The Coastal Post - July, 1997

Community Spirit Surges In San Anselmo

BY KAREN NAKAMURA

It's a pure joy these days to walk in downtown San Anselmo. Contrary to years past, the stores are rented and the street filled with people glad to say hi to their neighbors.

In fact, since the Coastal Post wrote (June, 1994) about the two villages, the artificial shopping mall called The Village in Corte Madera and the actual village of San Anselmo, things have turned around. At that time, many large stores were deserted. It looked like the giant merchandisers from outside had won the battle. But not the war, as it turns out.

In fact, it looks like box merchants are in retreat all over the country. Americans are beginning to realize they are the ones who are going to have to take care of themselves, and they'd better demand their rights.

Buying from your neighbor and recycling your money back into the community has become de rigueur from Maine to San Diego. That doesn't mean shopping malls aren't being built or multi-national sucking machines aren't headed your way. It does mean that they've got competition. The merchant on America's Main Street is giving them a run for their money, so people are waking up from the advertising-induced binge they've been on for the past thirty years.

What they're finding is towns in disarray with a damaged infrastructure. Many cities are paying off unwise tax packages and incentives given to bring stores into the malls while the stores have often moved on. What Americans are doing about it is building from the grass roots up.

Prime examples of this new spirit of community are downtown San Anselmo and San Rafael. Both are going through energetic face lifts. Of course, it's not always a calm transformation, as demonstrated by the contention over the redoing of the downtown San Rafael Macy's building. But doesn't this contention show interest? And isn't that what's been needed?

Also, the developer and the council are listening to the citizenry by putting forth changes in the design. Oh, there are still complaints. But the improved spirit of co-operation is working wonders.

There's also a much better relationship with the Canal area. The new police chief, Cam Sanchez, has eased tensions. And, while there are still fights going on there, such as regards the public park by the old Domenic's, it's a fight based on the democratic principle of equal input.

Jeff Kroot, San Anselmo's Mayor, was delighted with the development in his town when we spoke recently. Speaking about how great things are going with the downtown improvement plans, he exclaimed, "And we haven't even planted the trees." Looking at the plan and knowing the beauty of vision of the merchants in the area, it's going to be a tiny piece of paradise.