Paso merchants lost big on Memorial Weekend
June 16, 2008
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
Angry Paso Robles downtown merchants are reacting to what many are calling a Memorial Weekend financial disaster triggered by city officials responsible for the sudden departure of one of the nation’s largest car shows.
Local business owners are reporting revenue losses of as much as 75 percent for what had been a weekend revenue bonanza.
For nearly 30 years, the West Coast Kustoms Cruisin’ Nationals have been part of Paso Robles’ tradition, and a variety of related festivities would stretch over the entire Memorial Day weekend. The event’s top attraction was the seeming-endless “cruise” of beautifully-customized automobiles, trucks, and sundry vehicles down Spring Street to the cheers of thousands of onlookers.
But last year, Paso Robles Police Chief Lisa Solomon appealed to the city council, reporting that her officers were encountering increased problems during the event. Kustom Cruisin’s sponsors subsequently were informed that they would be required to pay a $35,000 fee for additional law enforcement, and abruptly decided to take the show to Santa Maria. Now, it’s a paid-admission event at the Santa Maria Fairgrounds, and even participants showing vehicles are charged.
The decision left Paso Robles’ downtown business owners perplexed. During a dozen interviews by UncoveredSLO.com, similar sentiments were expressed: the council’s arbitrary action, taken without public hearings, not only cost local merchants hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenues, but also put the brakes on an event that was enjoyed by many generations of people.
“Someone has to understand how badly this town has been hurt,” said Jerry Baltzer, owner of the popular Cregor’s Deli on Spring Street.
Other prominent people with long business ties to downtown Paso Robles are attaching a sinister motive to Paso Robles’ officials’ decision to deep-six the event. Some see it as a preemptory move against large gatherings of Hispanics.
“Look,” said Ron French, co-owner of the historic Pine Street Saloon, “the city council has made it clear that they don’t want ‘that kind of people’ in town. The police said there were problems; there were not. There’s no proof of that. This is simply a decision that favors a select few, and that is the wine people.”
French said he did an “informal poll” of businesses that generally received increased revenues from the car show weekend.
“There were reported losses of 25 to 75 percent over the weekend,” said French. “Some of the businesses lost two months of revenue.”
Baltzer sells a lot of premium Paso Robles wines in his store, and also can count a lot of beer customers. Nevertheless, he, too, predicts a widening chasm between different social groups in the community, with the apparent eventual winner being the big wineries.
Baltzer said his business suffered badly over the long holiday weekend, but he knew of others who got hit a lot harder.
“We were down 25 percent for that week,” Baltzer said. “And we were down 2,000 customers from last year. My employees got 100 fewer hours of work, and that would have been at time and a half. They live here, they spend their money here. It’s just not good business. We are hurting. Lots of businesses in town are, and this doesn’t help.”
The business owner said he was “blindsided” by the council’s action.
“We were all take off guard. It was a last-minute deal by the council, and we had no say in it.” He said business owners had no say in the issue, despite its huge fiscal impact of local merchants.
When he asked for an explanation, Baltzer said he got “a nicely written response” and little information from City Manager Jim App.
“I have heard the same story from the city as everyone else, that there was trouble, that there was trouble on the way,” said Baltzer. “And the police were unhappy. And the city says there was no response to their needs from the [car event’s] sponsors.”
Ryan Boyd, co-owner of Boyd’s Tobacco and Elegant Gifts, said his business was “very slow” on a weekend that usually was “wild and crazy.”
“I’m wondering why all of a sudden the wineries don’t seem to want what they consider to be the riff-raff,” he said. “I guess that’s what they’re thinking. But you’ve got to take the bad with the good… and a lot of businesses made good money during that time.”