Some find the Hill lacking in business and diversity
Rumor has it that the Hill is struggling to survive. This may not be true, depending on who you ask. And if you ask a representative from the City of Boulder Municipal Government, the likely answer is no.
Molly Winter, Director of Downtown and University Hill Management Division and Parking Services for the City of Boulder, refuted rumors that businesses on the Hill are experiencing hard times. Instead, Winter said the Hill businesses are on the rise.
“How we judge it is from the sales tax revenue on the Hill and we have not seen a decline in those revenues. . In November, (there was)a 1.4 percent increase in sales tax (and) overall, the tax receipts are showing a 3 and a half percent increase,” Winter said.
Wesley Robinson, Director of Neighborhood Relations for UCSU, said the situation is not fine and paints a far different picture of commerce on the Hill.
“The vacancies on the Hill kind of speak for themselves,” Robinson said. “There’s continual turnover. There [are] generally three or four spots that are open on the Hill at all times. There are some cornerstones that definitely do survive, but mostly out of reputation and history.”
Robinson explained the struggle for new businesses to make it.
“With startups, there’s really no time of incubation period for someone who wants to do business,” he said. “You have to have either a really large investment or a really solid plan to make it work. So it’s pretty hard.”
Winter, on the other hand, said vacancies are not a sign of a problem and argued that people are over reactive to unoccupied space.
“I think what it is healthy and normal in any commercial center is turnover of businesses,” she said.
When questioned about recent closures on the Hill, Winter pointed the cause to personal decisions made by the owners and away from financial problems.
When explaining the closure of La Iguana in 2005, Winter said, “I knew the owner and I think she is the mom of a young child and just decided that this was taking too much of her time and energy. … With small businesses what the owner wants and has on his or her own agenda certainly impacts whether the business stays on or not.”
One idea upon which Winter and Robinson can both agree is that some businesses on the Hill are doing a lot better than others. Sentiments from stores on the Hill reflect this discrepancy in success.
Jus’ Burritos employee Kerry Miller acknowledged that business is slow. However, Boulder Greens, one of the only salad-based food stops on the Hill maintains business is going great.
Robinson points not only to the lack of history and loyalty with the new stores, but also to financial strains on businesses in Boulder as reasons why some stores on the Hill are struggling.
“Rent is pretty high, which is definitely hard,” Robinson said. “So being able to maintain a high amount of cash flow into your business, while being able to do some type of startup put a lot of strain on you if you don’t have the money factor.”
Lack of variety may also be a problem.
“I prefer eating on Pearl Street, because it has a larger variety of restaurants to choose from,” said Betsy Strait, a sophomore management major.
The narrow range of restaurants and shops on the Hill is one area that Robinson, along with the New Hill Group, an alliance of Boulder citizens looking to improve the area, hopes to change.
“It’s in the students’ best interest to have a little more diversity on the Hill beside four sandwich shops, four burrito places and two pizza places. [It needs] more clothing, different things to do, some nice restaurants. [The New Hill Group] is talking about a hotel, a movie theater, stuff like that,” Robinson said.
Parking on the Hill might also contribute to some stores’ struggling. With little over 200 spaces, parking on the Hill is far from perfect. Expanding the parking around the Hill is the New Hill Group’s most ambitious vision. The group wants to increase the number of spaces from 200 to 2,000.
“The way the Hill is slanted, it makes it really easy to make underground parking so you can come in on one level and keep it underground all the way over and give it a few levels,” Robinson said.
Despite some restaurants and shops seeing a decline in customer traffic, competition from the new 29th St. Mall is not a concern for most.
Winter was unsure as to the direct effect of the new shopping center on 29th Street, but does not perceive the opening to be negative.
“I think it is a little too soon to tell. There are some businesses that did move, some national chains moved from downtown to 29th street. [But] I think generally the approach, the overall perspective, is that it is there to complement downtown and the Hill,” Winter said.
Success on the Hill seems to come down to whether the unique Boulder area will be able to maintain its time-held relationship with CU students.
With its close proximity to campus and student housing, the Hill has been a staple to student life for years. However, the increase in cars and money with every generation of people at CU seems to shake the tradition of students biking to the Hill for an affordable sub sandwich.
As for now; however, the Hill still holds a special meaning in most students’ hearts.
“For everyday eating I like going to the Hill because it is always busy and there are inexpensive places to eat,” said Abby Parsons, a sophomore pre-journalism major,” … plus, it’s the Hill.”
Contact Campus Press Staff writer Elizabeth Cuje at Elizabeth.firstname.lastname@example.org