Santa Rosa's downtown was in big trouble during the 1980s, and it wasn't very long before I began to view the story as a murder mystery. This was an unexpected offshoot of my research on the run-up to opening of the downtown mall in 1982, which culminated in the "Road to the Mall" series that just wrapped up. From personal memory I recalled the years following the mall's debut were tough on businesses in the downtown core and in Railroad Square - but only after paging through back issues of the Press Democrat did I come to understand how bad it was. By the end of the 1980s, it appeared Santa Rosa's downtown was not only merely dead, but really most sincerely dead.

Places we thought would never, ever close were shutting down with frightening regularity. The White House Department Store at Third and D Streets closed in 1985. They had constructed a cavernous 25,000 sq. ft. building and moved in only sixteen years earlier. The downtown McDonald's had a prime location just two doors down from Exchange Bank and it closed in 1986. Note to city planners: If you have a fast food restaurant that depends on lots of foot traffic and it fails because of a lack of customers, that's a pretty good sign your sidewalks don't have enough feet.

The PD conducted a 1986 survey asking people why they came downtown, comparing it to an identical survey conducted in 1983. In almost every category - shopping, dining and convenience - the numbers declined sharply. The only response where downtown showed an uptick was when asked if they agreed with "[I] like downtown because of Rosenberg's." Two years later in 1988, Rosenberg's closed.

The rest of this article can be read at the website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at - Jeff Elliott

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