Akm Alam has owned the Quik Pix photo and camera shop in the University Village for nearly 28 years.
But now, Alam is just one of several tenants in the USC-owned UV who might be forced to close up shop in response to hard economic times.
“Business has been very, very bad,” Alam said, noting that last September is when he first noticed a decline in customers.
The combination of a national economic downturn and a decreasing number of student visitors has hurt store owners in the UV tremendously.
The school has not yet noticed this trend, according to Katherine Logan, assistant director of leasing for University Real Estate.
“Our vacancy rate last year was 7 percent, which was very low,” Logan said.
But Alam believes the university has yet to notice how many tenants are struggling. Many tenants are barely afloat, but can’t close down because they are locked into leases until the end of 2010. But Alam insists he’s not the only one who is fighting to stay open.
Soon after 2010, it may be that few of these stores are still around, anyway. As part of USC’s Master Plan, a complete renovation of the shopping center is scheduled.
A current draft plans for a “mixed-use residential University Village” that includes space for academic buildings, housing for as many as 1,000 students, retail space and a boutique hotel with 700 beds.
These changes will completely alter the face of the UV. The owner of Village Nutrition, known by his customers as Mr. B, said he expects these changes will eventually force him out of his space.
“I’ll go into imposed retirement. Most of us will be priced out of business,” he said. “Luckily I’m kind of old now and I need to retire.”
Mr. B’s said his store, a vitamin and supplement shop, is already faltering as a result of the recession.
“Most merchants are not faring well, at least not the ones who I’ve talked to,” Mr. B said.
He attributes poor business to both the economic recession and the changing customer base in the UV.
“The students are no longer the main market for most of these stores,” he said. “Either the students don’t like shopping around here or the quality isn’t up to their standards.”
Alam has noticed a similar trend at his photo shop. He said that although students once made up around 90 percent of his customer base, they make up only about 50 percent today. And his business is hit especially hard during winter and summer breaks when students leave campus.
“Business is based on the students,” he said. “When you lose it, you’re dead. You’re paralyzed.”
Logan said the UV is aimed both at students and at members of the community. When deciding on new lessees, she said, her department tries to find a balance between stores that cater to students and community members.
“Anyone that expresses an interest and will fit into the tenant mix, we will consider,” she said. “We look at tenants that will service the community, both the students and the community that resides around the shopping center.”
But students said they visit the UV for specific stores, such as the Starbucks, 21 Choices or the bike shop, and don’t branch out to the other merchants.
“I used to shop at Superior freshman year, until I discovered Ralphs,” said Anna Feldman, a senior majoring in economics and mathematics. “[The UV] is a place for errands, it’s not very welcoming.”
Suneesh Sasikumar, a graduate student studying electrical engineering, said he frequents the UV several times a week, but usually just for food or a quiet place to study.
“The food places are what I come for primarily,” he said, noting that on weekends he typically sees families around the shopping center.
Feldman said she thought adding more cafés and outdoor seating areas could help make the UV more student-friendly.
Brian Avila, who lives off Vermont Avenue and does not attend USC, said he likes the UV as is and would not change the types of merchants he finds there.
“I come maybe twice a week,” Avila, 18, said. “It seems pretty well-rounded with the movie theater, ice cream shops and grocery store.”