Business owners optimistic about future of Santa Rosa’s colorful Roseland district
Jordan Velasco and Jorge Alcazar both expect to draw a large array of customers to Roseland to sample their unique? products.
Velasco operates four stores and a delivery service around California, importing such products as mole, chocolates and chapulines, or red-tinted grasshoppers - delicacies from the Mexican state of Oaxaca. With offices in Seaside and Tijuana, Velasco is preparing to open a fifth store of Oaxacan products in Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood.
He sees opportunity in Sonoma County, where more than 10 percent of his nearly 5,000 delivery customers reside.
“Every Saturday we deliver in Santa Rosa, Petaluma and San Francisco,” he said via text message.
Alcazar, meanwhile, says his Frozen Art gourmet ice cream shop on Sebastopol Road attracts “tons of tourists” to try such one-of-a-kind flavors as whiskey vanilla bean, maple bacon, Lagunitas beer and merlot chocolate chip. Each summer roughly half his business comes from first-time customers, he said, based on credit and debit card data.
There is a new buzz in Roseland, which officially joined the city of Santa Rosa last fall following years of discussions between city and county officials, merchants and neighbors. Many business people view the annexation to the city as a step forward for their mostly Latino neighborhood of ?7,400 residents. While the community’s needs remain significant, it comes at a time when large numbers of Latino entrepreneurs are opening businesses in Roseland and around the county.
The southwest neighborhood is gaining a reputation as a place to go for good food at affordable prices, Alcazar said. He and other business people now look forward to a major redevelopment project that could give Roseland new housing, a library, food stalls and a public plaza.
“I think it’s really going to make Roseland a spot to go to in Santa Rosa,” he said.
Roseland has long been known as a residential area with a high rate of poverty. The neighborhood’s Roseland School District last year served a student body that was 92 percent Latino and 89 percent socioeconomically disadvantaged. Those rates were double the county’s in both categories.
The Roseland area scored lowest of any county neighborhood on a human development index considering residents’ health, income and education, according to the 2014 Portrait of Sonoma County.
Roseland has “the most vulnerable ZIP code in the county,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who represents the area.
“This community deserves to be invested in,” Hopkins said, noting the need to increase child care and youth programs, among other services.
‘It’s just been very busy lately’
Nonetheless, business activity along the Roseland commercial strip has grown in ways similar to the rest of the county.
Alcazar recalled plenty of vacancies along Sebastopol Road when he opened his ice cream store in 2011 in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Today, he said, most of those spaces are filled with businesses.
Alcazar, a business member of the county’s Economic Development Board, and others pointed to the increased resources available in Spanish during the last few years for those who want to start their own businesses. The Economic Development Board, the Napa and Sonoma Small Business Development Centers and Santa Rosa Junior College’s adult education program now offer an array of free or low-cost classes, workshops and counseling.
“It’s just been very busy lately,” Marcos Suarez, a program manager with the Economic Development Board, said of interest by prospective Latino business owners.
Suarez noted the number of Latino-owned businesses has been steadily rising for years. By 2012, the county had more than 5,000 such businesses, a 24 percent increase in five years. In Roseland, not much has outwardly changed since the fall annexation. City officials said they intend to make millions of dollars of investments in the coming years in roads, parks and other improvements. But last fall’s devastating wildfires may lengthen the time needed to undertake such work.
A center on the horizon
Those upbeat on the area’s future typically point to the largest development planned in the district: the Roseland Village Neighborhood Center, to be located on the Sebastopol Road site of a former shopping center.
The proposal has been envisioned for more than a decade and was purchased in 2011 by the Sonoma County Community Development Commission. It would include an acre of public plaza, up to 175 market-rate and subsidized housing units, a “mercado” market hall featuring small food vendors and a civic building, possibly housing a public library.