After narrowly defeating the Dalidio Ranch Marketplace project earlier this year, downtown San Luis Obispo last week celebrated the opening of its most ambitious shopping center to date. The crowning achievement of sporting goods moguls and property developers Tom and Jim Copeland, the Court Street center stands three stories tall, occupying what had been an open parking lot between Woodstock's Pizza and McCarthy's Irish Pub. And in its first official week of operations, the place is already bristling with business.
"It's all golden!" said Theresa Cron, general manager of Pottery Barn, which opened its doors the morning of Friday, June 10, to coincide with the new shopping center's grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremonies.
Prior to joining the Pottery Barn team, Cron worked with the Copeland brothers for 14 years as the director of merchandising in their downtown sporting goods store. But she was attracted to the people-first mentality of Pottery Barn, which has already created 50 new jobs in SLO. The shop's sales associates comprise all age groups, from college students to baby boomers, Cron said, so that the store can build better relationships with all its clientele.
Jim Copeland also emphasized that mix of age groups as a vital feature to the Court Street shopping experience. The dynamic retail center has something to attract shoppers of all ages, he said. And equally important to the variety of its guests is Court Street's mix of tenants.
"That's what's so great about this town," Copeland said, pointing to the combination of shops like the locally owned Straight Down next door to Banana Republic.
And across Monterey Street, in what Copeland called an "absolutely dynamite mix," Urban Outfitters will soon open next to Boo Boo Records.
But what really makes Court Street special, to Copeland, is the complete experience it offers. From outdoor dining at Giuseppe's sidewalk pizzeria, one can stroll upstairs to shop for clothing or furniture, and then mosey down to Taste wine shop to sample the spirited flavors of our local vineyards. And right between all three downtown movie theaters, you couldn't ask for a more central location.
Neighboring businesses, too, are eager to praise the project's completion. After a year and a half of construction, the cranes and jackhammers have finally been put to rest and the traffic has resumed its steady flow.
The juxtaposition with McCarthy's next door has been unsettling to some. Longtime bartender Sid explained that many of his regulars actually miss the parking lot. But he scoffs at their shortsighted nostalgia, for he knows the new development can only bring more business to the bar.
While the typical guests of the Pottery Barn or Abercrombie & Fitch may not fit in perfectly at a dive like McCarthy's, neither will they be turned away. "It's money," Sid said, and that can't be bad.
Even Jim Hill, owner of The Novel Experience independent bookstore, who's always got a word or two about the struggles of running a small business in the age of predatory chain stores, gave his vote of approval to the project. Though he'll never forget that the Copelands invited Barnes & Noble - his arch nemesis - to do business in the Downtown Centre up the street, Hill's generally positive about Court Street's attractive architecture and efficient use of space.
The development is still dominated by corporate chains, Hill believes, but at least they're drawing shoppers into downtown rather than out to Madonna Plaza or Dalidio Ranch, he said.
And even as the intrusion of national stores and the increasing cost of doing business make it ever harder for downtown to retain its sense of local charm, the struggling bookstore owner admitted that San Luis Obispo is "still one of the best places to live in California," but for that reason, "it also has the most to lose." Â³
Arts Editor Jeff Hornaday supports mixed use, mixed zoning, and mixed drinks. Send your mixed messages to email@example.com.