San Diego’s core neighborhoods have been building on top of themselves – remodeling and transforming into vibrant strips of boutiques, gastro pubs and coffee shops.

North Park went from a place where you wouldn’t want your car to break down to a hipster’s theme park. The northern part of South Park became a place for families to walk. Adults enjoy craft beer and children play in sand boxes.

Sometimes change is good. Sometimes change is hard, and not at all welcome. Just ask people in Ocean Beach. The neighborhood’s very structures and character are making it so only large corporations can seem to fill some of the empty spaces.

And that is clashing with OB’s character.

OB is San Diego’s answer to “what if nothing happened after 1976?” That’s not an insult. It’s a lively beach town, with colorful locals, legendary food and relaxed nightlife. We know the people of OB for their sense of community, togetherness and events that celebrate their culture. OB might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but everyone is welcome.

Unless you’re Target. More specifically, Target Express. It is the latest megacorporation working to fill one of the community’s historic structures. It may be the only entity that can.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Over the last month the owners of the Newport Avenue Antique Center, one of the larger buildings on OB’s historic Newport Avenue, have been looking for a buyer, or at least a tenant.

The owner of the property is an OB local, Craig Gerwig.

“He’s been an upstanding member of this community for a long time. I mean, this guy puts in 12-hour days helping set up the OB Chili Cook Off every single year,” said Tony Franco of Franco Realty Group, the agency in charge of finding new tenants for the 18,000 square foot building.

“The owners have done everything to find local people that might be able to take over the space and keep it intact. So far no one has stepped up.” Franco said. “We’ve tried for a long time, and explored so many options, but nothing that would actually work.”

Franco and others involved mentioned groups wanting to install a bowling alley or a brewery.

Franco said the best local offer would only take up 3,000 square feet.

“That would be so expensive for the owners to split up the building like that. They would have to build new walls, electrical, bathrooms, and plumbing. The rental price would have to go up if that was the case,” he said.

And, what is the price? Anyone interested in buying the property, which is 30,000 square feet including 33 on-site parking spots, would need to come up with $6.5 million. The leasing price is $30,000 a month, which roughly works out to be $1.67 per square foot.

“That’s almost an entire dollar below market value for a property like this in San Diego.” Franco said. He’s right: Market value for business real estate is roughly $2.19 per square foot, that doesn’t include a building located on a historic beach strip. “No one is looking to get rich or scam the town,” Franco said.

Even with the below-market price, finding a tenant that can take over the entire space has been difficult, and that is where Target comes into play.

“We know it’ll be a lease agreement,” said Gretchen Newsom, president of the Ocean Beach Town Council. “Target wouldn’t be buying the property outright, but either way, we don’t want them here.”

Newsom, along with a lot of OB natives and longtime residents, are known for being staunchly anti-corporation; a lone holdout despite the ever-changing economic landscape inching in from every border.

“I don’t want any corporate logo taking up space on Newport Avenue,” Newsom said.

I asked her about the new CVS in OB.

“We weren’t able to stop them from coming in, but we worked hard with CVS to build a community benefits package and that agreement was the first of its kind in this state.” Newsom said.

Back in 2001, when Starbucks moved in, it was basically like an invading foreign superpower trying to overtake the village army. OB fought hard, but eventually the mermaid-laden titan took root and has been a fixture on Newport Avenue ever since.

“The sale of the [Newport Antique] property will displace a hundred independent vendors, and replace it with what Target has told us will be 30-60 part-time jobs. These are jobs without health care, and wages that are slightly above the minimum.” Newsom said.

An OB businessman who knows something about displacement is Saad Hirmez, whose Apple Tree Supermarket was pushed out of its original location in OB and taken over by the CVS. He has since opened a new Apple Tree location in OB, but even his massive store only covers 9,500 square feet.

Hirmez also owned Gala Foods in South Park, which was forced to close its doors in 2014. The tenant that took over Gala? Target Express. The residents of South Park protested Target’s arrival, but the real issue was the lack of customers at Gala.

“A Target Express offers no real value in OB. We have great clothing stores and we have grocers. Liquor? We have plenty. If you do need anything else, I just think Amazon,” Newsom said.

So, why do corporations move into areas full of locally owned businesses? It’s hard to find a case in which the reason involves purposefully putting smaller stores out of business, and is often as simple as the corporations can make larger spaces profitable. They do thorough economic research and calculated spending trends, supply and demand and residential growth, and then decide if there is a market in which they can succeed. Starbucks still stands, but so does Lazy Hummingbird, Jungle Java and the often-full Newbreak Coffee and Cafe.

That’s because locals have chosen to continually support those places instead of only spending money there when they’re facing threat of closure.

A lot of neighborhoods are more protective of their architecture – and the things like parking that go with it – often forgetting about the local brands inside. That leaves only a few large corporate entities with the means to make the spaces work. To counteract it, local entities will have to reach levels of success that can compete for those spaces.

It seems like fewer protests and more celebrations of local commerce might be beneficial. I was recently invited to a Facebook event called “Shop At Newport Antique Center Day,” which is a step in the right direction, but a step that should have been taken long ago.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the Ocean Beach business that moved in 2001; it was Starbucks.

    This article relates to: Business, Corrections, Economy, Growth and Housing, Must Reads, Neighborhoods

    Written by Dallas McLaughlin

    Christopher Dye
    Christopher Dye

    "If you do need anything else, I just think Amazon,” Newsom said. Ummmm, wouldn't local jobs supporting a Target Express be preferable to supporting employees in Seattle??? Anyway, as someone else pointed out, don't shop there if you don't want to, but please don't enforce your shopping preferences on everyone else. 

    When Target came to South Park, they worked closely with community leaders to come up with merchandise that was complimentary to the surrounding businesses in the neighborhood. There were plenty of histrionics before they opened but from what I can tell little (none?) of the fear-mongering has come to pass. I've visited the Target Express twice since they opened: both times for electronics that I couldn't find in my own neighborhood of North Park. I loved that I didn't have to schlep down to Mission Valley, wasting time and gas, and could easily zip in and out while supporting local jobs.

    OBhave619 subscriber

    OB isn't against Target Express. Just the aging, vocal minority. I'm beginning to think the NIMBYs of OB are not very "progressive" at all. They just want their neighborhood to look and feel the same as it did 50 years ago, working class renters be damned. If our community cares so much about the middle-class families, they should be happy we are about to recieve a store that makes OB more affordable and walkable. 

    The fact is there are just under half a dozen properties in OB that were built specifically for chain stores over the years. The antique store in question used to be a Coronets- a chain store. There aren't any mom-and-pop operations that can afford to lease this space, and the other ideas floated by residents against the Target are frankly pipe dreams. Through the OB grapevine, we've already learned that Target isn't planning on offering much food or drug store products because they are already served by CVS/Rite Aid/Apple Tree. Or maybe the NIMBY crowd would rather the property sit unoccupied and blighted like the old Apple Tree sat for 3+ years before CVS finally moved in. 

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    OB needs to start doing a much better job of managing their limited parking resources if they expect businesses to thrive. Google Street View shows all of the public spaces in front of the store filled, meaning people are going to drive on without stopping, and that means lost customers.

    Judith Swink
    Judith Swink subscriber

    @Derek Hofmann The article states that there are 33 onsite parking spaces. On Google Earth, I counted 20 spaces in the narrow parking lot to the east of the site and another 13 behind the building off of the alley. I can't say, however, what controls there may be for who can actually park there. There's a sign at the driveway from Newport Ave. which clearly states that there is no public parking in those spaces.

    Despite what you see on Google Street View, my experience (as one who lives in the area) is that the parking turnover is fairly regular. I've seldom been unable to find a space within a block or so of where I want to be. Shoppers are most likely to be OB locals with occasional beach visitors who will know how to negotiate the parking limitations which I think, currently, is 2 hours max. along Newport. I've never paid much attention because I'm seldom there for that long.

    Brent McD
    Brent McD subscriber

    Easy solution -- don't support the chain stores.  Money talks.  Somehow Starbucks, Jack-in-the-Box, Subway, and CVS are able to survive in OB; obviously people are spending their money there.

    Regarding the Starbucks store opening on Newport in 2001, the outcry would have been more substantial except 9/11 happened; and protesting a coffee shop suddenly didn't seem quite as important.  

    Maureen Ostrye
    Maureen Ostrye

    Does this "staunchly anti-corporate" Amazon customer hear herself?  How many "independent vendors" has Amazon put out of business? I think it started with the demise of independent booksellers and has quickly worked its way through the retail industry.

    Mike McCarthy
    Mike McCarthy

    Maybe Target should open a Mom and Pop's division, calling it Targét, to gain popular acceptance in Ocean Beach?