I had read a great opinion piece from Corky Lang recently called "Big Box vs Mom and Pop Stores: Where Do You Shop?"
This is an incredibly difficult question and one I believe is on the minds of our decision makers at City Hall in regard to which direction LG should be heading in (as Mr. Lang pointed out) because in my opinion if another big box store were to come here, it would change the dynamic of this city for the long term. However, "bad" is a relative term. Here are some thoughts I have on this as newcomer to LG.
I am a bit torn about this issue simply because its just SO easy to say yes to big box stores because, on paper, they provide jobs, tons of tax revenue and the prices consumers are looking for these days. In today's economic climate its incredibly risky to only think in ideals or down-the-road vision when the local people are hurting and every penny counts. But with a big box store, is that we are truly catering to, when there are several others within a mile or two of here?
Here we are, little Lemon Grove, the size of a peanut ... or should I say lemon? It has historical charm, great freeway and trolley access, the bones of a great downtown village, proximity to downtown and most of all diversity in its population.
So let's dissect what a big box store would do that you can find literally within a mile of Lemon Grove.
I can't help but to think of what these smart developers are doing right now. They are quite efficient actually at what they do. Have you ever seen any? Maybe not. Typically these corporations have teams that work to produce forecasting models to illustrate to the city or citizens what the benefits will be to the city itself should they appear. This is their job and they have it down to a science. Which is why when you need a big box store, voila, they are either there already or are planning on being where you think they should be.
This is amazing data (and expensive) they are able to extrapolate for city decision makers because they are doing all the homework and presenting into a nice thick pile of papers or a PowerPoint presentations with all the good it will do. They are giving all the projections of potential tax revenues, jobs and exposure from outside visitors, down to the "T". This is something that simply cannot be provided by a small mom and pop business just looking to open a a business and hoping for the best.
So with that being said, on the flip side, we have a small business like Coop's which opened up almost a year ago. Anyone heard of it? It's one of the hottest barbecue restaurants to open in San Diego. Of course I am biased because I love their food, but they are also a testament to what a successful local business can bring to a neighborhood. It's not a data point, because quite frankly it's an intangible asset that can't be quantified. Its being local and unique.
Local is a word I hear being tossed around these days quite liberally on TV and media. This tells me one thing. Big companies are using this key word because its threatening their business model and they are trying to stay ahead of a growing swell of awareness amongst shoppers.
You can't mimic what Coop's does and have it come across as authentic. There are people coming from all socioeconomic levels, states and countries just to try his stuff.
In my opinion, it's businesses like this that we should be fostering first, then looking at big box stores to see if they work for the model we are trying to provide not online internally but for people coming into Lemon Grove.
So how do we create the best of both worlds? I think we are seeing it already but it requires just a little imagination. It is in the form of The LG Ave/North Ave realignment project and the LG trolley depot. I think this will help to create somewhat of an imaginary line between "old" LG and "new" LG. We already have box stores like Albertsons, Food4Less and Home Depot on the western side of Broadway. I see the eastern portion of Broadway retaining some of that small village charm.
I have no idea what big box stores have been entertaining the idea of moving into LG, but I had been reading that Southeast San Diego will be getting their own big box store in a WalMart or Target and we have a couple already with Target and WalMart in College Grove. The question is, are we going to cater to the right now (which typically leads to low prices stores or some low cost discount ) or do we want to be moving forward with perhaps a new type of big box store we aren't aware of yet? Some of this may be out of our control due to our socioeconomics (eg. Nordstrom would not be looking here). Curious to see how these things pan out.