In the 1970’s and 80’s, when the straight-as-an-arrow Valley Parkway was a cruisin’ drag strip reminiscent of the movie American Graffiti, teens and other young adults in their hot cars would hang out on the huge parking lot of what is known today as the Jo-Ann shopping center.
The center hasn’t changed much. Its huge setbacks are from the way they used to design shopping centers in the 1950s and 60s, very car oriented and non-pedestrian friendly. The whole effect is less American Graffiti than Straight Outta Compton.
The East Valley Parkway Business Group wants to give the shopping center a facelift, and on Wednesday a representative of the group, Beverly Sieker, asked for the city’s help. They can’t do much about the huge parking lot, but they hope to maybe do some landscaping, refresh the parking lot, add some sidewalks, persuade business owners to apply a coat of paint and maybe add some new signage.
Noting that the Escondido City Council has been lavishing attention on the Grand Avenue business district for several years, including the addition of the Maple Street Plaza and infrastructure, Sieker told council members Wednesday they would like some attention too!
She said that they would like some help to do a facelift on the center that she referred to as the JoAnn’s center, where the Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Store is an anchor for a variety of retail and service outlets.
The East Valley Parkway Business Group includes about twenty-five business owners along the East Valley Parkway corridor. Mrs. Sieker is a volunteer at the Assistance League thrift shop.
Mrs. Sieker told the Times Advocate, “They have put time and money into upgrading Grand and that’s wonderful. My intent in speaking to the board was more that ‘you’ve nearly finished that and perhaps your next place to look at is the east.’ ” The East Valley Parkway Business Group has been working under the aegis of the Neighborhood Transformation Project, which was funded for six months.
“We’re hoping they will expand that to an year’s project. We’re excited there’s a willingness to look into this area.” She said that at least one business owner there, Deborah’s Next to New consignment shop, is interested in upgrading the center.
According to Michelle Geller, a management analyst with the city of Escondido, who is assisting the group, “They were motivated to start because the city is focusing on that area as part of the Neighborhood Transformation Project.”
The city had already decided to focus on that part of town, but Mrs. Sieker’s plea possibly means it will be able to continue. “We try to help the residents and businesses organize,” said Geller. “They’ve met for the last two to three months. They decided they wanted to have a focus project.” The JoAnn center is that project.
“We have managed their expectations that it is private property and many of those suites are privately owned. There is a large gap between what’s legal and what looks bad. It’s like any privately owned property; as long as they are following within the rules it’s their choice whether to invest in upgrading the property,” said Geller.
“We will help them on what’s allowed and what’s not allowed and it will be mostly them reaching out to business owners to explain why it’s beneficial,” she said.
“They are asking for some new signage, a fresh coat of paint, to make it look nicer than it does. It’s kind of old school in its design and hasn’t kept up with appearances,” said Geller.
At Wednesday’s council meeting Mayor Sam Abed and council-member Ed Gallo told Mrs. Sieker they were sympathetic to these goals and noted that they were founding members of the Business Group.
“Mayor Abed has a soft spot in his heart for this part of town,” Mrs. Sieker said later. “Anything that puts a little more focus on it is good.”
Geller told the Times Advocate that over ten years ago the city invested in an architect to do a design but wasn’t able to persuade the owners to get onboard. “We are trying to find that old design. It’s ten years and maybe people are in a different frame of mind. It’s been one of those areas that we have really wanted to address,” she said.
Even a design from ten years ago might update the character of the shopping center, said Geller.
The East Valley Parkway Business Group is open to all businesses along the East Valley Parkway corridor and meets biweekly at Escondido Charter High School. Those wanting more information on the group can contact Michelle Geller at 760-839-4587 or firstname.lastname@example.org.