Downtown in a Downturn: Epilogue


Posted by on Tue, July 28, 2009

Frank Long is the former owner of Oasis Natural Foods on Main Street in Half Moon Bay

Well, ..... here we are.

First, we were told that our residents weren’t shopping Downtown because they were "fickle"; we couldn’t rely on them and that they had no loyalties to shopping locally because they were too busy seeking better deals over the hill .... and that it was more convenient for them to shop over there because they all worked over there anyway. Well, that’s what we we were told.

We were told that people weren’t shopping Downtown because, somehow, they didn’t know where Downtown was and that they were driving right past it because we lacked sufficient signage to remind them.

Then, we were told that the median strips weren’t attractive enough to encourage people to buy here. (Apparently, Half Moon Bay was looking too "mundane".) I don’t recall the final figure, but that boondoggle was headed for a $144,000 price tag.

And now, with all this immediacy over including the fiberoptic tree lighting system in with the "stimulus package", the one thing that is REALLY missing here is, not stimulating the residents to shop locally, but stimulating the Chamber of Commerce, its emasculated puppet, the Downtown Business Association, and the City Council to wake up and realize just how many residents on the Coastside are flat out fed up with these idiots continually falling asleep at the wheel. Still, they chase the tourist dollar as a means to fiscal viability. And by the way, the actual cost for the fiberoptic lighting, itself, is ANOTHER expense we’ve yet to incur. The construction crew was only putting in the conduit for it. What is for sure is that, at the rate these two groups are taking everyone, HMB will be the snazziest looking ghost town on the West Coast.

Rather than embrace the Coastside’s one topological constraint, the Santa Cruz Mountain chain, as a gift in keeping the Coastside insulated, this management seems hell bent on paving over every spot with a tree still standing; the idea being that if one of them doesn’t do it, someone else will, and, well, it’s all about money. And then they wonder how their behavior could have ever become an influence in the level of apathy here. Again, blame it on the residents.

Four years ago the Chamber told us that tourism brought in $46M dollars to the Coastside economy. During that time I speculated that we probably lost TWICE that in resident spending. Now we are supposed to believe that tourism has nearly doubled in a slumping economy. With such a beaming success story, why did we ever need a "Shop on the Coast" campaign?

Let’s face it; the membership of the Chamber and the DBA is declining and has been. The more people you ask, the more it becomes apparent that the voyage these two entities have taken you on is NOT what you booked passage for. You’ve been hijacked and fed a bunch of hype about this "illusion of prosperity" that ultimately keeps the rents jacked up, while businesses continue to falter. "Keep your lights on", "hire evening staff", we were all told. "That way everyone will know that you’re open." Unfortunately, the Chamber and DBA weren’t paying the payroll expenses. Had they had to do so, they might have realized that their ship was hung up on a reef and taking on water, but rather than address the issue, it just put up more sails and polished the brass railings. These people are killing this town.

For years, we’ve been pummeled with one lame excuse after the other as to why businesses have suffered a ‘failure to thrive’ within Half Moon Bay, all while the local newspaper chose to gloss over any serious discussion of the true nature of the problem, and that was if it didn’t outrightly censure any commentary that didn’t run afoul of its blatant support of real estate and developmental interests. Save for a handful of local serving businesses, the majority of tourist serving businesses are backed, not by any younger, fresh local entrepeneurial blood, but serve as second incomes or hobby incomes for retirees, all the while taking up valuable commercial space in a town already starving for local serving businesses.

All the MBA degrees and Curriculum Vitae won’t accomplish squat if logic and common sense are replaced with arrogance. There is more to a community than squeezing dollars from its citizens and its business base and any landlords and property managers who continue with this selective myopia have only themsleves to blame as storefronts vacate one by one.

Half Moon Bay business owners have been waiting for some one or some group with any degree of competence to steer this ship away from the rocks for some time. It’s a bit late for that now, since the paying passengers (the residents) have stopped booking passage on this doomed freighter long ago and the ship’s crew, (the downtown business owners) have had to pay for their own lifeboats, quietly exiting the ship while the "captain" refuses to acknowledge that the engine room is filling with water.

HMB has had its fill with this handful of self appointed "captains", those passing themselves off as possessing the acumen necessary to logistically navigate this ship through troubled economic waters along with all its poor unfortunate local passengers and crew. During safer times, any prudent captain would have continued to exercise some measure of caution in changing course toward "uncharted waters", but not here. Instead, these captains have continually had to overcome their boredom with the mundane and having to share the coast with the commonpeople who also happen to live here. While the DBA is still struggling how to phrase its mission statement, let me just add that when I looked up the various mission statements of small midwestern communities four years ago, they were forced to embrace the long term sustainability that would necessarily keep its younger generation breathing new life into their communities. Half Moon Bay seems more content with providing more places for the wealthy to congregate and schmooze, giving little thought to what the Coastside will look like in 2030.

Maybe, with time, enough residents will come to individually realize that they are NOT in the minority in thinking how utterly dysfunctional this scenario is and that it CAN be changed; that enough pressure can be put on the City Council and the Chamber to get with the program, take stock of its residential population and see that as its strongest asset.

We have heard that "not all merchants are members of the Chamber", which is even more true for the DBA, both entities giving looks of disdain, should anyone entertain any viewpoint other than their party line. With respect to the DBA, that should be of no surprise; their mission statement does not embrace this locale’s strongest asset. The reason the membership has continually declined is because THEY HAVEN’T BEEN LISTENING. Instead, businesses are left having to struggle because they’ve been misdirected; led on a by a sequence of economic carrot dangling that has only resulted in a rotten carrot.

Perhaps, at some point, in order to communicate these issues to the local population, the head of our local newspaper just might develop enough ovarian fortitude to discuss, instead of dismiss, the harder philosophical issues that the Coastside is facing: apathy, elitism, and racism being but three of these.

Half Moon Bay is truly one of the most beautiful places I have lived in. It has so much potential to thrive as a community, yet it is being stifled by a handful of these self-absorbed, self-serving, and self-promoting elitists. Here’s wishing that those people who profess to be able to run this place will actually do so with some measure of professionalism and integrity and wake up to the fact that tens of thousands of other residents out here are waiting for them to actually do just that.

If any "meaningful" Survey of Residents ever does get undertaken and it is not sabotaged by the Chamber AGAIN, ......... and the residents ever DO get a chance to voice their concern over the current state of affairs here, maybe something good can come from all this. So far, the MAJORITY of you seem MAD AS HELL, but the question is ...... What are YOU going to do about it? When this August 7th meeting comes up at the Ted Adcock Center, don’t settle for the formality and sugar-coated"nice talk" that the Chamber drowned our January 2006 meeting with; give it to them with both barrels. Let these groups know just how dysfunctional their self-serving behavior has made this place.

Many thanks and much love to my many loyal customers,

Frank Long
Oasis Natural Foods


Ken Johnson

HMB will away be an isolated bedroom community and agricultural village; it is hardly a sustainable tourist community, is a close by drive for the peninsula and San Francisco.  It is doubtful that downtown is recoverable, but will remains a transient trap for investors who will lose their shirt, sell off to another fleeting business.

The Downtown Business Association and Chamber of Commerce isn’t up to the task; it is the bedroom community that determines the success of downtown and the residents have busy lives better suited to better placed islands of businesses.  The task of changing attitudes is near impossible - Have you ever tried rehabilitating criminals and addicts?  Well, try rehabilitating the public - they are even more resistant and have a broader range of options.

Never mind about your City Council and their commissions.  Keeping money in HMB gets thinner and thinner because of their bad decisions and another housing development isn’t going to cut the downtown with a new jib. tourism is fleeting - a one day rub while Provincetown, RI is a 3 day jive during the season and a lot more to do. 

Maybe you could move downtown to the water’s edge and extend it a couple blocks about 3 miles long.  The you will have a tourist trap and maybe even an inviting amosphere to residents as a real diverse art and theatre community, but even that it is no doable!

HMB is a product of its location with little draw to repeat the experience very often and there are too many hills between here and there and no Cape Cod ocean sands…!

Half Moon Bay with its historic downtown at the crossroads of Hwys 92 & 1, should be able to draw sufficient support from day-trippers and locals to make a go of it. It has good traffic from Peninsula & SF residents bound for beaches on the Coastside and further south.  It also gets some commerce from bored spouses of conference-goers and golfers at the Ritz.

Plenty of towns do a lot better with fewer resources.

But with our local weather, it will never be a destination resort.

Sound development of downtown should be one issue that environmentalists and growthophiles could agree on. No such luck.

At one point, Wavecrest, with its auto-oriented middle school and commercial space, was a dagger aimed at the heart of downtown HMB. But the Army Corps of Engineers put a stop to that.

A good start would have been building a community park within walking distance of Main Street, but the same people who loved Wavecrest hated the park.

I doubt that you have one part that is truely utilized and one downtown won’t do it - mothers take kids to parks; it is doubtful that they will tagged their kids along to build downtown businesses - they go to centralized malls with a huge all service market of Pharmacy like Longs.

You say “Plenty of towns do a lot better with fewer resources.”

I’d like to know more - which towns do a lot better with fewer resources on the west coast; which towns in the Central Valley and keep working eastward.  I’d bet they have other things going for them other than a sense of communtiy!

There are probably a lot more town just like HMB’s downtown that can’t get recharged and have little chance to do so!

Word:  “They chase the tourist dollar as a means to fiscal viability.”

I grew up in the most touristy of all touristy California Beach Towns:  Laguna Beach, yet that town sustains its residents’ needs with grocery stores, clothing boutiques, and frozen yogurt shops, while still providing commercial space for art galleries, t-shirts, and knick-knacks.

In Laguna, commercial rents are reasonable-enough to allow small businesses to make a living.  Small business employ the locals.  Teens have after-school jobs.  Laguna is a sweet little community.

The City of Half Moon Bay has hardly any shops remaining on Main Street for tourists to browse, let alone sustain residents’ needs.  (Note:  Thank god for Ocean Shore Hardware which employs so many of our local teens and adults.)

Observation:  Main Street Half Moon Bay is currently vacant in comparison to how it was doing as recent as 2001.  What changed?

Put Residents First.  Provide employment opportunities.  The Tourist Dollar is capricious.  Most of us residents want to return straight home after work and shop locally.  We like supporting our community.  If you don’t build it, we won’t come.

This is a geography and an “I am so tired by the time I get back to HMB” problem more than a socioeconomic problem!

I am not so sure that “Most of us residents want to return straight home after work and shop locally.”  I think most of the residents want to return straight home after work - they are lucky to be home by 6:00 PM.  Beyond that, they are dead tired and enjoy the comfort of the home over the community.  The community is the means to a upscale home and and a upscale community with a downscale economoy and not much more. 

What happens are midday purchases of non-perishables on the other side of the peninsula and I don’t think you can sell residents on extending their chores to stop by downtown before 6 or after 6.  Safeway and Lucky are governed by two plots of land with supporting retail establishments.  The working housewives who don’t have outside employment sustain the shopping malls and use the parks or have a housewife’s McCoffee clutch, if there is one.  Even they may still take the second car over the hill for some serious shopping.

Downtown is not a centerpiece - its only value in good times are tourists and they really don’t dispose their income on much.  They will go to PBS for dinner.  The tourist shift is to an protective enclave at the Ritz and PBS that doesn’t encourage outreach to HMB.

Simply having residents saying they want to shop locally isn’t really what they mean - it is politically correct - liberal are good at that and when out of sight, think otherwise.  Even their votes are of questionable value on some issues and they may hold their nose just to vote PC and absolve their guilt for thinking otherwise..

The coastal areas upscale areas streaming from SD, Laguna Beach, San Juan Capistrano, Corona del Mar, Newport Beach is an impacted corridor and a hillside or valleys that easily slide down to the corridor.

Moderate scaled Pacifica to HMB including Montara, & PBS to Santa Cruz is just a corridor and but one has to climb to slide to HMB and the east side just won’t do that.

Many local rarely buy local art work unless it really moves them - they go on vacation or out of the way communities for their unique refinements.


You don’t cleanly make a point, so I’m gonna ask, “What’s your point, Jack?”

Please don’t speak for me, nor refute my words.  Everything I said is true.  I would rather put my money, that I earn on the other side of the hill, into the economy of this side of the hill.


Although I do not blame the HMBCC for the decline in business to the Coastside I do not believe they have made any effort to help their , I do appreciate Mr Long’s comments. I too have long given up on trying to get straight answers or assistance from the Chamber and 2 of the 3 memberships I have a voice in paying decided to no longer support the Chamber in it’s current state. I am excited to hear that a group of young business people in town is forming and a 25 year old has put his hat in the ring for HMB City Council. Unfortunately I am not eligible to vote in town as I live in Moss Beach but as an HMB property owner, business partner & long time resident I hope our younger generation can get us out of the mess we’ve made.

Many good points here,but I still have to say that the vast majority of residents I have spoken with still say they would support downtown if it had a format that was more in keeping with what they had moved here to attain, and I truly wish that the efforts of the DBA (formerly DMA)and those of the Chamber were able to envision a picture larger than their microspopic one where a select number of these elitest social miscreants peer down from their ivory towers, wondering why the local peasants aren’t partaking in their cute boutiques and their twisted image of prosperity.

That image is, for all intents and purposes, blind to the needs of the community. I don’t think anyone actually set out to do anything evil, here, but rather, I just don’t think they have the acumen to manage the needs a population of 20,000 or so. They THINK they do but instead throw a bunch of money at the problem, which they seem to have a plentiful supply of rather than logic.

When I had a copy of this letter posted on my door during my departure preparations, one storeowner continually came over to cover my letter up with some pseudo-niceties crap, but all the while fully intending to cover up my letter to limit damage control, not just once but at least half a dozen times. I’m was till paying rent there and this person, obviously with no sense of boundaries, had taken it upon herself to limit what people could read about the issue. Never mind the fact that many residents had actually agreed with it; it was her job to “police” what information was made available to the public. God forbid that the residents might actually come to the realization that other Coastside residents actually felt the same way as they did, and that each of them was not unique in their disdain for the way Downtown was being run and managed.

But just like that self-styled policewoman posting her letters only to thwart my message, so too is the Chamber and DBA complicit in beating this dead horse.

Someone had said to me before my returning to the East Coast, “What would you do to address this problem?” Well, rather than point any more fingers, I’d just say, “Imagine what it would look like if the Chamber, the DBA, the Review, and the City Council actually decided to embrace this issue and tried to find out what, in fact, the residents wanted.” Local purchases would go up, Sales Tax Revenues would increase, there would be less cars on 92 going over the hill solely to shop, and that sense of “community” that has been eroding ever since the Orange Menace invaded the town in 1971, might actually have a chance.

First, a Resident Survey might be a good place to start, but the questions would have to be sincere and EMBRACE the problem, not just do lip service while still supporting the tourist business in lieu of the needs of local residents. If a survey IS going to be done, it should be done in a genuine attempt to find out what the needs are of those people that these groups continue to blame for not shopping here.

The insularity of the Coastside corridor due to the mountains is the one thing that can SAVE Downtown, even during these rough economic times, but not while the residents are being forced to take a back seat to the Chambers “visions” of busloads of tourists that just never seem to materialize. Unfortunately, many pleasant folks who run these “tourist shops” are going to be in for a rude awakening when they finally discover that their business format is not compatible with serving the residential population. As the the economy is struggling, it is a time when these store owners can least afford a change in their inventory, but something has to change.

If the City Council and the Review got behind the Chamber and the DBA, and the residents could actually see some meaningful change, I see the prospect of a lot of positive changes.

From rain soaked New England,
Frank Long