Arcade Plaza project starts
by Kelly Feser Eells
Elaine Bee, owner of The Hub in downtown Ojai, believes she's
one of the Arcade's luckier merchants these days.
"The Hub is going to be fine," she said, "since
most of my business is at night" - when the jackhammering
stops and all other construction activity takes a rest - "I'm
probably not going to be hurt too much" by the redevelopment
project currently under way.
"But I feel so bad for everyone else," she added. "Especially
Lisa (Clark, of Busy Babes Beauty Supply and Salon)," who,
as a friend and part-time Hub employee, has Bee's ear two or
three nights a week.
Because the Busy Babes' storefront faces Matilija Street, Bee
worries that Clark's and other rear-facing Arcade businesses
will suffer if customers find access too much of a challenge.
"They, the construction crew, have virtually blocked the
back. The only way to get through" to the rear-facing businesses
is via the St. Thomas Aquinas Parish Thrift Shop at the north
end of the arcade, or via Rains' Depaartment Store at its south
Even the bench and "big ashtray" Bee keeps behind The
Hub for her smoking customers has been covered. "I don't
think it will be a problem, although people do like to have a
place to sit and smoke. The bench was popular with other shoppers,
too; they'd sit there to eat their ice cream" or simply
relax. Whether the bar owner's regulars will start taking their
cigarette breaks out in front of The Hub on Ojai Avenue, or somewhere
on Matilija Street remains to be seen. So far, "nobody's
enforced 'no smoking' in the Arcade." She indicates, however,
that, if such a ban were initiated, "It could start something
no one wants to get into."
Clark's daughter and co-worker, Stephanie, noted that, up until
Monday, customer access was the issue weighing most heavily on
her mother and herself. "But we were really happy with what
they (the construction crew) came up with," she said.
She explains that, since "the City never actually officially
agreed to anything," they were surprised to see that, instead
of having to route their customers through Blue Sky Music as
was originally proposed, "our front door is open. We have
this runway-like thing leading up to it (from Serendipity Toys);
there's total access from the Matilija Street parking lot."
"The funny thing, though," Clark added, "is that
they'd put this sign on the fence/runway that said, 'Keep Out.
Authorized Personnel Only,' which kind of defeated the purpose,
we thought. But Neva Williams - the project manager who designed
Rains' concurrent expansion project - came by and ripped it off
She's quick to point out that both Williams and Redevelopment
Agency director Kathy McCann have been "really great that
way; they've been really making an effort to work with us.
"But we still have to do something about that sign,"
she chuckled, referring to a city-authorized directive posted
between Kindred Spirit and Blue Sky Music. "All it says
is, 'Busy Babes is Open' in this really small print. Not only
does it look like we did it ourselves, there's only one of them."
The ballyhoo over the planned removal of what some residents
refer to as the "Nancy Rupp" or (Arcade Plaza designer)
"Zelma Wilson" fountain is, according to longtime Ojai
resident David Mason, "kind of a shame."
Though he acknowledges the fact that the fountain itself may
be of sentimental value, Mason notes that "Wilson's project
plans just called for a fountain." She, he continues, didn't
design it; "it was a pre-fab piece," similar to the
Libbey Park fountain.
Twenty years ago, during the 'first' redevelopment, Mason's business,
Village Florist, was in the building now occupied by Tottenham
Court. "We all worked together then: city staff, Arcade
merchants, residents, etc. It was such a horrible eyesore ...
we liked working together on it. I can't recall a time during
that period when any of us felt put out, nor were any of us shut
down any longer than a day - and that was just for pouring cement.
Sometimes we'd all close down anyway and go to the beach. Today,
well," he shakes his head; "today it seems everybody
calls on their lawyers to settle differences."
If all goes as planned, a new and improved Arcade Plaza, complete
with working fountain, will debut by Thanksgiving, 2002.
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
Back to the news