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Ghosts of Main Street
Among reminders of city's past and current struggles, vibrant new businesses popping up
BARSTOW • More than 15 empty business spaces line the 4-mile stretch of Route 66 through Barstow called Main Street, remnants of the highway in its heyday or more recent ventures that have dried up in a depressed economy.
Though empty spaces line the thoroughfare, about 50 percent of the businesses in Barstow call Main Street their home.
At the Barstow Station on East Main Street, the McDonald’s train has become a thriving modern tourist stop near Interstate 15. The indoor shopping mall of sorts features several fast food restaurants, a liquor store and knickknack shops.
Becoming a successful business at the transportation corridor is about making your business a destination point, according to Carol Randall, Economic Development Chair and Vice President of the Barstow Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Unless you’re marketing yourself and you’ve got everybody marketing that Main Street as a destination point, you’re going to be very challenged,” she said.
She said shops like the Treasure House Mall that specialize in antiques have done that.
“I think Main Street now in Barstow is like a lot of other town main streets,” she said. “The urban area suffered to suburban sprawl.”
Rosita’s Restaurant, one of the longest running businesses on Main Street, opened in 1954. It’s among the ranks of a handful of businesses that have survived on Main Street for several decades, including Foster’s Freeze, Brunner’s Tiny Time Shop, Slim Cassidy’s Barber Shop, Soutar’s, The Village Cafe, Curran Electric and Barstow Tire & Brake.
“It’s a struggle out there,” said Jerry Guardado, part-owner and manager of Rosita’s. “We’re very fortunate. Almost everything we have is bought and paid for so that has helped us out tremendously during the (bad) economy.”
Guardado is the grandson of Rosita, and he said the business has been in the family the whole time. He said customer loyalty was another factor that has benefited them.
“It’s gotten tougher because of the outlets (south of Barstow),” he said. “So many businesses are out there and it’s easier access for tourists to get in and out instead of coming through town.”
In the heart of downtown Main Street, from Barstow Road to Second Street, at least five empty store fronts line the short stretch of road. The neighborhood packs a diverse bunch of businesses and organizations including two churches, a gym, a charter school, Army recruiting, a Chinese-American cafe, a pharmacy, bank, jewelry store, antique shop and dance studio. And that’s not all of them.
At the corner of Second Street and Main Street sits a Korean-owned Vitamin Shop called Dream Health Food Center. Saleswoman In Park said they mainly cater to tourist groups that come in droves on buses.
“Our customers like U.S.-made products,” she said.
Porky’s BBQ, a newer business that opened eight months ago, occupies a small isolated building that was once home to a snowcone stand. After being located around the corner on First Street for a year, owner Deanna Trombi Lee said they moved to get more exposure.
“The location is awesome,” Trombi Lee said. “We love it here. This is old town Barstow. It’s a main drag to get from east to west so a lot of local people come.”
One complaint of business owners and locals alike about the downtown area is an ever-present transient population. While some stores display prominent “bathroom for customers only” signs, others have gone out of their way to embrace some of the homeless.
“I give them a lot of food. My husband and I are Christians and we do what we can,” Trombi Lee said. “We are blessed.”
A group of youth volunteers at a nearby shop called Desert House of Prayer Bible and Bookstore said the prevalence of the passersby fuels a part of their purpose on Main Street.
“That’s another reason why we do what we do — for ministry,” volunteer Trent Williams said. “That’s why we have complimentary food and snacks.”
Cris Okamuro, owner of the Fitness MD Weight Loss gym, said he opened 12 years ago and is happy with his downtown location. The company was awarded Small Business of the Year by the Barstow Area Chamber of Commerce in January.
“Some people probably talk negatively about the location because you have transients and some of the street people,” he said. “I don’t think that’s really ever affected us. My opinion is a lot of times people want to blame something for their failure.”
He said the business is on an upswing with increasing numbers.
“I think when the economy recovers a little bit, gradually there will be new businesses coming in because there is a lot of availability and the price is right,” he said. “If a small mom-and-pop are going to come and open a business, this is just as viable a place as anywhere else.”
Contact Brooke Self at (760) 256-4123 or BSelf@DesertDispatch.com.