In Our View: Downtown Gains Energy

Double dose of good news is helping the heart of the community

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Great news for residents of downtown Vancouver: Grocery stores are doing well in the area.Great news for downtown Vancouver grocers: The residential base is growing.

For all of Clark County, this double dose of encouragement is significant because it means the heart of our community is not only surviving, it's healthy and even vibrant.

Residents and grocery stores have long formed a chicken-egg dilemma for folks trying to revitalize downtown Vancouver. Prospective residents saw many advantages to living in the oldest portion of the city, but many were reluctant to move to the area because of limited grocery offerings. Simultaneously, many grocery store officials have been reluctant to open businesses downtown because the customer base has been limited.

Now, though, both factions apparently have decided to stop waiting on each other and instead progress together:

As Scott Hewitt reported in Thursday's Columbian, two grocery stores on Main Street have seen business growing for several months.

Vancouver Food Cooperative moved into a storefront at 1002 Main St. back in 2010 and has seen its inventory increase tenfold since then. Kirk Wright, president of the co-op's board of directors, says the store is still mostly a member-driven operation with 410 members, but curious first-time visitors are increasing as well.

Neighbors Market at 1707 Main St. also continues to grow with unique offerings that showcase local farmers and distributors. Owner Lyn Krogseng stocks fresh produce, raw milk and dairy products, organic and pasture-raised meat plus local beers and wines. "Eighty years ago, every town had its little grocery stores. My store is a little renaissance," Krogseng said.

Coinciding with the expanding grocery offerings has been a rising tide of residential units in recent years. Most recently, rapid construction progress has been evident at C Street and Mill Plain, where the $16 million Prestige Plaza will feature 92 apartments plus retail spaces. And as we reported in a Jan. 25 editorial, Lewis & Clark Plaza has a waiting list for 46 units at Sixth Street and Broadway. In the northwest corner of downtown, the new Vista Court at Mill Plain and Esther has 76 units filled with senior citizens. Years earlier, housing units popped up on three sides of Esther Short Park. And the long-term picture is even brighter in the southwest corner of downtown: Up to 3,000 residential units are planned for the waterfront project.

Why are people moving downtown? Many make that choice to be close to work. Major employers nearby — boasting a walking commute — include Clark County's Public Service Center, Vancouver City Hall, the main local library and Clark College. Then there are the transportation conveniences for both the present (Interstate 5) and the future (light rail). And now the growth of grocery shopping opportunities adds to that complex formula. It's no secret, downtown Vancouver will not be fully revitalized until thousands of people consider it to be important 24/7. That means a large collection of permanent residents, living hand-in-glove with multiple, diverse shopping experiences.

More people are learning that downtown Vancouver is a pleasant place to walk, save for a few days in the winter. Being able to walk to work and walk to shop means taking a whole new approach to the frantic-freeway lifestyle that is so widespread elsewhere in Clark County.