After taking the picture, store owner Frank Dittmer closed the store and went home for the day.
  • After taking the picture, store owner Frank Dittmer closed the store and went home for the day.
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Walking through the La Mesa downtown area known as the Village, it is striking to see numerous signs testifying to change in this area of small businesses: real estate and property management signs, in the windows of Lars Construction, San Flippos’s Pizza, Handful of Wildflowers, What a Dish, and the Country Loft.

Blumenthal Jewelers

Blumenthal Jewelers

Other signs indicate businesses are closing, such as Antiques @ the Village and Blumenthal Jewelers. And still other signs tell of businesses that have moved, such as Don Keating Motors and Shakespeare’s Corner Shop.

Some of the businesses, like San Filippo’s Pizza and the Country Loft, are reportedly closing or leaving their current sites because the owners are retiring. Others have spoken about other changes underway in La Mesa, including periodic festival events like Oktoberfest.

In 2015, the elimination of the artist and craft theme, together with the reduction in size and times, led some to conclude Oktoberfest may be part of the past and not the future.

The former owner of now-closed Handful of Wildflowers, Sherri Buck, may have best captured those sentiments when saying, “The city doesn't care about the festivals.” This was echoed by one of her customers, longtime La Mesa resident Gayle Cates, who observed, “Those days are gone.”

For other small businesses, the nearly 18 months of construction associated with the La Mesa Streetscape project may have effectively sounded a death knell.

What a Dish, one of the shops that is closing, has been owned and operated by Frank Dittmer for roughly three years. According to Dittmer, “Over half of my time in business was destroyed by La Mesa’s street-improvement project.”

Attributing a 75 percent drop in sales to the construction, Dittmer observed that parts of La Mesa Boulevard were closed during some of the “busiest shopping days of the entire year”; specifically, the two weeks prior to Christmas in December 2015.

Illustrating the impact of Streetscape construction on his business, Dittmer provided two photographs. In one, the street construction in front of his storefront shows that neither motor vehicle nor pedestrian traffic was possible. In the other, taken shortly after he arrived to open the store one morning, he found that the construction workers had “chained off” the entry to his store, even placing a lunch cooler in the entryway.

Former site of Keating Motors

Former site of Keating Motors

After taking the pictures, Dittmer closed the store and went home for the day. Once more the construction made it virtually impossible to run his business; there had been no coordination with Dittmer by city hall or the construction company.

One new business owner, Aaron Henderson of soon-to-open Public Square, commented about coming to the village after the construction associated with Streetscape was completed.

“Previous folks were losing thousands of dollars a month due to the construction,” said Henderson. “And that’s a pretty common story for businesses here in the village.”

The reported sharp rise in lease costs after the completion of Streetscape could also be a contributing factor to the store closures.

Noting that one storefront will now lease for $5000 per month, Dittmer mused that maybe the arts-and-crafts mom-and-pop businesses are being priced out of the village because “you have sell a lot of candles to pay a $5000 lease.”

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Comments

AlexClarke May 3, 2016 @ 6:01 a.m.

In the beginning most if not all the store owners were for streetscape. They, the business owners, wanted to have the project done in sections so as not to shut down everything and do the project all at once. It seems that anytime there is construction the business community is all up in arms but they are also the first ones to complain about road and parking conditions that lead to the construction in the first place. Most if not all of the buildings in the Village are owned by landlords. There is very little profit in renting out a building that is old. The maintenance costs, taxes, etc. take most of the money and there is little left for the owner. The value is in the building/land and the only way to get that value out is to sell. As for the various "festivals" it is up to the business community to come up with proposals and submit them to the City. Other than the possibility of increased sales tax revenue there is no benefit to the City to have festivals etc. as it costs the city to provide services.

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RusselRay May 3, 2016 @ 11:36 a.m.

The City bills services to the festival. For example, Oktoberfest 2015 was billed $47,000 for city services provided, a bill that has not yet been paid by Oktoberfest and is now with a collection agency.

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Richard Rider May 3, 2016 @ 3:45 p.m.

There's one more reason for consumers to avoid La Mesa, and for businesses to go elsewhere (or go OUT of business): La Mesa now has the second highest sales tax in the county -- 8.75%. Only union run, predatory National City is higher (9%). El Cajon WAS higher (9%), but last year they reduced their sales tax to 8.5%. Most of the county and cities are 8%.

I won't shop in La Mesa. And I encourage others to do the same.

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AlexClarke May 4, 2016 @ 6:27 a.m.

What does unions have to do with it? You are a one note AH. Unions have nothing to do with the Village in La Mesa or anywhere else. City Councils decide what the sales taxes will be. City Councils decide what the budget will be. Unions or the employees they represent do not decide what City Councils will do. Your anti union anti employee bias is showing.

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Ponzi May 3, 2016 @ 4:28 p.m.

There are a few places I go in that village. A guy that sharpens knives and scissors, a couple of book stores and my dentist. Otherwise I find that I avoid the area because of the insane traffic, poorly timed traffic lights and metered parking. There is also crime around the trolley stations in the village and off of Fletcher Pkwy.

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AlexClarke May 4, 2016 @ 6:29 a.m.

If you research crime statistics you will see that there is an increase in crime everywhere there is a trolley station. The trolley imports trolley trash throughout the area.

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djxpress12 May 3, 2016 @ 11:34 p.m.

The Village is a joke - no one goes down there because most of the shops aren't worth going to. Real estate brokers, title companies, banks, and magic/costume shops??? How about more restaurants (the mexican restaurants there suck), electronics shops, home goods, etc??

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