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What’s so great about Trafalgar Square

A new business graces the community, but where did the old tenants go?

 

 

Valley Parkway is loaded with great plac­es to shop and has an abundance of grocery stores and discounted shops for consumers to pick from, but Trafalgar Square is offer­ing a location that prides itself in being a little bit different from all the conventional markets available to consumers.

The new building has been constructed to house a new ALDI supermarket, which will be surrounded by adjacent restaurants and shops that will have prepared food for customers to sit down and enjoy.

Escondido’ s Trafalgar Square has com­pletely renovated its strip mall to accom­modate a new set of businesses that are moving into the community. The owners of the location continue to be in the process of resolving legal action between them and former tenants of the property who were leaseholders for the torn down spaces.

Most of those involved in this transition refused to be quoted on the record, although they were willing to talk without attribution. As a reader, please note that the Times-Ad­vocate encourages you to decide for yourself the validity of these anonymous statements. The T-A attempted to contact the current owner and management company several times for comments without success.

“You could see it coming,” said one of the long-term tenants; a statement that would be repeated by many other business owners residing at the plaza. “When the property management continuously began to change and nothing was being done to maintain the property you could tell that something was going on but nobody knew what.”

Plan proposals were submitted to the city for Trafalgar Square for construction in 2014, but not until early this year did construction begin for the new ALDI Su­permarket that will replace the numerous spaces that were once part of a mini mall that housed various local businesses.

The 18,088 square foot building received its official building permit on May 4, upon Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approval. Traces of the old build­ing still remain. The dry cleaners service is still located at the end of the shopping center in what remains of the old structure. IHOP is still conveniently across the park­ing lot from the construction zone.

As the former building was in desperate need of repair, the demolition and remodel of the new business structure was a wise choice for property owners as the structure had gone nearly 10 years without repair. Ac­cording to records from the county clerk’s office, the building occupied by Martinique Dry Cleaning (the remaining tenants) was renovated by the tenant in 2005 for $80,000. These tenants had agreed to pay for this renovation in order to obtain the space for operation.

Eventually, the city ordered the restau­rants to install grease traps and floor sinks in 2012 despite the fact that two of the three businesses did not actually need fryers: one was a bakery and the other a sandwich shop. Now, the new building, nearing completion, will be surrounded by eateries, so a large grease collection system has been installed. Apparently, the City requires every restau­rant to have grease traps, regardless of need.

Trafalgar Square is located at 1310 East Valley Parkway. Before it was built the, corner space had been occupied by various businesses since 1964. First opening as a Nurseryland, it was sold an average of every five years to more than four types of busi­nesses until the early 1980s when smaller businesses began to occupy the area and HS Brown and Associates became owners.

So, what’s so great about Trafalgar Square? Or rather, why did patrons keep coming back? The answer is the people and businesses that occupied it: full of tradition and more than a decade of service for most. Owners were friendly, full of energy, family oriented and thriving on customer satisfac­tion and loyalty. With lack of maintenance to the property, the scenery slowly dimin­ished and as the plaza became more and more run down customers still frequented the shops.

Over time deep cracks replaced white space lines in the parking lot. The result of years of neglect and very little maintenance. Eventually, it became questionable whether the storefronts were even open anymore based on the cosmetic appearance. For some stores— loyal customers eventually became the only customers.

Such a transition from a run down plaza to the exciting new grocery store that is drawing the attention of shoppers through­out North County was not a quick one. For more than seven years, the owners of Tra­falgar Square worked on plans to increase profits but were not quite sure what to do with it. Ownership changed in the 1990s and again in 2004. Since 2009, upkeep on the buildings, security, safety measures, and code enforcement had been left entirely to the shop owners due to unresponsive action from the buildings management company, which had switched out representatives at least four times in the last 10 years. When tenants questioned the option for renovation or the need to provide attention to repairs or lease renewals they were ignored or (they claim) lied to.

The German-based discount ALDI gro­cery stores are quickly sprouting up around the country and are already in 34 states since their introduction in 2011. “More than 32 million customers each month benefit from the ALDI streamlined approach, bringing shoppers the highest quality products at the lowest possible prices every day,” accord­ing to the FAQ section of the store’s official website at www.aldi.us.

Their guarantee in lower prices with high quality produce comes from the di­rective encouraging consumers to buy ALDI brand products from their stores, similar to purchasing store brands in oth­er supermarkets. The store also endorses several aspects of “going green,” like cus­tomers having their own shopping bags and avoiding the need to police shopping carts through their “cart rental system,” along with various other strategies in­tended to save the consumer money over­all through “smarter” business practices. Healthy produce and customer service practices are similar to those attempted to be made popular through Fresh and Easy supermarkets, which was recently pur­chased by ALDI.

Negotiations to renew leases at Trafalgar Square had become unreasonable for the cost of updating and repairing conditions that existed within the plaza before the ren­ovation for the ALDI grocery store became the final decision. Management began to only offer options for lease renewals with a 3-year contract in 2014 while the city of Es­condido was working to approve the prop­erty owners’ contractor plans to renovate the area.

The construction site for Trafalgar Square where a new ALDI supermarket is scheduled to open soon. Photos by Anne S. Hall

The construction site for Trafalgar Square where a new ALDI supermarket is scheduled to open soon. Photos by Anne S. Hall

When the contractor fell through that same year for this earlier attempt in renovation that would have housed the ex­isting tenants so did all the plans to keep the original space thriving. The idea of leasing spaces no longer seemed viable.

“We had known that we needed a new space and were working with the property management to potentially stay at the Tra­falgar Square and they did express a desire to keep us there, but the conditions for re­newing a lease were unreasonable. They wanted us to switch window fronts, reno­vate the new space ourselves before moving in, and pay a specific amount of money to move into that space while only maintain­ing a three-year contract. It wasn’t worth it, so we took the time to look elsewhere,” said Jill Riley of Cute Cakes, whose state­ment was supported by three other former businesses from the Trafalgar location with similar experiences.

Some businesses even gave in to the three-year lease requirement with the expec­tation that the location would be renovated, but those renovations would not affect their business operations in 2014. When con­tracts for renovation of the original build­ing at Trafalgar Square fell through, the leased tenants were allegedly told they had to leave regardless of their contracted lease agreements. Some business owners were given no other choice but to renew month-to-month because the property own­ers would not allow any other arrangement. The deadline for finding a new location was imminent. In fall of 2015 all tenants, regard­less of lease agreement, were given notice of eviction that gave two months (at best) to be out of the building.

Upon receiving this eviction notice, many businesses say they were also served with additional fees for unpaid debts that were not accurately billed. The property owners were trying to fine the businesses remain­ing even though they were— according to the former tenants— being forced to break their lease agreements. Lawsuits were filed as the former tenants fought to relinquish their obligations to Trafalgar Square with­out further penalties. The management had even lost some of the tenants’ lease agree­ments. The local cleaners, still thriving at the location are still knee deep in legal ac­tion against the property owner and refused to comment on the details due to the court proceedings.

Other settlements for other businesses have been made and they have moved on to other local areas and also have declined to be interviewed regarding their experiences. I attempted to reach out to the owners of Tra­falgar Square to ask them to share their per­spective on the years they have owned the plaza— and was ignored. I was similarly ignored by the current management company.

Since some patrons of the former shops do not know what happened to them we have listed the new locations of those still in operation that we could find below. Some businesses didn’t survive the change and were forced to close their doors permanent­ly. Some lost their livelihoods, (and more) in the process.

It takes hundreds of thousands of dollars to invest in a business with a storefront. The expense of moving cost one business owner a minimum of $60,000 just for the means to relocate. This does not include the expense of finding a new location and remarketing it. Other businesses took the chance on virtual­ly starting over to find a location that suited their customer base, though they said that they miss many of their customers.

Among the businesses that could not withstand the storm of continuing on from Trafalgar Square were Cowgirls Accesso­ries and China Bistro. Many patrons in Es­condido were truly saddened to see them go.

“I’ve been going to the laundromat, but my daughter used to go to the dance studio that used to be here. We loved that dance studio before it all came down. That’s all we did. I don’t think I really missed anything. It was really run down. I really liked the west­ern store because I got recycled boots there all the time. So I was kind of disappointed to see that go, but I don’t know where she went off to,” said Kelleen Aguinaga, a Val­ley Center resident.

“I heard there’s going to be a supermar­ket here. I started as a customer at the lau­ndromat when it was owned by the previous owners,” said Marcia Karadashian, an Es­condido resident. “I’ve stayed with them because they’re great and I hope they’re going to stay here. I haven’t found other locations that I liked. I used to have morn­ing meetings at IHOP and used to go to Sub­marina while it was here. I didn’t go to the Chinese restaurant. People I know loved it but I never went.”

“The construction is not going fast enough. It’ll be nice to see this area all built up new,” said Guy Losey, who lives just up the street from Trafalgar Square. “I come through here almost every day. I eat at IHOP and other restaurants surrounding the square. I moved into the area around Sep­tember of 2015 and I have been watching and seeing what’s going on. Lots of con­struction. I love it. I am retired and used to work for Qualcomm as a project manager. We built a lot of buildings while I worked there”

“We need more Chinese restaurants in Escondido,” said David Ross, a long time patron of China Bistro and Editor-in-Chief of Times-Advocate and the Valley Roadrun­ner, “I was wondering what happened to the place.”

“Businesses can’t survive without strong leases so they look for long term contracts to ensure their investments,” said Dr. Firm­tzis of the Optometry Clinic.

With the uncertainty created by the Great Recession, increased concerns for risks ex­ist for all parties when looking to maintain real estate, occupy a storefront, approve a loan and prosper in a business that thrives on customer service and face-to-face inter­action. Commodities are swiftly changing with social values and reprioritization of resources.

For patrons interested in re-visiting some of the businesses that did manage to find new homes in Escondido I have taken the liberty of tracking them down through public record:

Submarina
1511 East Valley Parkway
Escondido, CA 92027
Martinique Dry Cleaning
1310 East Valley Parkway
Escondido, CA 92027
Best Foot Forward
426 West 2nd Avenue
Escondido, CA 92025
Cute Cakes
345 West Grand Avenue
Escondido, CA 92025
Hummingbird Florist
905 East Valley Parkway
Escondido, CA 92025
Eyecare Optometric Center
3440 Del Lago Bl., Suite E
Escondido, CA 92029


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