Downtown in a Downturn: Epilogue


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