Highlands changes worry customer

Rachel Kay’s friends used to joke about how many Friday nights she and her husband spent at Los Cabos Mexican restaurant in the Del Mar Highlands Shopping Center. The restaurant was their favorite neighborhood eatery until one night in May when they arrived to find it closed for good.

Now The Daily Pet, where Kay frequently goes to get her cats’ food and special treats, is also preparing to close its doors and Kay is wondering why businesses are closing in the center.

She said she keeps hearing that businesses are unable to pay their rising rents and that the center is making it difficult for them to stay. “Now is the time we need to come together and make sure our businesses are safe,” she said. “It’s disappointing and sad.”

But Elizabeth Schreiber, vice president of Donahue Schriber and general manager of Del Mar Highlands said Los Cabos, Beach Culture and The Daily Pet were victims of the current economy.

“Unfortunately, in this economy there have been tenants that really struggle,” Schreiber said. “We tried to help by restructuring the rent but sometimes we’re not able to change the rent enough for them to survive.”

Schreiber said they haven’t been raising rents. Sometimes leases signed years ago include scheduled rent increases.

“It’s not that we’re increasing rents at such an awful time,” Schreiber said. “It isn’t a bunch of old, crotchety landlords thinking ‘What’s the nastiest thing we can do?’ It’s not that way at all.”

Tenants coming and going is normal in the shopping center industry, Schreiber said.

Del Mar Highlands by comparison is doing quite well, she said. The center is 95 percent full and they’ve added some new tenants this year, including The Royal Nursery, LoLo Collisto and Brazilia Skin Care.

The Halloween store is back for its second year in the old Warehouse space. Schrieber said the space and another space between Quizno’s and Eli’s were intentionally left vacant because the owners are considering a large-scale expansion for the center that would have added square footage as well as a parking garage.

Schrieber said they’ve decided not to move forward with a major renovation but instead look for ways to freshen up the 20-year-old center.

Schrieber, a 24-year veteran at Donahue Schriber, has been assigned the task of studying how to give Del Mar Highlands a facelift, attracting entrepreneurs and original retail concepts.

“We want to be ready when the economy wants to improve,” Schrieber said.