We promote economic diversity in our Downtown which includes not only entertainment venues and chain stores but also locally-owned stores, stores that sell locally produced goods and necessity goods stores. We would like to discourage the growing Downtown residential population from driving into the suburbs to do their shopping. Also, we want our retail dollars to remain in San Luis Obispo. In the past, we sponsored "cash mobs", submitted ads to the media encouraging our residents to shop locally and continue to advocate for retail diversity.
In August 2012 we submitted to the City Council the following critique of the Draft SLO Economic Development Strategic Plan:
The consultant failed to address the need to generate more business development in our already “vibrant downtown” along with the inclusion of more workforce housing which in turn would reduce the consultant’s third “threat” - as mentioned in the SWOT analysis - which is the “increase in crime”. Save Our Downtown is concerned about the dwindling supply of necessity goods stores within the Downtown Core which would attract residents into the Downtown and this was not mentioned in this report.Moreover, what we don’t want to see is the erosion of our office inventory by replacing it with restaurants and bars. This concern should also be included within the Strategic Plan.
In March 2013 Save Our Downtown wrote a “Manifesto For The Preservation and Enhancement of Downtown Shopping in San Luis Obispo” (see below).
One of the "most active ideas" on the Mindmixer Online Community Workshop Update is "INCREASE THE RETAIL MIX IN DOWNTOWN" which can only happen after we've successfully stemmed the proliferation of bars and nightclubs in our downtown core and after we’ve established a more proactive stance in supporting the small, independent retail business owner. Moreover, the Downtown Association’s April 24, 2013 town hall meeting focused on a top concern related to the growing number of corporate stores replacing local-owned businesses and more restaurants and bars than retail shops. SLO’s laissez-faire attitude regarding increasing the retail mix in the downtown is countered by Port Townsend, Washington’s citizen-led initiative where they created a cooperative called the Port Townsend Mercantile after the demise of Swain's – their only “general store”. Port Townsend, unlike almost all other communities throughout the country, hasn't yet “thrown in the towel” in the fight against "e-commerce". Unlike Port Townsend, SLO no longer has a downtown, independently-owned hardware store, SLO no longer has a downtown "general store", SLO no longer has a downtown department store and SLO no longer has a downtown grocery store. We had all of these once. We've gone from four independently owned used and new book stores to one.
Our ultimate argument against accepting the perceived “inevitable” demise of downtown shopping is that some of us still prefer building relationships with our local store owners and trusting in their expertise to guide us in our purchases. And we're prepared to pay a little extra for this service. We also realize that independent store owners are more likely to carry locally-sourced merchandise (thereby generating more revenue within our local economy) and to stock a greater variety of unique, high-quality goods (not products that are mass-marketed and mass-produced). If we’re not satisfied with the item once it’s been purchased, we are not confronted with the prospect of repackaging it and mailing it back to an impersonal online vendor. Finally, shopping (and living) within or near the Downtown Core is ultimately the only sustainable model we can follow as it negates the need for unnecessary long trips in the automobile.
The reason for the current decline in Downtown’s shopping vitality cannot be blamed entirely on the growth of suburban malls, the proliferation of alcohol outs, excessively high commercial rents, excessively high parking penalties and e-commerce. It's also due to the lack of marketing and promotion. Both the City's economic development manager and its two business improvement associations stopped doing this years ago because of "lack of funds"! But the most compelling (and unstated) reason for this is that neither the City, nor the Downtown Association nor the Chamber of Commerce can openly support locally-owned businesses as this will alienate the corporate-owned chain stores (who have their own in-house marketing capabilities) and property owners who depend on the high rents that the corporate stores can command.
Therefore, S.O.D.’s “Downtown Merchant Association” Subcommittee is tasked with the following:
i.Compose and distribute a Downtown Merchant Association Survey
1.Establish a small merchant on-line blog
ii. Plan and put on a Downtown Merchant Association Workshop
1.“Whither Downtown SLO?”: A Visionary Workshop – Joe Abrahams
2.Update on proposed Urban Storefront Continuity Workshop for merchants, Council and Staff Planners – David Brodie
iii. Put together a “Mom & Pop Stores Documentary”: Involving a proposed historical survey of business types within the Downtown Core – Joe Abrahams
iv. Assemble a database of empirical findings that address what contributes to the permanence of independent, local retail businesses and how to encourage local start-up businesses to locate Downtown. Examples could include, but are not limited to, the following:
1. Wayfaring signage in City parking garages
2. Reinstate a City-sponsored contract to promote Downtown shopping
a. Advertise on KCBX
3. Initiate traffic counts
4. Promote special free-parking shopping days
5. Coordinate sidewalk repair schedule with the local merchants
6. Reduce parking penalties or keep credit card time limits open-ended through smart phone notifications on imminent expirations
7. Determine if local start-up businesses like to locate:
a. in small store spaces: encourage businesses to share large spaces (this needs further exploration)
b. along streets that dead-in or end in a “T” intersection
8. Investigate how the Village of Arroyo Grande or Carmel manage to keep out chain stores
v. Determine what kinds of local businesses we need in the downtown core, particularly with regards to meeting the needs of downtown residents
1. Department store
2. Meat market with butcher
3. Hat shop for men and women, gloves, scarves, etc.
4. Tartan, cashmere shop
5. Green grocer
6. Kite shop with quality board games
7. Deli like Musios
a. Dixie Cliff is circulating a petition regarding a “European-style” food mart with outside dining which is proposing to locate in the old Davidson’s Furniture store
b. Each Core Committee Member should get a minimum of 6 signatures indicating those locals who would patronize such a business
8. European bread, bakery
9. Import cheese shop
10. General store
11. Hardware store
12. New or second-hand book store
vi. Continue to hold more “cash mobs”
vii. Continue to assist the City in developing an ordinance that will curb the proliferation of alcohol outlets within the Downtown Core
viii. Continue to assist the City in developing a Pedestrian Plan for the Downtown Core
ix. Continue to protect the Downtown’s natural amenities through the preservation of our creek walk and views to the surrounding hills and Morros
x. Continue to protect the City’s historic resources to maintain and enhance our tourist appeal and reinforce our sense of place
In September 2016 Save Our Downtown urged the implementation of a LUE Program 4.31 “Inventory of Downtown Uses” which states that the City shall prepare an inventory of uses in the Downtown Core. Particular attention shall be given to identifying uses at the street level as these uses directly impact the pedestrian experience and vibrancy of the Downtown. This information shall be used to target business support and attraction to achieve a desirable mix of uses in the Downtown.