La Mesa's weekly farmer's market, held on Fridays one street over, brings foot traffic as well. The city punched through a walkway from La Mesa Boulevard to Allison, making the market and municipal parking more accessible. Walkway of the Stars, as it's called, is lined with benches; stars inset in the concrete honor people for their community service.
Kathy Sowden, owner of Finders Keepers, one of numerous antique stores dotting the street, said, "We have a mix of customers. I would say about 60 percent are the East County crowd, and the remaining 40 percent are from other areas. We have customers who come from the South Bay and North County, who come once a week just to see what we have. They're regulars who aren't local.
"There are a lot of people in the neighborhood who are walkers and a lot of people who jog and walk their dogs. I mean, if you don't see a particular dog and its master, you get worried. The village is a nice place just to walk around, so we get a lot of foot traffic. I know when we've done surveys and we ask, 'How did you hear about us?' we get a lot of people who say, 'I was walking by. I was taking a walk.' It's really very much a foot-traffic area."
Sowden continued, "We see the most foot traffic on Saturdays, of course. And weekdays it's most active from noon till four, but we have great Mondays. It's really strange."
"It's kind of small townish. Everybody kind of knows everybody. It's very friendly," said Cinda Houska, a La Mesa resident. "We've lived here 13 years, and I come to the village quite often. Right now, my girlfriend is here from Northern California, and we came down for lunch and to walk around and see the antiques. We're spending the afternoon relaxing and checking out the sidewalk stuff. This is a great little place, a nice place to take a friend."
A Victorian tearoom, the AubreyRose, opened at the beginning of 2004. Dave Wyatt, who owns the establishment with his wife, Lorna, said they specifically wanted to locate in La Mesa. "We are surrounded by 13 antique shops, three jewelry shops, and several hair salons, which we feel draw the same type of clientele. We are primarily by reservation, but on any given day, we'll have between 5 and 15 walk-ins. We are beginning to get some people who consider themselves regulars and who we can identify by first name."
Karen Allen, manager of Antiques of the Village, grew up in La Mesa. "I think the trolley has made a positive impact. I used to work downtown, and I rode the trolley. It was much better than driving. I know there are people who ride the trolley and come into town to attend planned events."
Act Two's Buller said, "I think it's been an asset. We get a lot of people from it. I'm looking forward to it connecting to the valley soon."
Sowden said she thought the trolley could become more widely used. "I don't think that enough people know that La Mesa is the shopping district that it is. I think more people would come from downtown if they knew we have a five-square-block area of mom-and-pop shops offering one-of-a-kind things. We always hear, 'My God, I didn't know you were here.' "
Encinitas has also revitalized its main street. Peder Norby is executive director of the Downtown Encinitas Main Street Association. When I talked to him last February, he said, "For three years in a row we've been one of the top ten main streets in the United States, and we've made the semifinal round again this year. We hope to win. There have only been three cities that have won in the past in California." Norby referred to the Great American Main Street Award given by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to cities each year who they deem have excelled in revitalization while promoting economic growth and historic preservation. In 2000, Coronado won the award. (See sidebar page 45.)
"Our community stopped developing a pedestrian orientation and started developing an automobile orientation," Norby continued. "It began with the interstate transportation system, and from that point on we now have a culture of malls, strip malls, big-box warehouses. Before 1960, the storefront would be up on the street, and you had wide sidewalks. That was replaced with the storefront set back with huge parking lots, and your car was how you got around to everything. For the communities that were built prior to the interstate transportation system -- and it's obviously Oceanside, Encinitas, Cardiff, and Leucadia -- it is easier for us to go back and to accomplish a pedestrian orientation, because that's what we were."
Seventeen years ago when Encinitas incorporated and became a city, "We were up here, just kind of Podunk North County back then," Norby said, "and a lot of things that were happening in this area were basically sprawl-oriented, development-oriented. The communities decided that they wanted to effect their own plan, so they incorporated. We have a mass transit station, the Coaster. We have a City Hall. We have a new $12 million library that is happening by City Hall. We have Moonlight Beach and Swami's Beach. We have a wonderful commercial district with 260 stores downtown. We have a couple of nice visitor hotels and Cottonwood Creek Park. Everything that I just mentioned was impossible to walk to or didn't exist five to ten years ago.
"Too many people just pay lip service and say, 'Oh, we'll make it a pedestrian-oriented downtown,' and then they remove the sidewalks and they remove the parking and they put six lanes in and it's all vehicle-oriented. Ours truly isn't. We have new sidewalk on the ground that links our mass transit to our beaches, which is kind of phase one of the streetscape as you go down from where the Encinitas sign is to Encinitas Boulevard. There are new retaining walls there that allowed us to put sidewalks in. First time as a pedestrian you've been able to walk from the mass transit station to the beach without taking your life in your own hands and walking in a traffic lane.