Nearly 20 former tenants of Kobey's Downtown, the discount retail bazaar that closed its doors Wednesday, have negotiated new leases and will continue to sell their wares on a month-by-month basis in the former Walker Scott department store on Broadway near Horton Plaza.
The new, as-yet-unnamed retail operation will open its doors on Saturday, according to Chuck del Valle, who owns the building. However, only the first floor of the 94,000-square-foot building will be occupied by merchants. The recently remodeled second and third floors will remain closed, Del Valle said.
Kobey's Downtown was a novel but largely unsuccessful retail operation that swap meet czar Monte Kobey opened with a heavy fanfare in April. Its closing was announced in September, a few weeks after Kobey's family acknowledged that he had contracted AIDS during a blood transfusion several years ago.
At the time, a family spokesman linked the closing to Kobey's failing health. Kobey, who founded the successful swap meet at the San Diego Sports Arena, was unable to direct the marketing and advertising necessary to make the downtown mart a success, the spokesman said.
Those merchants who will not be staying on will spend today cleaning out their stalls, according to Del Valle.
Merchants who remain at the downtown location will sell everything from records and shoes to keys and cosmetics, according to Jerry Schwartz, who owns Zac's on Fifth, which sells luggage and leather goods.
The small number of merchants who are signing new leases is a far cry from the 350 retail stalls that Kobey had hoped to lease.
When plans for the unique mart were unveiled during a January press conference, Kobey predicted he eventually would fill at least three floors with merchants who would sell clothing, jewelry, electronic components, housewares, toys and furniture.
Kobey hoped to attract wholesalers, importers and small one- and two-person businesses of the kind who dominate the Sports Arena swap meet. However, Kobey took great care to describe the downtown operation as a discount retail bazaar rather than a swap meet.
However, soon after the downtown location opened, Kobey's health began to deteriorate, and the mart began losing more than $25,000 a month, according to Bruce Bart, a Kobey associate and owner of the Mad Jack's electronic goods chain. Bart, who was an investor in the downtown mart, also operated a retail electronics store at Kobey's Downtown.
Schwartz and other merchants at the downtown mart have acknowledged that the downtown location has been beset by problems.
"The (Kobey) family just kind of gave up (in September) and that was really adverse news for the sellers," according to Schwartz, who also maintains a booth at the Sports Arena swap meet.
Holiday Sales Slow
Kobey's family and business associates agreed to keep the downtown location open until after Christmas, but holiday sales were slow because shoppers were leery of buying merchandise because merchants would not be around to accept post-holiday returns, Schwartz said.
Additionally, "it is tough to unload and load merchandise (next to the store) and there hasn't been any advertising lately," Schwartz said.
"But there are 15 to 20 sellers who are willing to persevere," according to Schwartz, who said that optimism is fueled by the "incredible" foot traffic along that stretch of Broadway near Horton Plaza, Schwartz said.
"We believe we can do good business down there, otherwise we wouldn't be signing new leases," Schwartz said.
"The downtown area is perfect for our business," Schwartz said. "Even before the Holiday Bowl, there were so many out-of-towners wandering into the building. The summer business was great and the winter business was even better.
Schwartz expects business to pick up during the month of January, as Super Bowl visitors begin to fill downtown.
"No other location in San Diego has this kind of traffic," Schwartz said.
The Kobey's signs on the old Walker Scott department store will come down on Jan. 9, according to a Kobey spokesman. Merchants who have signed new leases will determine what the new operation will be called, Del Valle said.