I took a stroll around the downtown business district yesterday. The day had picture-perfect Lemon Grove weather, with the sun radiating a comfortable blaze in a full blue sky. After a delicious breakfast at the and some nice conversation, I walked over to check on the progress of the new .
The city’s ambitious master plan to makeover the downtown section has begun with apparent earnest. There are leveled-off areas and piles of rubble where buildings once stood. A city power crew was there, and confirmed that they had orders to tear out the power lines to the remaining structures in preparation for demolition. Indeed, painted on the sidewalk and street are diagrams showing the underground utilities. I guess this is really going to happen.
Should I head back to the Food Factory to tell owners Bob and Lori Bailey that the Grove is finally going to have some urban open space? Earlier, during our breakfast talk, they told me it was a great idea, but expressed a little healthy skepticism about whether it would fundamentally change the downtown area. I did not go back, because I knew they would smile, and say let’s wait and see what happens.
They should know. The Baileys have been dealing with the trials and tribulations of center core business owners for nearly 40 years. Bob said the city has been talking about this project for ages. He is encouraged that it has finally started, but is still a little wary. He told me, “I hope it works. La Mesa and Chula Vista beautified their downtowns. Why can’t Lemon Grove?”
As I walked around the central Broadway corridor I, too, was filled with a sense of hope. However, I’m still a bit skeptical about Lemon Grove pulling off this transformation. What worries me is that, smack dab in the middle of town, one can turn around in a circle to see: six nail salons, two check cashing places, a smoke shop, tattoo artist, and a number of shuttered businesses. Not exactly the best foot forward. Now, I don't have anything against tattoos or having your nails done. The smoke shop and check cashing places are another story.
The point is we need to look forward with vision if we want to stand out as a destination. I did see some good indicators of business growth. Two stores in the district had city permit signs in the windows for new businesses. One will be a beauty salon (crowded field, but could be worse), and the other a restaurant—The Copa Cabana Bar & Grill. Is the Grove adding Cuban food to its restaurant directory? Sign me up for a sandwich and a cafecito.
I had a vision while looking at the now-closed Hollywood Video store. This large empty building will be directly adjacent to the Promenade. It came to me that it’s the perfect location for Lemon Grove’s first microbrewery. I see a place with outdoor seating, people watching while tipping back a seasonal ale or hard cider, with a locally-sourced kitchen. Hey—it’s my vision.
You have to give someone from La Mesa or El Cajon a reason to come to the Grove. A microbrewery pub would be an enticing and unique experience to attract clientele. And you could travel by trolley to enjoy the suds. Anyone interested (say, a local brewer) can contact me for the building’s commercial agent information—all I ask is to have an IPA named after me for the idea.