Paso merchants lost big on Memorial Weekend

June 16, 2008


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, 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.”

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Member Opinions:

By: Anonymous on 6/22/08

Here we go again, Just got home from a small business fundraiser here in Paso, It was a motorcycle wash, Barbecue & music, I had just pulled in and Paso Robles Police was there in full force to shut it down.

What's going on in this town? This is a small business struggling to stay alive. This was a planned shut down from what I could see. We just lost one of the largest motorcycle dealers on central Ca. last week and they want ot close this one also. All I can see is a one way attitude in Paso Robles. If this was a Wine event they would have planned to wait 2-3 after the event was over to show up.

By: Anonymous on 6/22/08

I read in the paper that there was a problem with the primered cars. Was this true, were these considered to rough for Paso, not pretty enough for the wino brigade?

One such primer fan John Parker is the promoter of these events

John was the founder/owner of Yeti mountain bikes

His wife is the Trophy Queen her stand always at the show.

The car show was a good deal with some truely great people.

By: Anonymous on 6/20/08

Well I agree with “Don’t b Fooled”. Mr strong and the rest of the council were not even considering the our local business’s on their agendas when it came to the car shows. They used the reasons of safety and law enforcement budgets. It didn’t matter to them that us local business’s were counting on these weekends to help carry us through the rest of the year. Did the city or law enforcement ever approach us for input or even funds to help keep the car shows? I for one was all for putting up additional support in one form or another.

Their idea of a financially strong event is the Wine fest. I for one totally disagree on that thought. We even closed our business ½ a day on wine fest day. It was the first time in the past 20+ years we didn’t have to mop floors.(take this any way you want) Our daily $ total was the same as last years, even with the tight economy.

By: Anonymous on 6/20/08

To Fred Strong: It's bad enough when cops run a town, but when wimpy officials like you cannot control them, then you need to go. to allow this event to depart was just plain stupid! Penny didn't pull any plug. Your chief's silly requirements did. Tell her to do her job. We need a city council with some stones! Strong's political career is going to be quite short.

By: Anonymous on 6/20/08

Penny pulled the plug NOT the Council. She was asked to offer a counterr proposal to that presented by the Chief and she pulled the plug instaed. Just get the facts straight. When there are legitimate public safetyu concerns they SHOULD be addressed. Too bad that they weren't. Meanwhile, many are working on a significant (not very different) replacement.

By: Anonymous on 6/19/08

There is a large diverse group of gear heads on the Central Coast. For the most part we leave the area to enjoy our pastimes. Paso used to have motorcycle events at the fairgrounds as well as car shows downtown.

If Paso or Atascadero had any brains in power they would be looking at these folks and courting them instead of another big store.

I/we have expensive hobbies, we spend money, draw crowds and develop skills that are being lost in todays society.

As for being a bunch of ruffians my race friends range from mechanics and builders to multi-million dollar business owners and a former Chief of Interplanetary Investigations for Apollo 15/16 and 17 with ages ranging from mid twenties to 85 years old and still riding a brakeless speedway bike!

Motor sports would bring in revenue from outside the area, create jobs, good skilled jobs and entertain the populous to boot.

By: Anonymous on 6/18/08

You have Lisa (I will marry anyone) Soloman to blame.

Horrible decision on the part of the police chief.

But what would you expect from a chief who has zero real experience in law enforcement.

By: Anonymous on 6/18/08

Well folks don't count out the car show.Some things just do not go away.Maybe with a different name or group I'm betting it is already on the way back.Some places are made for some event's,and I think that Paso was made for the car shows.By the way if you did not here it started this year. Sure it was small,but wasn't the west coast car show small at one time? I'm thinking more is to come with the little car show we had this year, after the loses almost all the local business's suffered this past May. It looks to me that the city the local law enforcement and us local business's work at the same level we are off and runnig…

By: Anonymous on 6/17/08

Relax.. City government knows whats best for you to build a strong business. And why wouldn't they want a strong business base; with San Luis Obispo police officers now making over $ 100K a year that city is going to need A LOT of sales tax money in the future. But fear not Paso Robles, your police offciers will soon be asking to be paid the same as SLO and if your city council is foolish enough to by into binding arbitration you will soon pay your officers just as much as SLOPD. That means Paso city will need more sales tax revenue too.

My guess is the sales tax will go up in both towns and the mardi gras and car show will return to both venues, along with anything else their respective chambers of commerce can entice into town…

By: Anonymous on 6/17/08

Umm… hotdog, your "world famous Mardi Gras parade and festivities" was closed down because it became a world famous RIOT. It's silly to compare the two. Everyone is up in arms precisely because the car show is not like Mardi Gras, and therefore there was no reason to shut it down. Having said that, I do agree that it was an ill-advised move on the part of the Paso council to end the car show. I'm sure they lost a lot more than $35,000 in revenue and taxes.

By: Anonymous on 6/17/08

Don't fret, the gov't knows what's best for you. Same type of deal as smart growth. They'll permit you to do what is good because they know best. Car shows are for plebes, wine shows are for the kind of people we want around here.

By: Anonymous on 6/17/08

The local wine industry is going to try and smooth everything out. A bottle of wine will be donmated to all of the local business people in an attempt to persuade them that wine is better than than a car show.

If i had my choice i'd like to see the car show in the park instead of a bunch of wine drinkers, And then when it got hot i would just as soon go back to the Rodeo bar and have a nice cool beer. There were never any problems doing tha

By: Anonymous on 6/17/08

The kulturkampf has begun. Soon, the custom car and motorcycle types will be in open combat with the wine tasters and KCBX listeners. Rednecks don't stand a chance in SLO, but something tells me Paso and Atascadero will remain part of our local Confederacy.

By: Anonymous on 6/16/08

What a shame. SLO did the same thing to our almost world famous Mardi Gras parade and festivities years ago, same damn thing. First the cops start whining then the council destroys the event.

Maybe the good people of Paso should petition the local gummint to reverse the decision, that would spark a discussion. Or, use this issue in the next council election. Some of the people littering our councils (such as

SLO) have forgotten they should -represent- the citizens. Sound like the same in Paso.

By: Anonymous on 6/16/08

Someone has pointed out that there are no Monster trucks coming to the fair, no Moto cross. Look at the bands and performers. It's getting lame lame lame. I admit, I am going to see SteelyDan because I wasn't going to pay $80 per ticket to drive to Chumash, I did pay almost $100 each to see Willie Nelson…at Madonna expo … but where are the ~good~ country acts…. What was up with having the aged bad boys of Boston (Aerosmith)at the fair last year? Is this a mid-state fair? Does 4H and FFA have winemaking…Oh Sorry…"Viticulture"?

Paso is going to be remembered for it's past-o. Hope the next 'wine' event has a good 3.0 to just shake up some sulfur.

By: Anonymous on 6/16/08

My Business was down approx 60% for the weekend, as well as other merchants I talked to. I guess what we as downtown merchants would like to know is 1) Where were all of the police problems last year, and 2) Why weren't we as merchants given the opportunity to come up with the $35,000 the city wanted from the organizers? Back in September of '07 when it was announced that the Cruise was cancelled, I e-Mailed the city councilmen and the chanber of commerce and got nothing but political pap as to why it was cancelled. Nothing substantive was offered. One of the answers I rec'd was that the organizers were given the opportunity to negotiate with the city, but weren't willing to. I talked to Penny (event organizer) and she said that there was no negotiation offered, they just tried to shove it down her throat. She paid for all the Porta Potties the full length of Spring St, and paid for all the clean up of beverage containers and food wrappers, and she didn't sell a lick of either one!!

As I told our mayor a week or so ago, I am ashamed of the mayor, councilmen and city management of what they have done to this city.

Nuf said!

By: Anonymous on 6/16/08

That's what you get when you let red necks run a city.

Too bad for the merchants.

By: Anonymous on 6/16/08

To Devil's advocate:

It seems to me that 'the other side' already has spoken, and they've said 'Screw you' to the downtowm businessfolks. Gimme a break! The facts are the facts.

By: Anonymous on 6/16/08

What did the other side say? Did you call the pd and the city? It seems easy enought to determine if there was trouble in the past. After all police logs are public record.

By: Anonymous on 6/16/08

Good thing we don't have such narrow-minded elitism at the County Board of Supes level.

Oh wait, we DO.