Change continues in the La Mesa area known as the Village or downtown. One highly visible part of this change was the sometimes-maligned Streetscape project, after which several businesses departed or will soon do so.
In their places, new businesses and developments have and are coming into the area, some identifiable by the fencing, green screening, and “coming soon” signs noticed when driving along La Mesa Boulevard between Acacia and Allison avenues.
Aaron Dean, self-described as “an old La Mesa person” by virtue of his family moving into the area in the 1970s, has four projects under development in the Village: Boulevard Noodles (Asian food); La Mesa 8, a ground-floor bakery and eight condo units in two stories above the bakery (the first ground-up development in La Mesa in 23 years); Sheldon’s Service Station, a coffee shop with outdoor seating that offers beer and wine later in the day; and the Depot Springs Soda Company, manufacturing “hop-infused, all-natural sodas” and including a small storefront selling the soda, ice cream, and confections.
Dean is also known for the Depot Springs Brewery, Table 1888, and Platform 1888, projects that are under construction on Fletcher Parkway, a little more than three miles from the Village.
When asked "why La Mesa?" for all of these ventures, Dean said the region has the potential to be a “real neighborhood” and the government, including the mayor and new development director, are very pro-growth.
Dean cited other ventures such as Craft Kitchen, the Hills, Beau Bo, Helix Brewing, and Bolt Brewery that have recently come to this small East County city.
When asked about change, Dean said, “A lot of people get scared when you use the word ‘change.’” He said that a lot of residents have been in the area since the '70s and, “When you say 'change' to them, it freaks them out a little bit. They picture high-rises. They picture traffic. They picture the wrong kind of people in their minds, whatever that may be.
"When I picture change…this area really needs a younger base. Things geared towards younger people, like schools. Younger folks need to move in to feed students into the schools.... The change people are looking for isn’t, 'Let’s tear up La Mesa Boulevard and put up 20-story buildings.' I think the change people want is that Little Italy feel. Bring back the arts. [Though] some businesses here don’t fit the future.”
What about the change in character? Many departing and departed shops were involved with arts, crafts, and antiques.
According to Dean, most locations that have successful art businesses have a great culinary presence. “The art places will do better if there are more people on the street eating and drinking.”
When asked about the service businesses on La Mesa Boulevard, Dean said, “I’ll get yelled at by my real estate friends, but the stores that do need to move off the main street are the escrow offices and the real estate offices.”
He suggested those businesses need to move a block off the main street so that a balance can be realized, in what he described as a "10-10-10" approach: 10 restaurants, 10 unique businesses...and 10 from another category he could not recall.
Dean advocates for at least 10 good places to eat that are open for lunch and dinner. That will drive the businesses, he said.
Dean compared what is occurring in La Mesa with the Gaslamp District in 1995, with Croce’s and the Cohns invigorating the sketchy area.
“I don’t think anyone would complain about the transition from the types of stores that were there to what it is now.”
Dean forecasts that property owners will realize “that instead of $800 a month for a 1000-square-foot space, they can now get $3000 or $4000 for that space. That is where you will see the restaurants and more unique businesses come in.”
Dean expressed strong support for local events such as the weekly car show and Oktoberfest. He said Oktoberfest should be reworked, but not lost because, “it brings a ton of attention to La Mesa and if worked right can be a spectacular event for the community.”