The Outlets at the Border have seen an uptick in sales since the opening of the San Ysidro PedWest boarder crossing. / Photo by Maya Srikrishnan

When PedWest, a second pedestrian border crossing in San Ysidro, opened last summer, it was lauded as a major step forward in border infrastructure and a tool to help decrease border wait times for pedestrians, who often spend hours trying to cross.

Indeed, the new pedestrian bridge has resulted in more overall pedestrian crossings since it opened, but it may have shifted border-crossing patterns in a way that is driving businesses near the old border crossing out of business.

Pedestrian crossings on the eastern side of San Ysidro have plummeted form fiscal year 2016, from 6 million to 3.2 million this year, while PedWest had 4.5 million crossings in fiscal year 2017.

Businesses near the eastern, older port of entry have suffered as shoppers crossing at PedWest are spit out on the U.S. side of the border, right in front of shopping outlets.

“Business is going down like crazy,” said Shamim Iqbal, the owner of Bargain Zone, a small business on Beyer Boulevard in San Ysidro that sells baby and children’s clothing. Iqbal said his sales went down by 30 to 40 percent over the last year.

Over Thanksgiving weekend this year – where he typically makes enough money to get him through any bad months for the rest of the year – Iqbal said he had a 50 percent decline in sales.

“It’s a lot,” Iqbal said. “A lot, a lot, a lot. We’re planning to close. We are not surviving right now. We don’t know what we’re looking at next year. I have two years left on my lease, and can’t close tomorrow.”

Sunil Gakhreja, the owner of Sunny’s Perfume, a cosmetics and beauty supply store on eastern San Ysidro Boulevard, said he’s hardly getting new customers anymore. Compared with any given day last year, he said, his sales this year are probably around 50 percent less.

“It’s getting like a ghost town, a little bit,” Gakhreja said.

Gakhreja said last year he had three to four employees; this year, he’s down to one.

“They’re crossing from that side and leaving from that side,” he said, referring to potential customers using PedWest.

On the other end, near the new PedWest crossing, the picture is different. The new crossing spits out pedestrians in front of the Las Americas Premium Outlets and the Outlets at the Border.

John Walker, the general manager of the Outlets at the Border, said pretty much all his retail tenants in the shopping center have seen a double-digit increase in sales since last year, when PedWest opened.

“I don’t know that we have a single national tenant that hasn’t seen some sort of increase since July,” said Walker.

The impacts of the changing border impacts vary, he said, but he thinks that improvements to border infrastructure will eventually help both areas.

Walker said his outlet’s current weakness is in food offerings, which it’s working on. A Carl’s Jr. opened two weeks ago at the outlets and has strong sales. Another national food chain tenant is coming in soon, he said.

“We’re the first stop/last stop and we’re very optimistic going into 2018,” he said.

The opening of PedWest is one of a list of woes impacting the businesses in the eastern side of San Ysidro.

“Ninety-five percent of our clients at this point are coming from Mexico,” said Jason Wells, executive director of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce. “Every change in the peso, every minute of wait time, every person that doesn’t cross affects us.”

Wells said that immediately following the 2016 election, he saw a marked decline in crossings, but the number has started to creep up. Vehicle crossings in San Ysidro have been slightly down from last year, from 13.9 million to 13.5 million, according to CBP data.

Wells said he’s hopeful that additional pedestrian and vehicle lanes coming online at both crossings will help alleviate the strain on some of the small businesses.

Gakhreja said many businesses along San Ysidro Boulevard have been hurting for a few years. The businesses take hit from any decreases in border crossings due to changes in immigration enforcement or even construction at the port of entry, which has also happened this year. PedWest has just added to their problems.

But he’s also hopeful that the improvements and expansion at the eastern San Ysidro port of entry will help businesses bounce back.

“We don’t know what is going to happen and how long we’ll survive,” Gakhreja said. “Hopefully things get better.”

Maya was Voice of San Diego’s Associate Editor of Civic Education. She reported on marginalized communities in San Diego and oversees Voice’s explanatory...

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