With the intent of creating consistency for local businesses during a floundering economy, Vince Ross, president of the Fallbrook Revitalization Council, has commissioned a study to determine the viability of developing a business improvement district in the historic downtown commercial thoroughfare. Nearly 400 surveys will be sent to property owners to ascertain the level of support for the proposed initiative.
The council anticipates that the improvement district designation will increase tourism and beef up commerce for the small town. Little Italy redevelopment maestro Marco Li Mandri has been contracted to facilitate the process.
Of the 18 members on the implementation steering committee, nearly half are property or business owners. One of the stated goals of the project is to better define an identity for the town renowned for its avocados and vintage cars.
“When I hear the name Julian, I think about apple pie,” Li Mandri told the revitalization council in November 2011, “but when I say Fallbrook, nothing comes to mind.” Founder and president of the Marco Group and New City America, LiMandri has reportedly facilitated the development of 62 improvement districts in urban communities across the country.
Not everyone agrees that a “branding” is what is needed in a small rural town like Fallbrook. One property owner joked that the village could be “The Venice of San Diego” and jested about the Italianate modifications he would soon be making to his shop’s façade.
A longtime resident and business owner (who wished to remain anonymous) laughed, “They are going to fix the streets? For whom? Every other shop is vacant and has been for the last few years. There’s no draw for tourists. You can install as many sidewalks with lawns as you want to perk up downtown, but until the people who actually live here shop here and support local restaurateurs, I don’t how anything will change.”
Li Mandri estimates the minimum amount that would need to be raised from property owners through additional taxes would be between $200,000 and $250,000, yet many feel their annual taxes are already exorbitant with little to show for the expense.
A lifetime resident and local shopper said, “There’s no sustainability; nothing sticks. We’ve been at the end of everything forever: Nothing Junction.” She recalled the bumper sticker that sums up the ugly-stepchild syndrome: “There’s no life east of I-5.”
Leslie Sommers is the proprietor of Caravan Women’s Apparel, which has been a fixture on Main Street for nine years. Framed by blooming bouquets of pink buds draping from the canopy of a rare cape chestnut tree growing in front of her shop, Sommers smiled, waved, and called out to locals passing by as she explained, “People who open stores in Fallbrook do so for love of the community and because home is 12 minutes away.”
A resident shopper leaving Mimi’s Garden and Gifts with her two elderly sisters reiterated the sentiment expressed by Sommers: “People drive half an hour to Temecula, Vista, and Oceanside when they could be shopping right around the corner and spending locally. It’s not tourists we need to draw more of, it’s locals.”