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Tim Myers: The demise of the Do it Center


Posted: October 30, 2010 8:50 p.m.
Updated: October 31, 2010 4:30 a.m.

Through Cub Scouts, I met a man who began his career after graduating from the University of Minnesota in the 1980s selling neckties and other accessories to small clothing stores throughout Iowa and Minnesota.

During the mid-1980s, the region suffered from a severe agricultural recession. But beyond that, my new friend could see the seeds of the small retailers’ destruction, which he continuously complained about during these periodic visits.

First, in the 1970s, developers built regional malls in the larger cities, which drew in all the people in a 100-mile radius for major clothes-buying seasons like back to school.

Then came regional discounters like Pamida, which located stores on the edge of town, drawing away businesses from Main Street.

Ironically, Walmart stood as little more than a rumor from the South at the time, though it would eventually destroy Main Street and the prior destroyer, Pamida.

How did the familiar die so quickly? It made me think of the recent history of the Santa Clarita Valley.

When the Pacific Coast branch of the Myers clan moved to Valencia in 1996, we knew the only place to get a car wash meant rolling to the Valencia Auto Spa on Valencia Boulevard, and the only place to get hardware without risking vehicular damage and probable death in the demo-derby parking lot of the single Home Depot in town meant rolling a bit further up the road to the Do it Center.

Fast forward 14 years, and I sit alone here on a late Sunday at the Valencia Auto Spa, an establishment I confess I sometimes don’t make it to anymore, finding it extremely difficult to drive past the other two car washes now located between us and the Auto Spa.

Further, I must confess that no Myers has darkened the door of the Do it Center since the opening of Orchard Supply Hardware on Bouquet Canyon Road in the later 1990s, and even OSH receives only infrequent visits, due to the easy right turn into Lowe’s off Newhall Ranch Road and the Home Depot with acres of parking up the other direction.

So I found no surprise in the recent announcement the Do it Center would close its doors prior to the end of the year, and the blogosphere ran rampant with kudos from shoppers past, remembering the competent and friendly help of the Do it Center staff and the store’s smaller feel in comparison to the megastore twin Home Depots and Lowe’s, not to mention three Walmarts that also sell hardware items.

But I find these eulogies stark and empty. I recall a mere two years ago when a fair number of people stormed the City Council chambers requesting some type of “bailout” of the iconic Newhall Hardware.

Ironically, the owners wanted desperately to sell the property and liquidate the business, since they rarely saw the number of people in Council Chambers actually cross the threshold of their store on a weekly basis.

So who killed the Do it Center and Newhall Hardware, and all the other iconic businesses that once prospered in the Santa Clarita Valley?

Some jump quickly to blame the new stores, likening the pursuit of legal commerce to some type of venal criminal enterprise. But I think we need to look deeper at other potential causes.

Demographic change certainly did not doom these businesses, since these enterprises thrived under a much smaller population base.

Further, don’t blame the “new” folks who moved in, who prefer the cookie-cutter box stores to the legacy residents who “get” the need for mom-and-pop stores.

The new folks certainly did not drive out the old folks and did not prevent them from continuing to patronize the Do it Center and Newhall Hardware, so what gives?

I submit that much as the great cartoon-strip philosopher Pogo Possum so aptly quoted, “We have met the enemy, and they is us!”

We pine for the lost while we lay them in the grave, even though we did put them there by migrating, perhaps slowly but inexorably, to the proverbial Lowe’s that also had the easier right turn, the better selection or the smaller price.

Compare those that constantly complain about cookie-cutter restaurants, and then complain about the crowds surrounding gourmet food trucks.

How many unique restaurateurs will locate here when they see the line out the door of the Elephant Bar on a Friday night?

Not many.

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Myers’ Musings” appears Sundays in The Signal.


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