Axe-Citing Times for State Street

Downtown Enjoying New Business and Bullish Outlook

Credit: Emma Spencer

State Street has a little more pep in its step these days thanks to a handful of new and exciting ― if a little unconventional ― businesses arriving downtown. 

The State Street Axe Club opened Fiesta weekend with a steady stream of customers lining up to hurl hatchets down divided lanes at wooden targets. “I always knew this was something that would be a hit here,” said owner Brett Michaelson, who previously opened an axe-throwing location in Los Angeles. “People want things to do; they want entertainment, but there was nothing to do downtown but drink after 8 p.m.”

Each hourly session costs $35 and includes training from certified “axe-perts” to avoid any “axe-idents,” explained Michaelson. “We use lots of lame axe puns,” he said. Participants must be at least 10 years old, and staff at the site, which stays open until midnight on the weekends, make sure the adults haven’t had too much to drink. “We keep it safe,” Michaelson said. “And it’s really a lot of fun.”

Credit: Emma Spencer

Up the road at Paseo Nuevo, the Aloha Fun Center is gearing up to open in the next couple of months. Originally scheduled to begin operations earlier this year on the ground floor of the old Macy’s building, the hybrid roller rink, laser tag, and arcade ran into a major snag when it discovered that city code required additional restrooms triggered by the change of use from “retail” to “large assembly.” 

Construction plans were resubmitted for review this week, city officials said, and staff anticipate finishing their review by early next week. Aloha representatives said it will take roughly one to two months to complete the restroom work once the permit is issued.

“We are excited to see this adaptive reuse of retail space and a family- and kid-oriented experiential activity in the downtown,” said Jason Harris, Santa Barbara’s economic development manager. “This is one of several new businesses oriented to entertainment, families, and added diversity of experiences that downtown needs now and in the future.”

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Harris pointed to a handful of other businesses and initiatives that fit the same bill, including sidewalk music, a revamped library plaza, the Xanadu Skate Boutique that will support the Aloha Fun Center and Santa Barbara’s burgeoning skate scene, and Bungalo 805: Little’s Lounge & Social Club

“For me, being a mom has been a beautiful gift layered with constant challenges and struggles,” states Bungalo 805’s founder, Erin Kanaley, on the company’s website. “One of the things we find most challenging is going out with the boys.” For the kids, she said, the private space will feature a playroom, toy bar, books, games, art supplies, instruments, Wi-Fi, snacks, changing tables, high chairs, and other amenities. And for adults, there will be guest speakers, classes, events, game nights, and happy hours.

In its second quarter market report, Hayes Commercial Group also appeared bullish on State Street’s continued recovery after years of lagging retail followed by the gut punch of COVID. “There have been five State Street leases to date in 2022, which is more than we have seen in recent years,” the report said. “In notable deals from Q2, Vuori leased the former Wendy Foster space at 833 State Street” ― a highly visible corner at State and Canon Perdido ― “and Tamsen Gallery leased 911.5 State Street”

Nevertheless, Hayes said, the 900 block continues to struggle mightily, with seven storefronts currently vacant. Those vacancies account for more available space than Coast Village Road, the Funk Zone, the Waterfront, and Milpas Street combined, the brokerage noted. 

In its own second quarter report, Radius Commercial Real Estate commented on the positive impacts of the pedestrian promenade. “Live music near eateries continues to invigorate the experience and attract both locals and tourists to downtown,” it said. “Satellite, Sama Sama, and the Good Lion all had large crowds on a Tuesday night due to deejays and bands creating a lively atmosphere on the closed street.” Overall, decreasing vacancies and other notable trends like growing e-bike traffic “continue to point to the positive effect the partial street closure has had on downtown State Street,” Radius said.

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