How's Business?

INSTEAD OF INTRICATE graphs and arcane studies, my economic indicators are what I see when I drive around. Empty buildings are bad signs, while full shopping center parking lots are good; lots of paper license plates mean cars are selling; crowded restaurants say people are spending money; “opening soon” signs suggest there’s confidence in the future.

Unscientific, sure. But based on these types of indicators, Marin’s economy is looking strong.

On Mill Valley’s Miller Avenue, the innovative eateries Hawk’s Tavern, TamalPie Pizzeria and Super Duper Burgers recently opened, after extensive building renovations. In the same neighborhood, when Ace General Hardware closed down, nearby Image Flow leased the 6,500-square-foot space for a photography education center.

In San Rafael, Borders bookstore was quickly re-leased to discount clothing retailer T.J.Maxx. And when Honda of Marin relocated to San Rafael, Mini of Marin took the Corte Madera site and built a dynamic new showroom.

Marin’s night lifers must be happy. Sweetwater Music Hall (and restaurant) recently opened in Mill Valley and, in San Rafael, the Seafood Peddler will be reborn as a spacious restaurant and music venue named Terrapin Crossroads. But wait, there’s more: Fenix (pronounced Phoenix), a 7,000-square-foot supper club, is locating on San Rafael’s bustling Fourth Street. “We’ll open this summer,” General Manager Merle Saunders Jr. says.

Also by summer, construction starts on the long-awaited 137,000-square-foot  Target store in San Rafael. This deal includes $250,000 to promote businesses in the Fourth Street downtown area.

In downtown Tiburon, an attractive CVS Pharmacy is replacing a long-vacant supermarket. Meanwhile, downtown Fairfax is shifting slightly to the southeast as Good Earth Natural Foods relocates to a stunning and much larger building. “Those guys hit it out of the organic park,” notes a reviewer on Yelp. Meanwhile, Larkspur’s Rustic Bakery has opened in the Marin Country Mart.

Also of note: Avatars, a popular Sausalito spot for Indian food, is opening a new location across the street from Good Earth. And back in Sausalito, Larry Mindel (founder of Il Fornaio and owner of Poggio) and Joanne Weir (former Chez Panisse chef and respected cookbook author) are opening Copita, a Mexican restaurant and tequila bar.

As for the bigger picture? Lucas film has been approved to build a 263,000-squarefoot film and recording complex in northwest Marin; SMART, the $360 million commuter rail line between San Rafael and Santa Rosa, is under construction and scheduled to be completed by 2016; and the America’s Cup first sailing races, which could draw international attention to Marin’s shoreline, are just months away. All three spell j-o-b-s.

Finally, a recent survey indicates tourists spend about $400 million annually while visiting Marin’s state and national parks such as Angel Island, Muir Woods, Point Reyes Seashore and the Marin Headlands.

Closer to home, our family enjoyed a recent staycation at the 142-room Cavallo Point Lodge inside the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Occupancy was in the 90 percent range and the restaurant and bar were packed. The place was definitely buzzing. When you put it all together, it seems that Marin’s economy is in good shape. That’s my point of view. What’s yours? Email [email protected].

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