Everybody has an opinion about Dixon’s downtown. When the topic of a conversation turns in that direction, someone inevitably says, “What the downtown needs is …. “
The four-corners area of First and A streets is a bit down on its luck. It’s currently kind of a hodgepodge of architectural styles, some well-maintained and some not. There’s a little sophistication, but there’s also some pretty amateurish signage. Currently, I do business with the barbers down there, with First Choice Automotive, and with the Cottage Exchange for gifts. I’ll go in Bud's restaurant three or four times a year with guests or to meet with someone. I’ve been in the Linde Lane Tea Room several times, and it’s a neat fantasy brought to life. My dentist (the Tea Room owner) works out of her offices upstairs.
When Peregrine bicycles set up shop along First Street a year or two ago I wondered how a specialty shop like that (they deal in recumbent-style sitting-down bikes and trikes) could expect to make it in a small downtown like ours. I went in and talked with the owner, and learned that he needed a showroom for these bikes in this general area of California (maybe he couldn’t afford the rents in Davis), and that his main store was in Chico. I’m glad to see that he’s moved to a larger nearby storefront, so his business plan must be working.
A neighbor, the cake place, also has prospered.
It can be risky, though, setting up shop in the old downtown. An art gallery and a high-end Italian restaurant bit the dust. I give Debra Dingman credit for putting a lot of energy and risk-taking into her store opening (Nana and Company, a children’s botique).
Go back 100 years and the downtown was a much-more-happening place. Dixon was a commercial center, and people arrived from the surrounding countryside via horse-drawn carriages or the new motorcars to shop, drink, eat, attend church, gossip, be seen and be entertained. There were many more businesses downtown. The train even stopped! And Dixon’s population was only 800.
Come to think of it, that was the population of the rural town I grew up in, in Wisconsin in the 1950s. We had seven bars (Norwegians like their beer), three grocery stores, and two churches. What happened over time, though, was that highways were improved, people got used to driving long distances to jobs out of down, and discount big-box stores and grocery outlets were built 25 or 40 miles away that people got used to shopping at. Soon my town was down to one grocery store, and last I heard, that too had disappeared, leaving only one gas-station convenience store.
Some of the same forces were at work here in Dixon, with the building of better and better highways, and then the freeway. The downtown shrank, while new national-chain businesses out next to the freeway prospered.
So many of us are envious of Winter’s downtown, with visitors drawn to its well-preserved old buildings along Main Street and several popular restaurants. And it goes without saying that Davis’s downtown is to Dixon’s like Kate Middleton is to Roseanne.
But I was in Winters the other day, having bicycled over there with a buddy, and guess what? I saw lots of fancy-suited cyclists with expensive bikes from Davis, guys and girls driving around in their expensive convertibles and Mustangs, and out-of-town visitors waiting in line to get into the highly-regarded Putah Creek Café. Is this what we want in downtown Dixon? Truth be told, I wouldn’t want a downtown full of visitors and tourists (except during special events). I like a downtown that’s frequented mostly by Dixon people.
In a way, Dixon’s downtown is like those old Western movie towns, out in the middle of the prairie, as in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. There was the saloon, the sheriff’s office, the hotel, the dry goods store, the grocery, the church and the livery stable. Maybe a blacksmith.
Dixon’s is a hardscrabble downtown, where making a living takes wits, people savvy, and knowing what people want. It helps to be active in all sorts of community affairs and know a lot of people. Dixon’s downtown is home to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (above Bud’s), which nearly died off, but was resuscitated. Dixon’s old downtown movie theater has become the Calvary Chapel, which is well-kept-up, and the well-attended Catholic church a block away is maintaining its traditions.
Two blocks away is the hamburger stand with its milkshakes and plain, unpretentious appeal.
From becoming a constant critic of the downtown, after living here for three years (just a raindrop of time), I’ve swung around to kind of liking what’s there, now. Dixon is unique.
But there are a couple things. Just a couple. Like state highway 113 that goes directly through the downtown. Relocate it outside of town. Having semis rumbling through the four corners doesn’t make sense.
And the old Pardi-store parking lot. It’s a delicate, important matter – what will eventually occupy that prime spot? Please, not another downtown bank. Maybe something with the appeal of a Solano Bakery. I gave some thought to a beer hall with regular quality entertainment but that might put Dawson’s out of business, which I would hate to see. Maybe we could re-create Dixon’s old opera house there, with retail stores on the ground level, and facilities upstairs to offer plays and bands and dancing.
Along those lines, we’ll have to wait to see what the Fannings do with the Legion Hall they bought on First Street, which might offer some of these things.
And let’s not forget the library, which is a draw for local people downtown, but must change with the times as more and more people get their information and books online
Downtown Dixon: sometimes drab, sometimes dowdy, but always interesting – appreciate it, check it out; it’s part of our history.