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Economy

San Ysidro businesses expect another subpar holiday season

Two weeks ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom took a statewide victory lap, declaring that “California has now fully recovered all jobs” lost during the pandemic recession.

But in San Ysidro, 200 businesses closed and thousands of jobs have been lost since early 2020.

“Unfortunately, that’s not the case here in San Ysidro,” said Jason Wells, CEO of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, in response to Newsom’s announcement. “We lost over 2,000 jobs here during the pandemic. Those jobs have not miraculously come back.”

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San Ysidro’s retail sector depends on cross-border consumers. So non-essential travel restrictions implemented by the Trump administration and continued by President Joe Biden devastated the local economy.

Retail sales figures are still down 25% from where they were during the pre-pandemic, Wells said.

Although San Ysidro was hardest hit, the impact of these travel restrictions was felt throughout the region, said Jimena Villaseñor-Martinez, international business affairs coordinator for the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Between 2019 and 2021, the economic impact of cross-border consumers plummeted from $428 million to $85 million, Villaseñor-Martinez said.

President Joe Biden lifted the travel restrictions in late 2021, but much of the damage had already been done.

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“Local companies have struggled with their workforce showing up late and delaying production and shipping times, which then increases costs and has companies lose clients,” Villaseñor-Martinez said. “Sometimes they even decide to move out of the region or just stop investing in San Diego.”

Long border wait times and the ongoing closure of the PedWest crossing continue to stifle San Ysidro’s economic recovery. This is particularly harmful during the holiday shopping period.

“Over a third of our businesses make their overall net profit for the year between Nov. 20 and Jan. 6,” Wells said. “This is extremely crucial.”

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) closed PedWest during the pandemic. It remains closed today due to a backlog in training new staff because the agency’s training center was closed during the height of the pandemic.

Mariza Marin, the new San Ysidro port director, has previously said it is her top priority to reopen PedWest. But the agency doesn't have a timeline of when that will happen.

CBP did not respond to questions from KPBS about the reopening of PedWest.

In San Ysidro, vacant stores and “For Rent” listings are grim signs of the community’s slow recovery. People who remember it as a bustling commercial hub now describe it as a ghost town.

“It’s pretty sad because San Ysidro used to be a pretty crowded community and now this boulevard is pretty lonely,” said Diana Salazar, who used to shop along San Ysidro Boulevard with her mom when she was a kid.

Now people mostly just go to the bank and the P.O. box, she added.

Salazar joined the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce during the pandemic. Her job is to connect local businesses with grants and loans to help them avoid shutting down.

The chamber created a recovery plan to help struggling businesses. Wells asked elected officials to help fund different aspects of the recovery plan.

County Supervisor Nora Vargas’ office contributed more than $300,000. However, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria did not respond to Well’s plea for aid.

“Unfortunately, it’s something that we’re used to,” Wells said. “We often say we’re part of the city of San Diego — the forgotten part.”

The mayor’s office said Wells sent the email too late for it to be included in the fiscal year 2022-23 budget allocation process.

Businesses in San Ysidro can apply for a small business grant program that San Diego allocated $12 million to in the 2022 fiscal years, the office added.

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