29 Nov Downtown Perspective
Happy Holidays, Downtowners! While the weather is cooling down in San Luis Obispo County, activities are heating up here at Downtown SLO. Our 42nd annual Holiday Parade is kicking things off on December 1st and marks one of my all time favorite events that our association produces. It is nice to have an event that happens every year on the first Friday of December, so long as it does not rain. I say that after recent contemplations about how much is changing in our neighborhood.
December 31st will mark the end of my 4th year serving as the Executive Director for Downtown SLO and falls somewhere in the 11th year that I have worked Downtown. Over the last decade, I have seen some pretty dramatic changes outside my office windows. Back when I was with Tartaglia Realty at 968 Monterey Street (now Passport), I watched Court Street turn from a parking lot into the attraction that it is today. Meanwhile, the entire north side of the 900 block on Monterey Street was undergoing retrofits for unreinforced masonry. I often joke that I lived through years of shaking, construction dust, and noise on Monterey Street only to have it surround me again at Downtown SLO with the construction on Garden Street. I guess you can say I am getting conditioned to construction around me.
What challenge does this pose for us Downtowners? So many inconveniences, depressed sales, frustrations, and closings have occurred over the last decade that it may be difficult to see the changes as a benefit or improvement to our community. Hold on just a tick though: those challenges have affected many people in very real ways, but have they not also benefited others? Absolutely. With every construction project that has occurred Downtown we have seen our streetscape change on an almost annual basis. Many worry that we will lose the character of our Downtown. I, too, worry about that, but I also sit in on a lot of meetings related to Downtown development and am confident that appropriate measures are in place to preserve the charm that has become world renowned.
Sure, buildings are getting taller and shops are changing, but they are adapting to the needs of a community that is evolving and maturing. We have been at this since 1772 with the creation of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, and so far, things are working out. I think a lot of that has to do with a key factor: legacy.
Run your finger down the registry of Downtown property owners, business owners, and community members, and you will see an abnormally high number of locals and multi-generational people that strive to maintain the balance of the way things used to be and the way they are today. This takes me back to Downtown SLO and our events and why I am so proud of the work this organization does. The fact that we have had a Holiday Parade for the last 42 years is a clear reminder that this community values tradition, while also welcoming updates and a new touch every so often. This year our holiday activities are more inclusive than ever: we welcome the addition of our Jewish community with Hanukkah Downtown on December 12th and the first night of lighting the menorah in Mission Plaza, as well as an entry in the Holiday Parade.
While some people may express contempt or uneasiness about this, I am beyond excited to have the representation of the Jewish faith. Every year an email or letter trickles in berating our naming of the parade as a “Holiday Parade” instead of a “Christmas Parade”. I expect to hear from all of those folks again this year, but I would ask you first to consider why a community gathering in one of the best places in the world would be so exclusive. Tradition? I think not. This entire country is founded on the precept of inclusion but has not always done the best job with following through with that. So when it comes to a time when the world is fractured and our communities are being torn apart, I say throw a parade and invite all of the fun loving people in our community. If you want to exclude somebody, ban the Scrooges that can’t enjoy a parade for what it is or is not called.
The face of Downtown is changing; the faces in Downtown are changing; but what remains are the traditions of community gathering and sharing of cultures. In the last decade, so much has changed in this little microcosm of Downtown San Luis Obispo, but I say that it has all been for the better, thanks to the good people in this town that stand guard to ensure the sanctity of our beloved city