The Main Problem

Remember what it was like when you could get off the freeway at Main Street and drive straight down to Lakeshore Drive, passing the little shops and the city hall and the drug dealers along the way, without being hindered by the fact that one of the blocks on Main Street was being made to look like a demilitarized zone? Neither do I.

I have a theory about Lake Elsinore. See, the City keeps tearing up blocks of Main Street and then putting them back together again, and they SAY this is in order to increase downtown business and make things look pretty and provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare and what-not, but I think all it does is 1) give the hookers and drug dealers more pleasant places to sit, and 2) make businesses go bankrupt because no one can get there to shop at them for three months, and by the time the construction is done and people can get to them without a helicopter, everyone has forgotten about the businesses entirely.

So here is my theory:

The City is using this “revitalization” thing as a means of getting rid of the businesses it doesn’t want.

These include anything that is not an antique store. The City’s dream is to have a whole street of only antique stores, and eventually, the entire city will by like that. Circle K will be allowed to stay because many of their packages of Hostess items qualify for the category “antique,” and some of the boxes of cereal at the Alamo have been there quite a while, too.

This would explain making the street LOOK nice without getting rid of the people who make it look bad. That way, any businesses that aren’t killed by the construction itself can be killed by that fact that, no matter how Oz-like the street looks, no one wants to shop there because they’re afraid they’ll encounter a Main Street Person talking to God or Allah or whomever it is those Main Street Persons talk to.

The City refutes this, of course. They say that the businesses don’t suffer because people can still get to them to shop without too much inconvenience. This is true, of course, unless you’re one of those people who was trouble walking over broken up concrete and having to get past guys named “Larry” who operate tractors and wear flannel shirts with their names embroidered on them, lest they forget who they are.

On a more serious note, it is also hard to get to the businesses if you are a person who is slightly handicapped in the walking department. My grandmother, who, with my grandfather, has run a business on Main Street since the dawning of time, has difficulty walking due to a stroke she had a few years ago, and now she has to call someone at the business and tell them she’s coming so they can be waiting outside to help her walk over the sand and broken concrete. The City apparently doesn’t give a flying goat’s head about the people of downtown — either the businesspeople or the low-life — because if it did, it would realize that this little project of theirs will help none of them. All it will do is give the street a superficial façade of pleasantness and joy, thereby making other cities look at us and think everything is well and good in Lake Elsinore because by golly, things LOOK good, don’t they?!? The City is a sad clown who is trying to hide his problems and struggles by putting on an act and trying to make others think he is happy. Those of us who know the clown know otherwise.

I had previously written two columns on the subject of the Main Street renovation, one of which was not published. This particular column was over a year later, and it's a nice update on the "progress." I received several phone calls from Main Street businesspeople who agreed with me wholeheartedly. The Main Street shop owners had their own little friendly subculture in those days; I don't think it still exists now. Too many of the businesspeople -- even ones who had been there forever -- have moved out.

Some of my references here are kind of insular. Sorry. The Alamo market was a cheap, unclean-smelling grocery store for many years. And there really were several antique stores on Main Street, far more than you'd think one economic marketplace could sustain. In fact, ironically enough, my grandfather was one of the long-time Main Street businesspeople to be forced out of business, and the building he once used is now an antique store. The city must be delighted: They ruined the business of one of their finest citizens and replaced it with another antique store.