Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ojai seen for Main Street program

Chamber hosts meeting with city, business owners

By Nao Braverman

What business owners want for a city does not always correspond with the interests of local residents. But in Ojai’s case, there is a great deal of consistency, said Scott Eicher, chief executive officer of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Following a meeting of local business and property owners about how to revitalize the local economy on Nov. 11, the Chamber of Commerce subcommittee held another meeting Nov. 19, this time inviting local residents.
About 55 people showed up at Chaparral Auditorium for the discussion.
While residents generally may be more fearful of attracting tourists than local hoteliers, all agree that much of Ojai’s charm lies in its small-town character, and no one likes the sight of commercial vacancies.
Mayor Sue Horgan opened the meeting raising some questions for consideration.
“How can we make Ojai’s businesses more attractive, and how can we do that without annoying the residents?” she asked.
This more diverse group raised some concerns that were brushed upon by the business and property owners at the previous meeting.
“Some people have this notion that our hometown has an image that we are a hometown for visitors, but we are not really a hometown for people living in Ojai,” said Stacie Jones, owner of the Ojai Coffee Roasting Co., a coffee shop frequented by locals. She mentioned some complaints regarding the high price for everyday goods such as toilet paper.
But when facilitators of the meeting perused the overall response from residents, regarding what they considered to be Ojai’s assets, and ways they thought it could improve, the comments were surprisingly similar to the responses from business and property owners, said Eicher.
That was fortunate, he added, because in order to make any improvements, the city needs to have the cooperation of local residents and business owners alike.
Dave Brubaker, chief operating officer of the Ojai Community Bank, proposed a Clean Up Ojai Day, as an initial combined volunteer effort of local businesses and residents to make Ojai better.
Residents heard the presentation by Rob Edwards, director of the Downtown Ventura Organization, which offered the Main Street program as a possible road map for improving Ojai’s economy. The program is known to have helped revive some of the most deserted city centers in Baltimore, Md., Cripple Creek, Colo., and downtown Los Angeles. It may not have the most positive image, perceived by many as a program that is sought out by some of the most deserted and dilapidated downtown corridors. But its principles — maintaining historical architecture, supporting local business and training shopkeepers to be more personable — do coincide with the efforts of many Ojai residents and policy members. The Main Street program would at least provide a road map to help the city improve and coordinate such efforts, said Martha Groszewski, coordinator for the Chamber of Commerce subcommittee at a previous meeting.
Eicher said he was not yet sure if the city should follow the Main Street program or not. The Chamber of Commerce subcommittee is still evaluating the dialogue at recent meetings and considering the next step, he said.
Clean Up Ojai Day efforts, coordinated by Brubaker, will meet Dec. 13 at the Park & Ride at 9 a.m. and will continue until noon.

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