Ocean Beach’s Anti-Corporate Attitude Translates into Wide-Spread Opposition to Target

by on August 1, 2017 · 12 comments

in Ocean Beach

OB Has Long History of Bias Against Large Mega-companies

By Frank Gormlie

It’s axiomatic that residents and businesses in Ocean Beach have an anti-corporate bias. OB is known for this attitude of distrusting huge, mega-companies – and it goes back a long ways. At least back to the 1970s.

And this anti-corporate bias has now translated into a stiff wind of opposition to the plans by Target to open up one of its Express stores right here on Newport Avenue, the main commercial street of the bohemian enclave.

Everyone in OB has heard the story. Target Express is expected to move into the Antique Center on Newport Avenue, the largest building on the Avenue with 18,000 square feet and 33 on-site parking spots. The asking price is $6.5 million, with a lease totaling $30,000 a month.

The owner, Craig Gerwig, has stated through his realtor, Tony Franco of Franco Realty Group, that he is unwilling to divide the building up, to make the interior more palatable for smaller businesses.

With a petition being signed by a couple thousand people, with “No Target in OB” T-shirts being sold out of a local storefront, and now with the OB Planning Board hosting a town hall type of discussion with expectations of drawing quite a crowd Wednesday night, August 2nd – this opposition to Target has become quite visible. Locals are also distributing fliers about this meeting.

The Voice of San Diego has picked up the story, and in an article by Dallas McLaughlin, one slant on the issue for OB was introduced:

Sometimes change is good. Sometimes change is hard, and not at all welcome. Just ask people in Ocean Beach. The neighborhood’s very structures and character are making it so only large corporations can seem to fill some of the empty spaces.  And that is clashing with OB’s character.

OB is San Diego’s answer to “what if nothing happened after 1976?” That’s not an insult. It’s a lively beach town, with colorful locals, legendary food and relaxed nightlife. We know the people of OB for their sense of community, togetherness and events that celebrate their culture. OB might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but everyone is welcome.

Unless you’re Target. …

In a premature dismissal of OB’s anti-corporate attitude, McLaughlin writes:

“… OB natives and longtime residents, are known for being staunchly anti-corporation; a lone holdout despite the ever-changing economic landscape inching in from every border.”

McLaughlin quotes Gretchen Newsom, the president of the OB Town Council, extensively, as she laid out reasons against Target:

I don’t want any corporate logo taking up space on Newport Avenue.

The sale of the [Newport Antique] property will displace a hundred independent vendors, and replace it with what Target has told us will be 30-60 part-time jobs. These are jobs without health care, and wages that are slightly above the minimum.

A Target Express offers no real value in OB. We have great clothing stores and we have grocers. Liquor? We have plenty. If you do need anything else, I just think Amazon.”

Touching on history, the fight against Starbucks in raised ever so slightly in VOSD.  But in the end, McLaughlin disparages OB’s ability to halt a business of this magnitude from taking advantage of a commercial opportunity, an opportunity small businesses cannot rise to:

It seems like fewer protests and more celebrations of local commerce might be beneficial.

Fewer protests? Is that our problem? Too many protests and not enough celebrations of local businesses?

It is an historic fact, that the very OB activists who led fights against giant corporations coming into the village, also led campaigns to “support local businesses!”

There are some real challenges to finding an alternative to Target for the large building. It may be too late. But that hasn’t stopped OBceans and their spirit of resistance to corporations.

As mentioned, this resistance goes back a long ways.

In the mid-1970s, at the height of grassroots community activism, Winchell’s Donuts indicated it wished to move into OB. And what happened next was outlined years later:

Campaign Against Winchell’s Donuts: There was a concerted campaign against Winchells Donuts opening up a store in OB. The campaign included picket lines, a kids’ coloring book, negotiations with the city and with corporate Winchell’s, and it involved, infamously, the setting of minor fires in at least two Winchells stores in other parts of town. In the end, Winchell’s withdrew its application.

Large crowd opposed to 7-Eleven, Aug. 5, 2016.

In an update years later, Chris Stavros, owner of the Olive Tree, told a crowd at a planning board meeting an  amazing story from his youth, as we reported:

His father owned the business in OB that opened a Winchell’s Donuts here back in 1970s. After a lot of community backlash, including small fires lit in 2 different Winchells, Chris asked his father what he was going to. His dad answered: “We’re going to listen to the will of the people and not open a Winchells.”

Stavros was speaking at a packed meeting of the Planning Board examining the issue of whether another 7-Eleven would move into the dry cleaning business at the corner of Sunset Cliffs and Narragansett.

It was just about one year ago exactly, on August 5th, 2016, when the issue was discussed:

To a person, Ocean Beach residents who packed Wednesday night’s OB Planning Board meeting, rejected the proposed addition of another 7-Eleven coming into the community.  Over 60 people jammed into the small community meeting room of the OB Rec Center, with standing room only (some even had to sit on the floor) to hear a presentation by 7-Eleven representatives and then to offer the company feed-back. There were other items on the Planning Board’s agenda, but this was the issue that drew the crowd.

Many eloquent speeches were made by residents during the discussion phase … – but it was clear by the end of that segment of the meeting – that no one was there in support of the corporate franchise coming to the space currently occupied by a dry cleaning business at the intersection of Sunset Cliffs and Narragansett.

The property owner who had tried to bring the corporate franchise in finally dropped the whole thing.

That 7-Eleven was not the first one opposed by OBceans. Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, locals tried to block the company from opening up its store on Voltaire and Bacon. Members of the OB Planning Board were involved in those apparently unsuccessful efforts. However, attempts by the franchise to expand its alcohol sales were blocked.

When another large corporation – CVS – signaled it wanted to move into the large abandoned Apple Tree building, there was push-back from the community.  The Voice article quoted Newsom:

“We weren’t able to stop them from coming in, but we worked hard with CVS to build a community benefits package and that agreement was the first of its kind in this state.” Newsom said.

Of course, the most obvious parallel with the opposition to Target is OB’s infamous fight against Starbucks. The coffee-store powerhouse opened on September 11, 2001, in the former java house and Bank of America / Bank of Italy on the corner of Newport and Bacon. It was the first outside corporation (other than banks) to throw open its doors on Newport Avenue – and many OBceans couldn’t fathom the symbolism it represented. It also meant that now Newport Avenue property owners could then begin raising their commercial rents to find other corporate franchises.

The community went through a brutal boycott campaign that gained notoriety world-wide. There were large rallies in opposition, as well as weekly picket lines, and T-shirts, logos, bumper stickers.

It ultimately failed, one can assume by looking at the storefront still there today. But an informal boycott by locals is still going on where many OBceans look upon the outlet with disdain.

(There are two histories of the OB campaign against Starbucks, one by this reporter from 2011 which included 4 parts, and the other by Marc Snelling from 2014.)

Not every showdown between OB and corporations comes out in the community’s favor. But the anti-corporate attitude goes deep. It’s ingrained in our youth. And just because the Voice of San Diego and its writer can’t understand it, there are damn good reasons to be anti-corporate.

It’s no secret that large, multi-national mega-corporations rule our economy and much of mainstream culture, limiting our options, controlling our resources, and with unlimited funding, sponsor candidates and PACs that support their corporate goals. Any grassroots push-back against this overarching corporate culture is positive, and the fact that an anti-corporate attitude is so wide-spread in Ocean Beach means – despite the Voice – there is hope for the future.

Now, of course, not everyone in OB finds the thought of a Target Express on Newport distasteful. Local families are split on the issue, and even the OB Rag staff does not have unanimity on it.

All we can ask for – at this point – is to have a healthy, respectful community-wide debate on this Target.

Target supporters need to realize not all opponents want more brewpubs on Newport, that they are not just NIMBYs, and need to understand the depth of what it means to opponents as an affront to their identity, culture and sense of community for this giant corporation to open on the primary business street.

And Target opponents need to realize that not all supporters are “sell-outs”, that probably many locals – and not just tourists – would shop there, and, importantly, understand that there is the hard reality of the financial burdens leasing such a massive place would mean to any commercial enterprise facing $30,000 a month lease.

Yet, if Target is allowed to come into OB and set up right on Newport Avenue, its presence would definitely cross a cultural and economic threshold for the community. A major corporation on OB’s main street.

Target on Newport would be decidedly worse than a Starbucks. The threat to local businesses could result in major changes, as it could push out remaining “mom and pop” storefronts, particularly a hardware business or a newly-opened market. And it could drive up commercial rents even more. Newport Avenue is already a “Mean Street” in that small businesses have a rough time staying open.

So, is Target the answer?

See you at the OB Planning Board meeting, this Wednesday night, 6pm at the Masonic Center, 1711 Sunset Cliffs Boulevard.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

South OB Girl August 1, 2017 at 12:17 pm

Will the meeting be filmed? Perhaps a Facebook live feed? For people who may be out of town or not able to attend the meeting.


retired Botanist August 1, 2017 at 5:24 pm

Gretchen Newsom’s comments are so on point!
When I moved from Hillcrest to OB 5 yrs ago, it was in part to expressly get away from the constant, obnoxious presence of large chain corporations that have business models I don’t want to support, and to reframe my lifestyle to consume and support locally, and reduce my footprint to the extent that I can.
The verboten on my list are numerous:Ralph’s, Safeway, Albertson’s, CVS, Strabuck’s, Long’s, -7-11s, Max 99 cent stores, Macdonald’s et al, the list is long!
I was disappointed at the # of 7-11s in OB, but heartened by the fact that the Starbucks (after such resistance) was at least small and relatively unobtrusive, horrified that CVS took over Apple Tree, and concerned that so many locations were being taken over by alcohol venues… and not out of my ‘focus the light’ range are a number of residential developments that are not in keeping with what the community wants- Voltaire St, Green St, Muir Ave to name a few.
I just don’t get what developers and OB real estate owners aren’t seeing? This community does NOT want this kind of business and development- if you think I’m a lunatic, left wing, progressive minority who eschews “progress” and “gentrification”, I am not alone…just read the Community Plan. It was written by long-standing residents, not ‘relative newcomers’ like me.
I hope there is vociferous objection to Target at tomorrow’s OBPB meeting, and “No offense, Target, just go do it somewhere else,this is not your demographic” :-)


Frank Gormlie August 1, 2017 at 8:54 pm

A good friend told me he and his buddies have been leafletting the community and will “pack” the meeting.


Ol OB Hippie August 1, 2017 at 9:02 pm

Where are all those “No to Starbucks” people today?


OB Joe August 1, 2017 at 9:06 pm

A lot still live here in Ocean beach. I know one of the main organizers got a job writing for City Beat for awhile. Colleen, Kip and Kimmie are still here.


Marc Snelling August 2, 2017 at 7:43 am

Several still in OB, and all over the place, US, Canada, Costa Rica. Some people went looking for neighborhoods that were more ‘OB’ than OB. If that makes any sense. The neighborhood I chose has a main street devoid of corporations and chain stores. This last time I was in a Starbucks was 16 years ago in OB.


Molly August 1, 2017 at 9:03 pm

I’m going to the town hall and be more like an observer. I oppose corporations in OB but haven’t studied this issue enough to say anythhing, but I’ll be there.


OB Joe August 1, 2017 at 9:04 pm

Gotta get off the couch and walk to this meeting. It’s at the Masonic Lodge, not the OB Rec Center.


Raven August 2, 2017 at 12:51 am

I just want the crack heads to move along and stop screaming in front of my apartment building at all hours of the day. You’ve got a bigger problem then target!

-former resident of Baltimore


OB Dude August 2, 2017 at 8:50 am

Target…a store to supply all those tourists with beach blankets and boggie boards etc. because our mayor has been too slow to enforce the laws on VRO.

So thank you Mr. Mayor!

I don’t have the dough but if I did I would suggest an expansion and renovation of this building with senior housing. Small apts. for seniors only. John Small is rebuilding his building- a great spot for medical offices, there is a grocery store on Newport along with restaurants for people to shop (maybe more people shopping there might help bring down those high prices?). The presence of older adults would be good for the neighborhood and maybe with older adults that might bring the police protection that is needed for all the riffraff that goes on in that area.
That idea would need funds. Who has that in OB? Mr. Small, Mr. Moshe, ???? Come on people don’t let this community turn into crap.

The one who wins is Mr. Gerwig So everyone who bought antiques from him and helped him stay in business all these years….your are probably getting a Target.


Daniel Smiechowski August 2, 2017 at 12:22 pm

I am a 50 year neighbor of OB in Bay Ho/Bay Park and candidate for SD CC D2 including all of OB. I learned to surf in OB at North Garbage –low tide and south swell. That is a hell of a baptism. I oppose a Target in OB for the same reason I oppose a hot dog stand next to Maxims in Paris! I have nothing against hot dogs but we ought to consider the unique flavor of this community and what makes OB OB. 50 years ago I remember OB as a sort of sanctuary for those railing against the establishment and yes, even corporate America. We already have a Target in the Midway District. We need more bike shops, healthy eateries and places where parents can buy Guinea Pigs for their children. The symbolism of corporate America is out of character with this laid back community. Daniel “Danny” Smiechowski candidate SD CC D2 sincerely, Danny


OB Fan from Mass. August 2, 2017 at 4:08 pm

Target has a great grocery section so you wont have to drive and support big oil, global warming etc. Not all corporations are evil especially in the food industry where economies of scale bring affordability for many people. Do not see that an Ocean Beach Food Co-op exists.


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