Major Retailer Barnes and Noble Returns to the Promenade as Santa Monica Coalition Beats Drum that Downtown Is Not Safe with the Epoch Times

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For over two decades, Barnes and Nobles bookstore was one of the center posts of the Promenade, doing business at 3rd and Wilshire. The big box bookstore closed in 2017, not because of crime or the future pandemic, but simply because it wasn’t doing enough business. So when news broke yesterday that the store would be returning to the Promenade “soon” according to a social media post by Downtown Santa Monica Inc, people responded with a sense of joy and nostalgia.

It seems as though new businesses are opening on the Promenade every week, but naysayers aren’t willing to call it a comeback. In fact, the owner of a still unrented storefront, John Alle, took to the right-wing conspiracy newspaper Epoch Times’ “California Insider” video cast earlier this week to continue his campaign to tell the world that Santa Monica is a hellhole that should be avoided at all costs.

For the record, this is the second time in just over three months “California Insider” has done an episode on just how terrible and scary Santa Monica is.

“My building was empty,” Alle explains why the building he owns flies the “Santa Monica Is Not Safe” banner. “It’s one of the 50-55% of buildings on the Third Street Promenade that are vacant.”

While Alle’s estimate on vacancy may have been accurate at some point during the pandemic-related shutdowns, current vacancy estimates are roughly half of what Alle claims. Alle goes on to lament that the reason businesses are struggling is because of crime-related issues, and because, as he says it, “We have a police department that is not funded and not staffed to where it should be.”

This would come as a surprise to SMPD Chief Ramon Batista who at the last City Council meeting not only testified that the department is meeting its hiring goals after losing officers during the pandemic; but actually testified against the department receiving more funding than what was in the city’s department. Once when Councilmember Phil Brock proposed adding $500,000 to the department budget to do whatever it wanted and later when Councilmembers Jesse Zwick and Caroline Torosis proposed increasing the department’s training budget by $20,000 so it could offer free jiu-jitsu classes for officers.

But the issue of funding security for Downtown Santa Monica isn’t over for the year. It is expected that the City Council will vote to approve (or not) Downtown Santa Monica Inc.’s budget for the year at its meeting next week. That budget includes replacing some of the ambassadors that greet guests and residents and help them navigate the downtown with armed private security officers. In his opening statement, Alle sneered at the effectiveness of the ambassadors and is doubtless hoping the security contract is quickly approved.

But talk of rampant crime was far from people’s minds as they strolled down the sun-soaked Promenade yesterday and smiled at the thought of Barnes and Noble returning. While the bookstore won’t be returning to its old location, it is going to a place historically known for books. The new location is the former site of Midnight Special Bookstore, an iconic Westside bookstore that closed in 2004, and hosted authors including Octavia Butler, Edward Said, and Dave Eggers.

Damien Newton
Damien Newton
Damien is the executive director of the Southern California Streets Initiative which publishes Santa Monica Next, Streetsblog Los Angeles, Streetsblog San Francisco, Streetsblog California and Longbeachize.

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