The ebb and flow of downtown businesses is starting to feel less like a sunny Sunday on the lake and more like car sickness.
Upticks and downturns. New businesses open. Old ones close.
Of particular concern are the many longtime establishments that have closed in the past year, especially the women’s clothing stores.
Those adept at downtown revitalization say you can never have too many women’s clothing stores. They are a draw for locals and tourists.
The tide has swept out all segments of retailing — books, consignment, arts, dining.
The reasons for the closures are varied — from online competition (Amazon) to it’s just time to retire.
Seems like an every two year cycle. The health of downtown seems good, then it drops off, leaving behind empty storefronts in a quaint old town that despite itself still brims with tourists.Sonora has made several lists recently — 12th oldest downtown in Northern California, must-see towns, charming downtowns.
Sonora has a lot going for it. It is charming. And where else can you buy beer and a firearm in one place other than the Sportsman?
That’s the key. What unique businesses can be enticed to locate in downtown Sonora? There are some bright spots. For some time, people said downtown needed a bakery. Eighty-one fills that slot. Lighthouse Deli is bringing a craft brewery. Little Roots Toy Store, another highlight.
Young entrepreneurs with fresh ideas.
This is one of many reasons city government needs to redouble its efforts on how to handle economic development in the aftermath of the collapse of the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority. The story is oft-told: In the wake of criticism of the TCEDA executive director’s spending and management, the city and county decided to nix their partnership and handle economic development on its own.
The county hopes to hire a new director as an employee by July. The city is still developing a plan. City Administrator Tim Miller said this week he plans to schedule a meeting for residents and business owners to talk about what they’d like to see, what support they need.
Time is of the essence.
The dissolution of TCEDA is a blessing for the city. The two governments have different needs when it comes to advancing their economies.
Sonora has a roadmap to the future in Vision Sonora, a controversial plan perhaps, but who can argue with some of the research done before City Council adopted it in 2007.
These ideas are straight from the report:
Help downtown businesses boost their operating practices to stay vital and competitive — group workshops, in-store consultations, enhancement campaigns; extended hour strategies; business and property owner visitation program; social media to better promote the historic aspects, amenities and downtown businesses; cooperative advertising, promotions and events; storefront and interior repair, restoration and improvement; financing business expansion and recruitment; market analysis, startup planning.
All great and important ideas.
Instead, Sonora has gotten benches, a beautified corner at Church and Washington and planning for a park on a block of Linoberg, redoing the intersection by the Red Church and a bus stop with better signage announcing you are downtown.
Why? Not because of a lack of money, as is commonly stated.
It’s because this plan — or any plan for bettering downtown — does not have a full-time champion looking out for business owners, new and old. Downtown revitalization has been done and done again in small towns across America. Sonora can do it, too. Someone’s just got to be the leader.