DOWNEY - After more than 20 years in operation, Freedom Vacations travel agency will move out of its location in Downtown Downey next month to become a home-based business.The store's last day is Feb. 29, confirmed owner Robert Zavala. Zavala cited the daily 3-hour roundtrip commute from Jurupa Valley, a newly-incorporated city located near Riverside, as the primary reason behind the store's closure. Zavala and his wife, Lettie, will continue to operate the business from home. "We don't want to commute anymore," said Zavala, a former president of the Downey Chamber of Commerce. "The economy was another factor. When the economy comes back, people will start fixing their homes. We're what we call a discretionary dollar. People save up for a vacation or trip. People don't have confidence we're on solid ground yet." Freedom Vacations also faced competition from the Internet, where it's easy and relatively cheap to book trips and purchase airline tickets. And twenty percent of Freedom Vacation's business came from local realtors, "but that obviously went away," said Zavala. Violence in Mexico hasn't helped things either, he added. Located in a prime corner office at Downey Avenue and 3rd Street, Zavala signed a five-year office lease in 2007. The economy tanked soon after. Zavala and his wife never reneged on the contract, but when it came time to extend the lease, they knew it was time to get out. "We'll continue to service our clients in Downey, and hopefully pick up some new business in Riverside," Zavala said. Along with businessman Bill Hanan, Zavala purchased the company in 1992. At the time, 12 travel agencies operated in Downey. Today, only Freedom Vacations and the Auto Club sell vacation packages in the city, not counting home-based businesses. As a Downey business owner, Zavala quickly immersed himself in the local community. He was an inaugural member of the Downey Chamber of Commerce's Downtown Merchants Committee in 1993, which recommended the angular parking we see downtown today. He continued to volunteer on various committees, culminating in his election as president of the Downey Chamber of Commerce in 2009. Zavala put his volunteer experience to use in Jurupa Valley, where he helped lead an effort to incorporate the city. Residents voted in favor of incorporation last March, and Zavala is considering running for City Council there. "I've learned so much from Downey. Having so many contacts and friends in the city, it's really been a model for all the effort we did out there," Zavala said. "When we envisioned what we wanted Jurupa Valley to be, Downey was the vision." It's not lost on Zavala that they are leaving Downtown Downey at a time when the area is enjoying a invigoration of sorts. "I think downtown is on the path to be a great thing in the future," Zavala said. "I hope our landlord works closely with the city to bring a business that will add to the city. I think we have enough beauty shops and real estate offices here." To contact Freedom Vacations, call (562) 862-1126.
********** Published: January 5, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 38