The passing of Trueblood’s

Johnny TruebloodThe city mothers and fathers of El Cajon did their best to ruin that city. And by that city, I mean downtown. They tore down nice old buildings and put up ugly ones. The mayor was on a quixotic quest to make El Cajon more like La Jolla. She didn’t even get a cheap version of Santee.

At the beginning of my journalism career, I covered Ocean Beach in San Diego. The merchants’ association there decided they wanted to do something about their flagging fortunes and essentially voted a tax on themselves. They persuaded the City Council to let them start a facade rebate program, and the city chipped in some community block grant money. The goal was to preserve the character and embrace the town for what it is — a haven for second-hand bookstores, antique shops and clothing boutiques, with the occasional jewelry and flower shop. OB also had its dive bars, funky restaurants and odd gift emporiums. None of the businesses felt threatened by the improvements because it was clear the intention was to make business better, not different.

Slowly, Ocean Beach evolved into something that was a lot closer to La Jolla than Santee. Sure, some of the old businesses couldn’t afford the rising rents because of the improved business climate, but many survived and thrived, and the news businesses that came in complimented OB’s essential culture. OB is busier, looks nicer and attracts a wealthier class of clientele than it did 15 years ago.

It’s the tale of two redevelopment projects — one that embraced the strength of the community and another that rejected it. One succeeded and one failed. It’s a lesson I’ve long felt Ventura would do well to pay heed to.

I’ve heard rumblings for as long as I’ve lived up here that the City Council wants to get rid of downtown’s thrift shops and second-hand stores. I say, don’t ruin downtown by driving out its most essential businesses. Thrift stores are to an aging downtown what Macy’s and Robinsons-May are to shopping malls — anchors that create traffic for the other businesses. Contrary to conventional wisdom, thrift stores attract the affluent and the artistic most of all. Sure, the poor use them, too, but is it a crime for poor people come downtown?

One anchor stores in downtown Ventura is Trueblood’s. It’s bills itself as a collectables shop, but it’s really a funky and unique house of American culture featuring an odd assortment of the sublime and the crass of American commercialism on its shelves and walls.

Johnny Trueblood, a local musician and free spirit, has operated the shop for 30 years. By September, Trueblood will close the doors for the last time. He may reopen again somewhere else, but the rent along Main Street is getting too rich. He doubts he’ll stay in Ventura.

I guess I can’t really blame the city for this one, since officials can’t stop a landlord from raising the rent, but it’s a sad passing.

I was in Johnny’s store today and I’ve posted some pictures to a special Buzznet gallery.

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