Kim said.
ShariNori’s next-door neighbor is the Golden Eatery, which rebranded in June from Golden Hot Fried Chicken. Along with new items, the menu still offers its most popular classics, like a Nashville hot fried chicken sandwich and loaded fries.
“Now we are adding traditional wings and a smash burger,” said chef and owner Oscar Gonzalez.
Gonzalez opened his original concept in 2020, when 4th Street Market was a “ghost town,” he said, due to the pandemic. The Golden Eatery’s official grand reopening kicked off on June 25, with Gonzalez offering a free order of wings to his first 25 customers. The wings are available in traditional or popcorn-chicken style, and the flavors include bourbon BBQ, buffalo, honey garlic n’ chili, garlic parmesan, lemon pepper and more.
“We have Nashville hot-chicken style with our comeback sauce, and we are adding mango habenero,” said Gonzalez. “So we got some pretty good stuff in here.”
Like his neighbor, Kim, Gonzalez is also hopeful about the future.
“We have really, really loyal customers. I encourage more people to come try us,” said Gonzalez. “All I want is to look forward.”
Across from 4th Street Market, Bait Santa Ana also looks to loyal customers. “Our business is ... demand-based so if someone wants something they are going to make their way down here,” said Craig Lee, assistant manager at the lifestyle and shoe store.
But for those customers not anticipating the latest product drop, Lee recommends taking advantage of the free parking. “It’s two-hour free parking,” he said, “and that’s a big thing because it used to be not free at all. So it makes a big difference.”
It’s not just recently opened businesses that draw visitors to the area. One of Downtown Santa Ana’s most beloved vendors, Jose Guadalupe Rodriguez, who goes by Mr. Diablito on social media, has been serving the Santa Ana community for more than 30 years, selling fresh fruit, raspados and chips from his mobile cart.
Before the construction, Rodriguez could be found posted daily at the corner of 4th and Bush streets. But as the construction moves, so does Mr. Diablito.
As of July 14, the fruit cart’s confirmed location was 4th Street and Broadway, near Starbucks.
Bridal and quinceañera shops are also a large part of the area’s history, and while the number of shops has dwindled in recent years, a few remain to serve the community.
“Our shop has been here for over 20 years on Calle Cuatro,” said Caroline Romero, whose family owns Shelsye’s Bridal and the Perfect Day on 4th Street. “We specialize mostly in quinceañera and weddings. And we do other events for our Latinx community.”
Romero said she basically “grew up under dresses” and remembers when the entire block was quinceañera shops. On a recent afternoon she carefully cut lace as she talked.
“We’ve been hit hard by this construction,” she said, “but it’s been years now that we have seen Santa Ana change.”
Romero said her family’s shop offers additional services too, like event planning, catering, limousine rentals and photography.
“Pretty much anything for your special day, we can do,” said Romero.
Romero added that you don’t have to be turning 15 to come in.
“We do dresses for prom, mother of the bride, bridesmaids,” said Romero. “For myself, I got a dress here to go Vegas. Pretty much any event that you might have, you can find your dress here.”
In many ways, Downtown Santa Ana offers unique services and experiences that can’t be found in other parts of Orange County.
Ruiz said she hopes customers can grant hers and other 4th Street businesses a measure of grace. “I would like to tell them to be a little bit patient and support us,” she said. “It might take them a little bit longer, but there is a way to get here.”
Teresa’s Jewelers owner Teresa Saldivar agrees customers can make a difference in ensuring these businesses are still there after the dust settles.
“We really do need all the help,” she said.
Parking is free in Downtown Santa Ana during the week from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the city’s four public parking structures (3rd Street and Broadway, 5th and Spurgeon streets, 3rd and Birch streets and 5th and Main.)
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