.City Bringing Back Retail Guru Robert Gibbs

Retail expert Robert Gibbs painted a bleak picture of downtown Santa Cruz when he visited in the fall of 2011, as California was slowly recovering from the Great Recession. There wasn’t enough parking, he warned, and Pacific Avenue needed to be a two-way street the entire way. He applauded the city’s efforts to create a “Wayfinding” program, because he said the city’s signage was a mess.

His findings were a lot to take in at the time. For instance, he found that 85 percent of the town’s retail dollars were leaking out of the community, with shoppers heading elsewhere in droves.

Five and a half years later, downtown has about the same number of parking spots. Wayfinding still isn’t finished, and efforts to rearrange the traffic on Pacific have stalled out at least four times—first because of concerns from the fire department, then over backlash from the proposed loss of parking, next over a lack of momentum, and finally over grave concerns from Walnut Avenue business owners, who felt a switcheroo might deal them a serious blow.

By this point, we figured, Santa Cruz had either failed miserably at taking good advice, or Gibbs was somehow off—and that, either way, his 100-page report had run its course. But we were wrong! Santa Cruz should be getting more of Gibbs’ tips soon, according to Bonnie Lipscomb, the town’s director of economic development.

Lipscomb tells GT, via email, that she called Gibbs, and he’s coming back, under a new contract this month to “update the study and work with us and downtown merchants on the changing face of retail and how to best sustain a thriving downtown retail environment.” We’ll find out soon enough what the renowned retail guru thinks about our current situation, as well as how he surmises the changing economy will affect Santa Cruz.

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Will Gibbs revisit his recommendations, with additional clarity or fresh insights?

Will he tell us it’s time to get our butts in gear and stop ignoring his sage advice?

Please, oh, please, will Gibbs tell us he loves us Santa Cruzans just the way we are, and then hand out tie-dye kits for everyone?

Time will tell what Gibbs’ findings are, how he sells them and whether or not people end up buying in. 


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