The Downtown Report: Early December 2020

Kick 2020 to the Curb

We can all finally agree on one thing—the end of this year can’t come early enough. So, that makes an early year in review appropriate just as December begins. January 2020 was a continuation of you vs. me, me vs. you politics, concern for our growing homeless population, and the condition of our city streets, the usual failures to keep New Year’s resolutions, and hand-wringing over the many other issues that were of great importance at the time, with no clue that we might look back fondly to January as the last ‘normal’ month that we would have for the entire remainder of the year. All of our concerns were valid, but what came next? Well, it still seems like science fiction. When someone suggests a movie should be made of this year, we wonder, who would want to watch it?

Speaking of the homeless, early in the year we reached out to a number of those who have been taking up residence downtown, and discovered that many had serious health issues that made it difficult, if not impossible, to work full-time and find a way out of their homelessness. As we stopped to talk with more and more of them, we learned that things were not as they seemed for most, and we did not see a lot of hope or help on the horizon. Indeed, the population has increased with more on the way as a result of what would soon crash down on all of us.

No need to relive all the grisly details of how it all came about in February. Since  you are reading this, you have made it through the harrowing months that have kept us apart, at home, away from work, family, and friends.  Just one point of reference, one that is hard to believe. By mid-February, just 15 American Citizens had been diagnosed with COVID-19. We had no clue what was in store. For me, February was one of loss, as my Mother passed on, but fortunately she was ready after a long and happy life. Maybe it’s best to focus on what positive things have happened since then, even if they are hard to find.

St. Patrick’s Day came and we noted the 30th Anniversary of Heroes Bar & Grill with a nod to our landmark downtown restaurants that have been here the longest—The Cellar (1969), Rutabegorz (1970), Angelo’s and Vinci’s (1971), and Mulberry Street (1984).  We are so grateful that all have found a way to keep going and remain with us.

As the year moved ahead, resilient and creative residents found ways to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and virtually all-important events and milestones even while keeping their distance. Caravans became popular, and ZOOM became the place for friends to get together. Gas prices began hovering around $2.60 to $2.80, even as most commutes became a thing of the past.  Fewer vehicles on the road made wildlife more adventurous, as they started moving back into suburban and even urban neighborhoods.

Never-say-die business owners created outdoor spaces, offered takeout and delivery options, appointment only shopping, and kept their doors open. Part of Wilshire was closed off and became “Walk on Wilshire,” and outdoor dining went into full gear. Gardening became a bigger thing than ever before, as did baking. Lucky for some of us, newly inspired bakers shared their overabundance of bread, cookies, cakes, and just about everything that could be baked. I received a message of hope and we printed it here: “We still haven’t stopped singing, dancing, lighting a fire, and having fun. You do not help at all being sad and without energy.”

The new FUHS gymnasium went up, and the old one came down. The Korean War Memorial held a ground-breaking, and the Hillcrest Park Duck Pond began renovation. We hit 114 degrees, even as some decided to put holiday decorations out early. Yeah, that was in mid-September. A bit later, an attempt to save the many trees at the former Kimberly Clark location was underway, and The Bastanchury Tree Farm was saved from being sold, allowing it to remain much-needed open space.

A bear skull was unearthed at Fullerton High School, houses were built for families in need, and Halloween decorations gave way to bright lights and colorful figures as we all now look forward to the upcoming holidays and the potential return to whatever normal will look like in 2021. Hang in there and be safe.

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