Sam Walton’s legacy of big box retail isn’t what ails downtowns in cities such as Manteca.
Nor is it the web world of Amazon or eBay.
It is a failure to create a world that Petula Clark sang about in her 1960s classic recording “Downtown.”
To survive and thrive downtown needs to have a big connection with people. It has to be more than shopping, services, and parking. It needs synergy created with an elixir of entertainment, relevancy, and uniqueness wrapped up in a comfortable sense of belonging.
This is important to keep in mind as a concerted effort may finally be emerging from the ground up with a relatively new nucleus among those with a vested interest in making sure downtown catches the next economic wave instead of being caught in the undertow.
What the Downtown Business Association crafts, and whether they can get a multitude of players on board, are both critical to making sure the central district doesn’t permanently relegate itself to the stagnant backwaters of Manteca commercial zones as the city continues to grow.
Sam Walton’s arrival in 1991 didn’t start the decline of downtown. Instead, large swaths of downtown storefronts were starting to lose their relevancy with Manteca consumers.
It wasn’t a universal trend. Look at those businesses that have prospered over the years: Manteca Bedquarters, Janis Music, Tipton’s, and The Village Sandwich Shoppe. They all offer something that the big box retailers can’t offer. One takes full advantage of low overhead to offer low prices, another focuses on connecting musicians to music, another targets personalized service catering to niche needs of other businesses and individuals, and the last offers a dining experience different from cookie-cutter sandwich shops with vanilla personalities
Outposts, however, do not an empire make.
There needs to be a siren song luring residents and visitors alike, much like the targeted and unique theme of Bass Pro Shops snags outdoor enthusiasts.
Central Manteca needs to be just that - central to the lives of Manteca residents. You do that by making downtown an integral part of their lives as a place they can go to have fun, dine, be entertained, browse and drop cash on a timetable that matches their lives.
Think downtown Pleasanton. Think downtown Lodi. They have become places where people want to hang out on Saturday mornings, weekends and in the evenings. They offer things Walmart or the web can’t.
Manteca needs to get over 30-plus years of arguing over the shape of the table and finger pointing. And - unlike modern retail centers that often have one vested owner with a stake in making things work, they will have to herd dozens upon dozens of cats down the same path.
They will have to free themselves from the comfort zone of conventional wisdom.
It is much like Ron and Susan Dell’Osso did almost 15 years ago with the Pumpkin Maze in Lathrop.
They bucked conventional wisdom, targeted people’s leisure time, dared make themselves unique, and chose a path that neither corporate America or the Internet can venture down.
If they can make going down to the farm special enough that 180,000 people a year happily do so, while parting with their hard-earned cash, downtown Manteca is capable of becoming a magnet once again for the city’s 68,000-plus residents.
This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.