Retorts: Getting ahead of the curves

COULD THE Strawberry Festival use more strawberries? (File photo/Mark Samala)>

One of my favorite books is an overlooked classic from 1991 titled “If It Ain’t Broke, Break It,” by Robert Kriegel. This little gem places emphasis on the wisdom of anticipating change and getting ahead of the curve, instead of being run down by oncoming vehicle moving faster than you.

We all know how strong the appeal of the status quo can be. The “same thing” is comforting. It’s easy. It’s familiar. It’s always worked, right?

Well, wrong. When Kriegel wrote his book, the World Wide Web – what we think of today as the internet – had just been launched. It would become the most transformative invention of a generation and would set off an even faster pace of change than he envisioned.

Think of all the examples of enterprises that failed to adapt. The list would include Montgomery Ward, Broadway, Mervyn’s, Ohrbach’s, Saddam Hussein, Oldsmobile, Blockbuster, public pay phones and answering machines. Soon to be added: Sears, K-Mart, Coco’s and possibly JC Penney and Macy’s. Not much longer for this world: print newspapers and magazines.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some local issues and enterprises that could use a refresh.

Westminster Mall: Part of the reason that voters in Westminster had to impose a 1-cent sales tax on themselves is a sharp decline in revenue from this enclosed mall. At one time is was such a retail powerhouse that the city lowered its property tax rate dramatically, assuming that the mall would more than cover all municipal needs.

Well, guess what. Things changed and the mall didn’t. It’s still a Seventies-style enclosed center when the rest of the shopping world is going a different direction. The city is hip to this problem and envisions what’s happening down in South Orange County with the Laguna Hills Mall, which is being transformed into the open-air Five Lagunas. Under whatever name, that center at Bolsa Avenue and Goldenwest Street needs to summon its inner wrecking ball and make something new, possibly with housing, a park, and a new focus on activities in a world which is doing more and more of its shopping online.

Strawberry Festival: This four-day event every Memorial Day weekend attracts tens of thousands of people to the downtown area of Garden Grove and helps raise a lot of money for worthy local causes. It recalls the community’s agricultural roots and offers an opportunity to bring people into the city that might not otherwise visit. It’s a big deal, but even big deals can be improved. If you go to yelp.com, a site that allows people to rate almost anything, the scores of the festival are disappointing. They average two stars out of five. The most common complaints seem to be based on how crowded the event is and the scarcity of strawberries at a strawberry festival.

The Village Green Park is not huge; some people have suggested returning it to the much-larger Garden Grove Park, which is also the location of the annual Tet Festival. That idea is probably a non-starter for a lot of reasons, but it might be possible to open up the festival grounds by expanding its reach throughout the downtown area.

The Re-Imagine Garden Grove people have been successful in doing that: adding all kinds of events up and down Main Street and Acacia Parkway, and spilling over across Euclid Street. I know some merchants wouldn’t like that, complaining that their regular customers might have problems getting in. Hmmm. Maybe having a quarter of a million potential patrons walking by could be a good thing, don’t you think?

As far as the strawberries go, maybe it’s time to allow a wider sale of strawberry items, as well as decorate the grounds with a more country look: hay bales, costumed players singing or otherwise performing folk songs of that bygone era. Some displays featuring the history of Garden Grove and its connection with strawberries (as well as oranges, chili peppers, walnuts, etc.) would be a nice touch as well.

Next week we’ll take a look at some other possible changes for the area, with a special focus on traffic and entertainment.

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts appears every Wednesday. We hope.


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