Waiting on Mary Street

They’re building in Nipomo. Commercial buildings. Not too many towns can make that boast in these economic tough times, but construction continues along Tefft Street. Things are going up fast and the Mary Street project should open this summer.

Many of the tenants have already been announced; no Macy’s or Target among them. Instead we’ve been told to expect the usual strip mall mix: nail shop, yogurt shop, pizza place, burger place, and a bank. Oh, don’t forget the Starbucks

This week marks the second anniversary of our arrival in Nipomo—refugees from Atascadero in our continuing Central Coast odyssey that has also taken us to Los Osos, Morro Bay, and San Luis Obispo over the years. It is hard to believe that two years have already passed. There are still boxes to unpack in the garage.

Here we are now, living at the southern most tip of the county and our bearings have completely changed. The great part is that, driving home from Los Angeles, the first exit is always ours, shaving off that additional 45 minutes to Atascadero. And living 75 minutes from Santa Barbara has definite advantages.

The downside is that Cambria and the North Coast, once favorite and regular stomping grounds, now seems like a distant foreign country. We have a better chance of visiting Italy. Paso Robles, home to the best restaurants in the county, is an hour away. Commuting to work in San Luis Obispo is about 25 minutes each way. Not bad, but after five straight days of that grind, it’s tough to drive back up on weekends. It’s just as tempting to stay home.

We have arrived at a time for massive change in Nipomo. Houses are going up as fast as they can chop eucalyptus trees down. Trilogy, a virtual city within an unincorporated area on Hwy.1, recently unveiled an upscale restaurant and is currently adding a gym and small grocery store. The Willow Road interchange is being planned for Hwy. 101 to handle the explosion in traffic.

But Nipomo remains largely residential, a bedroom community not unlike Los Osos. The so-called Old Nipomo downtown area is literally a ghost town. I’m not kidding. Drive Tefft Street from Hwy. 101 to Jocko’s. You’ll see that sidewalks have been installed, along with old-fashioned street lights and nice benches, all thanks to a grant Nipomo received a few years back. 

The only thing missing are the buildings. It’s mostly empty lots. Instead, the real spiritual center of Nipomo seems to be at the historic Dana Adobe at the south end of town. Community events are held there on a regular basis and the property recently expanded by several hundred acres as volunteers lovingly restore the old structure.

Otherwise, you’re likely to find families out at the county park on the softball and soccer fields, or enjoying the hiking trails that zigzag everywhere. Bill Deneen, who has lived in Nipomo for decades, keeps telling me that I have to visit something called the Luffa Farm. It’s on my list, though down a bit.

If you need something, you usually have to run to either Arroyo Grande or Santa Maria, but I see that changing in the next decade as more businesses come to town. Which brings us back to Mary Street and the Starbucks about to open.

The “chains” are popping up in South County more and more. Arroyo Grande has embraced the likes of Wal Mart, Trader Joe’s, and Applebees, apparently with great success, if that’s measured by cars in the lot. The new Chili’s is already packing them in, as well.

So will Nipomo be next? It’s hard to see how it can be avoided. Too much prime open space remains down there. And if San Luis Obispo couldn’t fight it off along Los Osos Valley Road, what chance does an unincorporated area have?

I visit Starbucks perhaps once a month, always with someone who suggested the idea first. But when the new store opens on Mary Street, I’ll probably be a regular. Yes, it’s a chain and we can always debate the quality of the product, but something else is happening here.

Nipomo is a nine o’clock town without a real gathering place, unless you count the bar at Jocko’s. There is no community center. The old rec center just burned down. So if Starbucks wants to open up and provide a spot for people to meet and mingle at night, count me in.

Make mine a mocha, please.

SLO County News (May 2008)

Published by Dave Congalton

Writer. Radio Host. Screenwriter. Enjoying the Good Life on California's Central Coast.

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