It must be asked. How is Downtown Santa Ana doing? How does it compare to other downtowns? The answer is obvious, (not so well) but let’s take a look at some of the downtown’s strengths and weaknesses.
What’s good about Downtown Santa Ana? Original brands. This is one area where the downtown sets itself apart from others. First of a kind restaurants and store brands make the area unique and that is a strength. Some city dwellers don’t want the downtown to lose that uniqueness by coupling more recognizable franchised brands with those newer, unique ones.
The Crosby found success marketing to its niche. Their $2 tacos on Tuesdays are one of the best values in the downtown, and are highly recommended.
There’s only one Chapter One, even though you could say that it is an offshoot of the Library Bar in Downtown LA, the similarities seem like more than just coincidence.
There’s the list of other unique brands; Playground, Little Sparrow, Au Naturaw, Lola Gaspar, etc. And there’s the list of upcoming brands that reveal that this is the trend here. But there still isn’t enough cultural variety, which is common in other downtowns in the LA area.
So what’s missing here? Much is. We don’t have Italian (remember Trattoria Ciao?), Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Mediterranean, Indian, Thai or other cultural eating choices. These varieties are common in other historic downtowns like Long Beach, Pasadena, even Fullerton. We do have these eating choices scattered around town, but it would be great to have them centered in the downtown.
Also, can you imagine having something comparable to Baja Fish Tacos, located at MacArthur and Bristol streets in Santa Ana, in the downtown? They are always packed and have been in business for over fifteen years. How about something like the Kicking Crab across the street? What about upscale Mexican like La Huasteca in Lynwood, or Rosa Mexicano at L.A. Live?
There’s this great Spanish deli, Ole, near MacArthur and Main streets in Santa Ana. Imagine that in the center of town. Why aren’t these great choices around town found in or closer to the downtown? Who is dropping the ball here?
If I represented the downtown (Ward 2) in city government, I’d go after businesses like that and try to attract them there. I live in Ward 5 so worry not.
I’ve only touched on eating in the downtown. Retail has a long, long way to go here.
Food for thought
The Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Statistical Area is defined as Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana. Now, I read somewhere that it’s now being called Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, but it has always been the former, and, Santa Ana is still the county’s seat of government. The area is called it the latter because Anaheim’s population is supposedly higher (not hard to fathom), but, the Census Bureau’s numbers on Santa Ana are likely not precise. Can every single head in Santa Ana truly be counted? That’s impractical especially when we’re one of the densest cities of its size in the country. I read somewhere that our numbers shrunk when I’ve seen nothing but the opposite in the last decade, just look at all of the added classrooms at just about every elementary school, and more and more cars parked overnight.
Isn’t it time that Downtown Santa Ana look and act more like those more cosmopolitan areas? Surely those newly arrived “Santa Anans” that tout the downtown so much want this area to be spoken highly of outside of here. Yes it has some strengths but it’s a must that those weaknesses be worked on.
Let Long Beach and Pasadena be the bar against which this downtown is measured. It’s as historic as those places, and (fact) it was built with the same bricks (Simons bricks*)! Oh, go to Original Mike’s and you’ll see that stamp on those bricks.
*If you’re a history buff and you want to know more about how the LA region was built, read Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of its Mexican Past, by USC Professor William Deverell.