Local merchants struggling

By Charles Ratliff

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The life expectancy of a business in the University Boulevard and Park Avenue district is getting shorter.

One merchant said when he opened his store he was told by everybody in the area that previous tenants in his location had failed.

So Al Valenzuela sold his University Boulevard Gordo's operation after one year.

"When I received two offers to buy me out, I just figured it was time to leave," Valenzuela said.

He said when he opened his doors from day one, he experienced the same problems other merchants have: direct competition with the university, high rent, low customer volume during the summer months and the problems merchants have encountered concerning the All Aboard card.

Other businesses were not so lucky.

Last week, Mike's Place in the University Square complex closed after 12 years in the neighborhood and Bagelry on Park Avenue shut down after seven years for similar reasons.

Only University Drug on the corner of University Boulevard and Park Avenue has been in business longer. Opened in 1922, current owner Mike Rukasin has operated the corner drugstore since 1980.

Judge John Malloy, president of the Marshall Foundation who owns the University Square and Geronimoz property on the west end of campus, said the University Boulevard area "used to be a much more desirable area." He said the area used to be a prime location with a waiting list of merchants itching for space.

"We have a development plan that would redo this whole block," Malloy said.

One idea he said the foundation may follow up on is remodeling the buildings with red brick to match the university buildings nearby.

Malloy said he hopes to draw a mix of tenants that might include nationally-known shops and stores.

Recently, Cost Cutters moved in to the space next to Chesapeake Bagel Bakery on University Boulevard. Malloy confirmed yesterday that the foundation was also talking to Tower Records.

Rukasin said national names meant nothing in the university area. He said Radio Shack, Swenson's and Fredericke Fisher Jewelers have all had shops in the area.

"These people have two record stores for tenants and they're talking to Tower Records?" Valenzuela said.

"I don't know how any of these other guys are doing it," he said.

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