Store window on Main Street in Fallbrook
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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.”

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Brightraven June 24, 2012 @ 6:55 a.m.

Perhaps part of the essence of Fallbrook is that very absence of "branding". One settles into a way of life wherein walking to the library, to the consignment store, and to the conserved nature trail are enough. True, it is annoying to have down the 76 or up the 15 for certain needed purchases and services. However, if the solution is ramped-up commerce, I fear that would be like burning the village down to save it. (OK, a Trader Joe's I could go for, but not Target and not an Avocado Emporium.)


Ruth Newell June 24, 2012 @ 9:38 a.m.

These sentiments were certainly reiterated with those I spoke with all of whom were in favor of a thriving business district, that drew and retained downtown businesses. They just weren't convinced that what worked in other urbanized communities, neighborhoods in large cities, would work for Fallrbook. Thanks for reading and commenting, Brightraven.


nan shartel June 24, 2012 @ 9:53 a.m.

i love the idea of a more natural unrefined commercially town...i say if Fallbrook is happy being the way it is then let it be

it's all about charm...and Fallbrook has an abundance of charm

i lived for 16 years in a small town that was fast fading into a spare landscape

but 16 years later it was still going strong...just a little jewel of a city 40 miles south of the Columbia had a pharmacy..2 gas stations 2 markets...a newspaper... and about 1000 permanent resident who bought local and liked it that way

over the years new happened...the hotel was refurbished...a radio station was founded...a pizza deli opened ...the hotel opened a fine dining room serving free range everything

many would say that town limped along....but the residents would say it was just taking a leisurely stroll into the future



Visduh June 24, 2012 @ 10:10 p.m.

Perhaps the residents of the area, and the merchants in the former "downtown" area need to think of incorporation. Trying to get a business improvement district when there is no city government and little cohesion is unlikely. There are a few spots in the county that could benefit from cityhood, and "Brooktown" is one of them. (One of the others is Ramona.) Incorporation would need to be handled carefully, lest it suffer the same sort of establishment takeover that happened here in Vista. But it could go far to get the place some civic identity and maybe rejuvenate what once was a charming and functional and prosperous town center.


LANDLORD July 22, 2012 @ 2:12 p.m.

Incorporation HAS been proposed in Fallbrook - at least three times in my memory and has been rejected each and every time by a big margin. Fallbrookians are far more intelligent than swallowing this kind of nonsense. The dysfunction, political infighting and clueless city governments exemplified by places like Vista is only one reason. The tax and spend mentality is certainly alive and well there. The new city offices are a good "for instance". Talk about a Taj Mahal, totally out of character for a blue collar town like Vista! How arrogant these city "leaders" are. When a big recession hits like the one we're currently enduring, the posture of these parasites is to snooker taxpayers in Vista to support a sales tax increase to build said edifice and then shut off street lights for the peasants! I wouldn't invest in a place like this. Or Escondido, Oceanside, San Marcos or any other place where the government officials think they know what's best for the people that they oppress. The county is far from being better but they're not quite as bad as these little "fiefdoms". Visduh, I'm glad YOU'RE the unfortunate one living in Vista and NOT ME!!


bohemianopus July 4, 2012 @ 7:51 a.m.

Great article! I've never been to Fallbrook, but now I intend to visit.

It is a shame that the old concept of a "downtown" is disappearing. I hope they can keep the "charm" as long as possible.


Ruth Newell July 4, 2012 @ 6:23 p.m.

Don't go on a Monday--many of the shops downtown are closed! Thanks for reading, Bohemianopus.


RetroRick July 8, 2012 @ 12:31 p.m.

The problem for small town merchants like me is not a the lack of government studies, committees, subcommittees, subsidies and economic plans sponsored by out-of-town politicians done by out-of-town consultants who have never operated a shop or anything other than their laptop and a slide show.

The problem is the low volume of retail customer traffic driven by the smallness of the small town itself, further dilution of traffic by malls and chain-led shopping centers, online retailers and the weak economy, essentially in that order.

Downtown Fallbrook has an alarmingly high retail vacancy rate and has taken on the early symptoms of becoming a retail ghost town like so many thousands in history before it. However, the merchants that remain here do so because they provide something not easily, if ever, found elsewhere. We provide unusual goods along with a passionate level of personal, owner-led customer service that customers cannot find in chain stores or online. We provide an engaging retail experience that first-time consumers were not aware even existed but are always excited to discover. Downtown Fallbrook is a goldmine of such retail excellence, but most of that gold is largely undiscovered.

While annual festivals and periodic classic car events are nice, the traffic benefits received are both incidental and temporary. Yet the experience we small merchants provide is both ongoing and permanent. It simply needs the opportunity for its discovery by consumers from near and afar and in its own right.

My goal is to make my shop worth the drive from anywhere. I’m sure I’m not alone. If the government truly wants to support small business and entrepreneurs in the small towns that they otherwise leave for dead, then instead of taxing us it can do precisely the opposite and create tax-free enterprise zones by forgoing all sales tax collection and identifying places like downtown Fallbrook as retail sales tax havens. No one wants to pay taxes anyway and sales tax holidays are a proven retail business builder used tactically. They can be a bonanza for small towns when used strategically. The effect would be an offer of a field-leveling discount that will drive destination-specific demand and retail customer traffic day in, day out. This is a simple and effective way to get consumers to discover and try us out. The rest is up to us.


LANDLORD July 22, 2012 @ 2:24 p.m.

An awesome comment from Retro Rick to be sure! I feel better now that I know at least somebody other than myself "gets it". The answer is not more taxation but less! What a concept! Getting the powers that be to agree to a tax holiday would really be one for the books. It would be welcomed by a lot more people than a tax would, but taking the mothers milk away from a rattlesnake won't be an easy task. As to the Fallbrook business improvement tax scheme I doubt it's going to grow legs. We must be diligent however. Anyone reading this that is also opposed, please send your email address to me at: [email protected] in the event we would have to organize to oppose this. We're taxed way too much as it is and you know what government does with the money once their dirty, grubby little hands touch it...


Ruth Newell July 23, 2012 @ 12:48 p.m.

Viewer, thanks for reading and commenting. I don't know that things have gotten that far and the survey itself doesn't touch on rates. It was my understanding that property tax in the commercial district would increase.


Jeanette Hayworth Oct. 24, 2012 @ 2:23 a.m.

The first thing on my mind is not to immediately agree to an opposition against increasing the taxes, but instead to try and oppose only against this particular business improvement district idea first, which will ultimately cause the raise in the taxes to begin with. The implementation committee should involve the local residents in an open conference whereby members of the public of Fallbrook are free to voice out their opinions and thoughts before any implementation processes take place. This way, the taxpayers would not feel as though they have been scammed if it so happens that only a minority of citizens truly agree to this business district idea. The root of the issue should be tackled, instead of trying to combat the uncertain end results.


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