Community focuses on downtown Bishop

By Deb Murphy

The issue of empty storefronts in Bishop’s downtown core has been a talking point since the city went through its economic development update to the General Plan in 2015. The level of concern and range of options to help fix the problem seemed to peak at Wednesday evening’s community meeting.

“The turnout and engagement was excellent,” said Elaine Kabala, Bishop’s associate city planner. “The City hopes everyone will continue to be engaged on implementing the ideas generated by the public.”

Approximately 120 locals participated in the workshop held the Elks Lodge, asking questions, going through the exercises and asking the important question “what’s next?”

“Stay in touch with the City Council,” answered Kabala. The results of the workshop will be presented to the Council at its August 9 meeting, she said. The Council will decide where it wants to go and what the priorities are.

The problem isn’t a bad local economy. Kabala explained Bishop’s JCPenney did well, but it still closed.

The current inventory of empty storefronts on Main and Warren streets includes nine for rent, 11 just sitting. Six have out-of-the-area owners, two are owned by Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Why are they still vacant? Too big, too expensive, need too much work. According to Kabala, it’s also a matter of supply and demand. There’s a lot of supply and not much demand.

The irony: there is a demand for goods available locally, despite the rise of e-sales.

Kabala ran through a range of available options the City could look at: expand the current fund for low interest loans for cosmetic fixes to include structural issues, zoning incentives, work with local property owners, consulting services for business start-ups available through the Small Business Administration and Public Opportunity Zones to incentivize investment in the town, a program available in the 2017 tax bill.

Then it was the community’s turn to weigh in. Don Mathewson’s suggestion had a lot of traction: develop a $1 million Venture Capital Fund governed by a board to review applications and mentor business start-ups who use the fund. “If the community is a stakeholder,” he said, “they will patronize that business.”

By the end of a short break in the workshop, Mathewson had a number of residents willing to help fund the concept.

Stephen Muchovej suggested an advisory board to help businesses adapt to demographic changes in the city, encourages classes and activities to draw people to the downtown core and unify Main Street visually. “Use neon to make downtown pop,” he said.

Councilmember Joe Pecsi wanted to turn downtown into the Disneyland of outdoor activities. He also wanted to see more flexibility on the part of property owners.

The final comment pretty much sums up the workshop. “The future is bright. People are showing up and participating and the City is bending over backwards to listen.”


6 Responses to Community focuses on downtown Bishop

  1. David Dennison July 16, 2018 at 2:11 pm #

    Trouble,it’s not so much hating to see people having a good time..sometimes just wish they’d do it somewhere else.

  2. Trouble July 16, 2018 at 3:10 am #

    People come here to get away and have a good time. I know how people hate to see people have a good time here, but it sells. The real reason you don’t see more bars and restaurants open up here, is because of the lack of and cost of liquor licenses. Maybe the county ought to relax the restrictions the put on these properties!

    • Charles O. Jones July 16, 2018 at 3:02 pm #

      Rusty’s, McMurry’s, La Casita, Rambler. You can get a decent drink on all four corners of downtown. Plenty of other joints throughout town too. If that’s what you’re looking for it ain’t that hard to have a good time.

      • David Dennison July 17, 2018 at 1:55 pm #

        Charles O…I was going to add,not sure if Bishop is a destination point for those looking for taverns and places to drink anyways…thinking more in the lines of them coming to the Sierra to ski,fish,hike and backpack,Bishop being kind of a gateway to that higher up north and the Bishop Creek,Lake Sabrina-area… I have known of people in my town that have made Mammoth a one day and night drinking destination,their only plans going there to bar-hop and get drunk…but never heard of anyone thinking that way when they go to or through Bishop.

  3. David K July 15, 2018 at 3:40 pm #

    I owned a business in Bishop from 1970 to 2005. When the city council annexed the property at the north end of town and K mart and Vons moved out there, downtown Bishop started declining. Downtown Stores couldn’t compete with with the big box stores. It killed the downtown businesses. And the city’s motive, more sales tax revenue. Penny’s has moved out, now the BofA, and the domino effect will continue. It is what it is, and it’s sad.

  4. Wynne July 14, 2018 at 3:17 am #

    I’ve owned a business in Bishop for 20 years. J.C. Penney did not do well and that is why they closed. It was too expensive to ship merchandise, predict and maintain inventory at the Bishop store, especially when online buying from Amazon is so easy. Bishop’s outdoor oriented businesses do well because they are at the foot of the John Muir Trail. When the sole falls off your hiking boot on the PCT, you can hobble into Bishop and buy a new pair without waiting two days for Amazon Prime. The trick is beating Amazon without having to undercut yourself. Everyone will always need groceries, coffee, basic services, and beef jerky. Our downtown buildings were designed for the days of retail past, and the capital expense needed for commercial property updates (dividing large buildings into smaller spaces) will take years to recoup in rent. I don’t think those owners should be penalized for having once invested in Main Street. They’re left holding the bag. There is a housing shortage in Bishop. A more flexible zoning designation, such as mixed use long or short term residential would be an alternative to C2 commercial.


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