Dilemma Lingers On
How do we solve our downtown dilemma: finding a way to foster our traditional small downtown within the changing economics of retail? Thanks for the thoughtful responses to this question I posed in my last column.
Respondents have opened the door to more thinking on this subject, and after hearing what they have to say, you might be inspired to add to the discussion.
It was interesting that all of them painted a picture of downtown that emphasized attractive outdoor pedestrian environments. But they had less clear visions of what might be offered in the surrounding shops.
Cindy Kraft cites European pedestrian walking streets and town squares as models. They would include “benches for spontaneous visits with friends, and carts selling flowers, produce, etc.”
Grant Williams describes lower Forest Avenue as, “a cobbled block with park benches, cafe seating, and a central fountain as a focal point to a Pacific Ocean back drop (that) will encourage more pedestrians who shop.”
John Selecky recommends, “A nice café culture ambiance. Stores could display wares outside right next to their building. We would add more benches for people to sit and watch humanity walk by.”
David Kelly watched a documentary about a city in Italy where the city created a pedestrian-only street. There, merchants found that “their business increased greatly, because there were many more pedestrians walking past their shops than before.”
These are some attractive descriptions for amenities that could enhance the downtown. I’d like to add more pots, benches, flowers and vines too! But converting part of Forest Avenue into a plaza is a major change. The basic physical attributes of our downtown are quite beautiful and unique and already have pedestrian friendly features. Interesting paving, cozy sidewalks, sheltering trees giving continuity and liveliness to the street, interesting buildings. How do you beat the storybook Lumberyard and the Eschbach building? And they’re not the only ones. The Presbyterian church and its towering Eucalyptus, its branches the perfect praying hands complementing the tower. The beach and ocean waves at our border. What other city has this blend of natural beauty and traditional hometown atmosphere?
More pedestrian-friendly enhancements could be added without a making large changes to the organization of the downtown. We can work on finding appealing and helpful uses to fit vacant spaces, ones that fill the needs of residents and that interest visitors and make them feel at home.
Re-creation of the Sprouse-Reitz variety store was mentioned by respondents as a desired business, along with a cooking/home store. “Pop-ups,” small temporary shops, are a suggestion. Cindy mentions a pop-up, Sourced Collective, on Glenneyre. “Wish they could afford to open more than once a month; brings community minded folks together.”
The popularity of Sprouse-Reitz has come up in many conversations, but how to accomplish that? Is there a creative entrepreneur who could put together a viable store that sells sundries, crafts, fabrics, socks, underwear, gloves, auto supplies, sporting goods and has an old-fashioned soda fountain? (And, apparently is not a dreaded chain store?)
What stores would we support? Can we come up with a unique response to combining tradition and innovation? How can the City approval process help to achieve our goals in the downtown? These are the questions we are struggling to answer in the midst of a major shift in our world’s approach to buying and selling.
Landscape architect Ann Christoph is a former council member.