by Maka MacKenna
WALKING THROUGH PARTS OF downtown Eureka these days is an eerie experience. The empty stores and streets evoke the aftermath of a plague that left the buildings standing while vaporizing the populace.
When they filmed "Outbreak" in Ferndale, the movie crew had to block off traffic and disrupt the daily business of the town. They could have shot the whole thing in downtown Eureka and not have disturbed a soul.
The conventional wisdom is that The Mall is to blame -- the mall and the "big box" discount stores. The theory is that the big stores undercut prices and push the local merchants out of business. But there must be more to it than that.
I was thinking about this on a recent shopping trip as I visited one of my favorite stores, the Grocery Outlet in Eureka.
Anyone who claims capitalism is an efficient system better meet me down there and explain to me why they can sell spring water from the Italian Alps for 50 cents while water trucked up from Bridgeville costs a buck fifty.
You never know what you'll find at the Outlet. The place is full of false starts and discontinued items, stuff that just didn't catch on. A lot of it has Canadian labels; Canada must be one giant taste kitchen.
Shopping the Outlet can be heartbreaking. Just when you get addicted to something, like the Italian water, it goes away.
"I guess the Mall will be putting you out of business soon," I told the kid who bagged my groceries. "Not real soon," he said. "Not until somebody out there starts selling Campbell's soup with Chinese labels like we do."
"And another thing," I told the kid as he walked me out to my car and put my groceries in the trunk. "You can't get service in this town anymore."
"I hear that all the time," he nodded.
I was still thinking about that as I drove around the parking lot at Pierson's looking for a space. You've got to have all your stamina to face Pierson's on a weekend. It sells lots of things there you probably could find cheaper somewhere else, but the place is always packed. Must be the free coffee in the waiting area, I reflected as I shoved a couple of old ladies out of my way to get to the counter.
"I guess the Mall will be putting an end to all this?" I asked the checker, but she couldn't hear me. The cash registers were making too much noise.
My last stop was to pick up my vacuum cleaner, which had been rehabbed at the Vac Clinic. They've been fixing vacuums in this little hole in the wall for over 50 years. "Isn't there a shop out in the Dreaded Mall that does just what you do?" I asked the curly haired proprietor.
"Oh, yeah," he said, seemingly unconcerned. I was beginning to get the picture. Mall shops come and go but the Vac Clinic will probably be around when they raze the Mall to build a yet larger jail.
So I've concluded that the Mall and its "big box" brethren are probably lethal to some local businesses, but not others. And it appears that a few fatalities reported recently appear to be due not to rapacious competition but to rapacious landlords.
Ernie's Anchor, where I took all my out-of-town visitors, and La Palapa, Arcata's favorite taco bar, have both bought the farm, blaming unreasonable rent increases. The folks who ran the late O'Neale's Restaurant in Eureka had the same complaint. And reportedly its local landowners who are so eager to plant a WalMart in the middle of the Old Arcata Road.
In the immortal words of Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us."
Editor's note: Ernie's Anchor is looking for a new location at press time.
P.S. Maka Mackenna, a Eureka free-lance writer, confesses to being a fan of Costco -- especially when they are giving out free food samples.
"I call it CafÈ Costco. It's the cheapest lunch in town."