Shoppers might not have noticed, but downtown Hollister
experienced a bit of a business boom last year. Nineteen businesses
opened shop in the downtown area in 2006, bringing 70 new jobs with
Shoppers might not have noticed, but downtown Hollister experienced a bit of a business boom last year. Nineteen businesses opened shop in the downtown area in 2006, bringing 70 new jobs with them.

Why wouldn’t shoppers have noticed? Because only two of the new businesses were retailers. The vast majority were real estate, mortgage or finance companies.

For those who long for the days when San Benito Street was the center of a thriving retail district anchored by two department stores, this development isn’t exactly cause for celebration. But what’s happened here is a change that has brought some welcome new daytime foot traffic to downtown sidewalks and put a little extra jingle in a least a few downtown cash registers. The owner of Elegant Touch, a bakery and cafe at Sixth and San Benito, said his receipts increased 25 to 30 percent last year thanks in large part to the folks who work in those new real estate, mortgage and finance offices.

Yet if we want downtown Hollister to once again be the heart of the community – the place where local folks go to shop, dine and enjoy entertainment, a place that lures visitors with its charm and vitality – we should be wary of seeing it turn into a 9-to-5 office park.

The potential is here for so much more: Offices along with restaurants and entertainment establishments, even homes and, of course, a strong helping of street-level retail shops. We as a community owe it to ourselves to make sure that downtown realizes its potential.

Perhaps the best thing about the present building moratorium and the wait for construction of the Highway 25 bypass is that we’ve been granted a timeout to reflect on what sort of future we want for downtown Hollister and develop strategies for making it happen.

Now is the time for creative thinking and consensus building. Now is the time to come to terms with what we have and what we don’t, to analyze the specific needs and opportunities of our downtown as a commercial and cultural entity. Now is the time to look for models of the success we hope to emulate and figure out how to bring it home to Hollister.

We have architectural charm that other small cities would envy. Once the bypass moves Highway 25’s pass-through traffic off San Benito Street, we’ll have a downtown that’s a more welcoming, pedestrian-friendly place.

What we don’t have is a specific, up-to-date plan for redevelopment of downtown Hollister. Downtown business owners and property owners, the city and local economic development entities all have a shared interest in developing such a plan and a responsibility to put it into play.

An essential first step in developing that plan is a comprehensive survey of the goods, services and amenities we already have downtown, followed by an analysis of the business needs and opportunities that exist here. What do we want and need downtown? Bookstores, bars, cafes, coffee shops and ice cream parlors – the places where people gather to experience the joys of community? Condominiums and apartments that will get more people walking around downtown with money in their pockets?

We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here. There are good models – including a few nearby – of small communities that have resurrected once-neglected downtowns and brought them fully alive again. We can steal some of their best ideas and also learn from their mistakes.

What we need to do now is ask questions, seek answers, assemble plans and develop strategies for success. Our future depends on it.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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