Local Fourth Avenue businesses cope with downtown changes
Fourth Avenue has long been a staple of the Tucson community. According to the Fourth Avenue official website, the historic street is home to over 140 local businesses that represent the vibrant and diverse culture of Tucson.
Despite being an integral area for Tucson culture, many business owners on Fourth Avenue are facing challenges that are hurting their livelihoods.
Tank Ojha, Ph.D., owner of Everest Souvenirs on Fourth Avenue, said that the city of Tucson has been his biggest competitor in recent years. Ever since the Sun Link streetcar was constructed and parking spaces have become sparse, he’s seen far less foot traffic to his store.
“Before the streetcar was put in, business was good for me,” Ojha said. “But after the streetcar was put in, business has been bad.”
An uptick in interest in the area by building developers has also created challenges for Ojha’s store. He said that because many developers are interested in constructing new buildings on Fourth Avenue, the appraisals for the land keep rising, causing an increase in taxes that are difficult to keep up with.
Ojha has also faced challenges with competing with online retailers and the lack of the business from University of Arizona students.
“[College students] come into my store and they like to take pictures, but they don’t buy anything,” Ojha said. “They usually see stuff in here and go on to buy it on Amazon. They only come in to buy stuff if it is too expensive online, but that doesn’t usually happen.”
Online retailers are a large competitor of many local businesses. Morgan Miller, co-owner of Antigone Books on Fourth Avenue, says that Amazon is the biggest competitor that independent bookstores face.
“I don’t view other independent bookstores as competitors, I view them as supplements to our own,” Miller said. “The real competition we face is against Amazon. Online shopping takes away the personal aspects of physically shopping.”
Although having to compete with Amazon poses a challenge, Miller remains optimistic that the online corporation won’t take all of her business.
“We generally have a lot of foot traffic,” Miller said. “Our customer service is unique, and we cater to the community rather than being beholden to a corporation. We hope that each customer leaves having had a positive experience with our store.”
For other businesses on Fourth Avenue, garnering foot traffic isn’t necessarily an issue. Sometimes the types of people that gather in or near them is what poses a challenge.
Olytata was a gift shop that was open on Fourth Avenue for almost 12 years. This past Memorial Day was the store’s last day, as owner Olivia Ramirez decided that she wanted to mobilize her shop rather than continue to come in and operate on a day-to-day basis.
Ramirez said that attracting business was never an issue, but sometimes the types of people that roamed the avenue were a challenge for her business.
“There are a lot of homeless people and people under the influence on Fourth Avenue, so that was challenging sometimes,” Ramirez said. “But I always say, on Fourth Avenue, you get some of the worst people but you also get some of the best.”
Although their time on Fourth Avenue has come to an end, Ramirez said that it’s not the end of Olytata.
“We plan on doing shows and some other things, but I’m not sure what so I can’t really say," Ramirez said. "But we are going to have a website and sell more products online. It was time for me to change and [closing the shop] gives me more freedom to do other things.”
When asked if she thought her business would change by moving into the digital landscape, Ramirez said she had no idea but she wasn’t counting on it.
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