By Miriam Raftery
September 5, 2016 (La Mesa) – A new business association led by prominent business leaders in La Mesa has arisen to fill the gap left by the troubled La Mesa Village Merchants Association. The new 501(c)6 nonprofit, the La Mesa Village Association (LMVA), held its inaugural community outreach meeting last week at the San Pasqual Wine Bar Tasting Room in the village, drawing a packed house.
“We started the La Mesa Village Association as a way to bring everyone together,” said Aaron Dean, Chair of the fledgling business organization. He aims to empower businesses in the village to have a united voice, as well as to organize events and find ways to attract new businesses that will enhance the historic downtown village that traces its roots back more than a century.
The official mission: To advocate for growth and development of La Mesa Village, its businesses and associate businesses.
Dean has a big stake in making the new venture a success. He’s the CEO of the soon-to-open Depot Springs Brewery and also owns properties in the village where several new restaurants are set to open this fall, as well as the first condominium projects approved in the village in years.
Other officers of the new LMVA include Vice Chair John Bedlion from Johnny B’s restaurant, Liaison Theresa Favro from the Amethyst Moon gift shop, Treasurer Marvin Ballo from Wine & Spirits, and Secretary Peter Soutowood, owner and master brewer at Fourpenny House, a brewery and restaurant coming soon to downtown La Mesa. The officers are unpaid volunteers—and most put in $1,000 in seed money to kick off the LMVA, Dean said.
The old merchants’ group failed after suffering through recession, a year of streetscape improvements during which construction dried up business along La Mesa Boulevard, falling membership and questionable management decisions. Last year, the dwindling merchants’ group defaulted on its payment to the city for security during Oktoberfest, sticking taxpayers with the tab. The group also cancelled annual events including the weekly summer car shows and antique fair, ultimately losing support of merchants.
Dean said he was involved in the Gaslamp District’s association for over a decade and has seen firsthand how a successful business district group can help the area prosper.
Soutowood says the time is “just right” for opening up a new business in the Village. “I want to see the lights on and people walking up and down the street after dark,” he says, adding that he was attracted to La Mesa by its village, trolley access and walkability.
The organizers discussed some possible events and asked those present for their ideas, posting a board on the wall for members and prospective members to jot down their ideas.
Christmas in the Village is set for December 10th with a promise t “bring back the glory days” of street closures and chestnuts roasting on open fire pits. The annual Oktoberfest (being run this year by an outside management group) is also likely to continue.
Other proposed events include a Boulevard Pet Parade, La Mesa 5K and Hill Climb, Farmers Market on Mondays on the Boulevard, an Arts and Crafts fair, and a disc golf tournament. Some merchants on the west side of Spring Street asked for events to draw visitors to their end of town, since in recent years security issues have led the city, at the recommendation of police, to close off Oktoberfest, the biggest event of the year, west of the trolley station at Spring.
Dean made clear, “We are here for the whole area…We want to have some events all over.” He suggested perhaps an art show could be held at the west end.
He thinks all merchants should eventually be able to participate in the major events. “It can be done,” he said, suggesting a pedestrian bridge might someday be an option.
But he also clarified, “The association will never be running the events. We will always have someone else,” freeing up members’ time for other work and focusing on their businesses.
Johnny B’s owner, John Bedlion, praised the City Council for its support of the new association. “Council members have been very attentive—they want to launch it the right way,” he said.
The new group plans to do much more marketing than the former merchants’ group, which relied mostly on its website and word of mouth. By contrast, the new LMVA is gearing up to promote events and more through social media such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Dean, who was not involved in the old association, advocated for a “fresh start” with a new website, though the webmaster and photographer from the old group said he can make photos or other content available if desired.
Favro noted the success of the first Boulevard Stroll (the next is coming up this Wednesday evening.) “With social media can happen,” she stated optimistically. “We saw that with the Boulevard Stroll.”
The crowd at the LMVA meeting was brimming with enthusiasm and many voiced thanks to the founders of the new business group for their efforts. Laurie MacDonald, owner of Sparrow Bridal, who recently joined the new association, concluded, “We’re stronger together.”
Update: The new organization, LMVA, has filed for nonprofit status on August 2, the Secretary of State's Office confirmed, listing David C. Jarvis as agent service. The new organization has until November 2 to file its list of officers.
The new association's website now lists the following founding members,who have "given their time and money to help start this association." The list includes new businesses and existing businesses, including several establishments owned by officers and board members of the old La Mesa Village Merchants Association, which still owes the city approximately $49,000. (According to the Secretary of State's office, the old LMVMA has not formally dissolved, though it has not been active in the community with any events since last December. In its latest filing August 24, the old organization listed as officers Arlene Moore, CEO, Laurie MacDonald, Secretary, and Rick Bucklew, CFO.)
At the meeting for the new LMVA, an information sheet lists 10 members signed up so far, other than the board. Fees are $60 for associates, $120 for offices, $360 for retail, and $600 for food/drink establishments. There is a 35% discount for associate “friends of the Village” members outside the village boundary, 10% discounts for year one, plus additional discounts for owners of multiple businesses and those participating in the new Boulevard Stroll event.
For more information on the new LMVA, you can visit www.LaMesaVillageAssociation.org.