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Right back in Claremont on a road trip

by John Pixley

She was having lunch with her not long ago in San Francisco. The friend worked in the same field for another company in the city, and my sister and her have made it a point in the last few years to meet every 3 or 4 months for lunch.

The friend, who is of Indian descent, was talking about growing up in a small town down south. My sister was intrigued and asked what town.

“Claremont.”

“I grew up in Claremont,” my sister said, and they stared at each other, forgetting their lunch for a minute.

My sister then asked her friend, who is some years younger than her, what school she attended in Claremont.

“Chaparral.”

Again, they stared at each other, this time forgetting the restaurant for a minute.

“Mrs. Pixley? Your mother is Mrs. Pixley?”

This time, when they stared at each other, they no doubt forgot San Francisco for a minute.

It turned out that my sister’s friend had not been a student in my mother’s classroom, but she did have some accelerated math classes with her. My sister later called my mother, who taught at Chaparral School for something like 20 years and has been living in the Bay Area for about 10 years, and, sure enough, she had fond if vague memories of this student.

My sister was telling this story when I was having brunch on a recent Sunday with her and my brother and his family at his house in the Bay Area. It was my last stop before heading back home after a week in northern California, and I was once again surprised by how Claremont keeps coming up in different places.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. It was just in January, after all, that I wrote here about having breakfast at a diner in Albany near Berkeley and discovering that the young woman at the next table was mulling over which of the Claremont Colleges to attend—Pitzer or Scripps, where her mother, who was eating with her, went.

Indeed, Claremont came up again when we pulled into San Luis Obispo later that day for dinner. “I love this town,” my driving companion said.

It wasn’t the first time he has said this. He said it the last 2 times we stopped in SLO.

Yes, San Luis Obispo—or SLO, as it is popularly known—is a nice town to stop in. And not just because it’s halfway between here and the Bay Area on a leisurely Highway 101 trip. The town became a hot spot in the last decade, a far cry from the sleepy, little pitstop that it was. It is now bustling and downright hip, reportedly loaded up with people having gotten out of LA as well as Cal Poly students, but still with a definite small-town feel.

Sometimes, I spend the night. Other times, like this time, I stop for a good meal at one of the restaurants that I have gotten to like, at least one of which, the Big Sky Café, has received a nice write-up in the Los Angeles Times.

All of these restaurants are centered around the downtown intersection of Chorro and Broad, which is where Claremont comes up again. The whole downtown area, with its small shops and many restaurants, reminds me of the Village here. Not only that, but there are times, when the light hits right, that the Village reminds me of SLO.

And guess what? When I got home and was catching up with the COURIER, I read that, “the Claremont Village alone has a selection of 44 places to chow down and drink up.” Think about that. That’s 44 eating and drinking establishments in an 8-block area.

What’s more, this seeming overabundance of eateries is no mistake and is, in fact, according to the August 15 article, meant to draw people to Claremont and the Village. Director of Community Development Brian Desatnik is quoted as saying, “You become known for a good place to go for lunch and people are then able to see the other places available in town. You become a destination place.”

Scott Feemster, the manager of Some Crust Bakery, citing the old adage, “A rising tide lifts all boats,” echoes this: “People crave choice, which helps enhance Claremont as a destination point.”

A destination place. A destination point. Not unlike San Luis Obispo has become.

I’m not sure if Claremont will end up being like downtown SLO was when I dropped in recently, with bunches of people walking on the sidewalks and live music emanating from several bars early on a random Sunday evening. It was hopping, all but jamming.

It could well be that we don’t want the Village to be like this. Look at the decision not to have the Wednesday evening street fair. George Hernandez, a local business owner and lifelong Claremont resident, laments the changes going on in the Village, saying, “When I was growing up, it was a vibrant, small, little community. Now, it’s just spas and restaurants.”

Mr. Hernandez goes on to ask, “What makes our community special?” This is a good, important question. Of course, we want the Village to be vibrant and unique—special—but do we want to be so small, so little that others don’t feel welcome or have a reason to come?

It’s not like the Village will ever have a Walmart or a McDonald’s. Downtown San Luis Obispo doesn’t have a Walmart or a McDonald’s either. But it does have a Rite-Aid and an Urban Outfitters, and it is still a unique and delightful—and certainly small—town (remember, it’s SLO).

Put an Urban Outfitters in the Village—say, if American Apparel leaves it’s space at Indian Hill and First—and see how many more students come.

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