UKIAH - Can one new store change a town?
Business leaders and elected officials in this city of 16,000 believe the new Costco that opened up last month might trigger a wave of economic development here for a place still searching for a new business identity following the decadeslong decline of local logging jobs and shuttering of pear-packing plants.
After all, they insist, the Issaquah, Washington big-box retailer knew the potential here, with up to 5,000 shoppers on weekends coming from Lake, Humboldt and even Sonoma counties in addition to the 88,000 residents who live in Mendocino County. City officials are already enthusiastic with the estimated $2 million in sales tax revenue that is expected to come into Ukiah’s coffers, increasing its general fund by 11 percent.
“I’m very bullish around here,” said Jay Epstein, an agent for State Farm Insurance in Ukiah.
But the optimism goes beyond new retail offerings such as In-N-Out Burger and Chipotle Mexican Grill that provide 21st century creature comforts and avert the need for an hour drive south to Santa Rosa. They believe the city on the Highway 101 corridor is perfectly positioned to take advantage of two major trends affecting Northern California: escalating housing costs that are making the dream of owning a home elusive for many middle-class families; and the emergence of the newly legalized multibillion- dollar cannabis industry.
Mayor Kevin Doble noted the Costco project — located on 15 acres of redeveloped land on the city’s south side — sparked opposition from some residents over traffic and environmental concerns, which were addressed but tacked on years of delay.
However, such anti-growth sentiment appears to be subsiding in the city, he said, as younger leaders emerge and want to ensure Ukiah can remain a city that attracts young professionals and their children. That means not just attracting ubiquitous fast-food jobs. The Costco store, for example, employs 230 people, more than half of them full-time, and pay starts at $14 an hour, with some of the best benefits in the retail sector.
“I just think the (business) message from the past in Ukiah has been ‘stay away,’” said Doble, 44, who grew up in Sebastopol. “I think that might be changing.”
Doble could be right. The area has recently received some additional good news as Gary Breen, a local developer who owns the Campovida farm and winery in Hopland along with the Stock Farm bar/restaurant and inn, confirmed that he has bought Mendocino Brewing Co. and plans to revive the Ukiah-based label.
Mendocino Brewing was a pioneer of the American craft beer movement but closed amid financial problems earlier this year. Its brewery is located right next to the Costco, near the Ukiah Municipal Airport. The label will start small, producing such classics as Red Tail Ale and Eye of the Hawk on a local basis this year to determine the appetite of consumers, Breen said. But if demand picks up, Breen said he could eventually open up a taproom at the brewery given the amount of customers coming there just for Costco.
He also has plans for a 50-acre cannabis education center as well as the new Thatcher Hotel, which will open by the end of the year to court tourists. Both are located in Hopland, a small community 13 miles south of Ukiah.