The Community Feel of Downtown Red Bluff
● By Jon Lewis
Down Home VibeJune 2015
Story and photos by Jon Lewis
There's nothing "big city" about Red Bluff ’s downtown, and that suits Sage Mitchell just fine. “It’s just kind of nice,” he says. “I enjoy the homey feel.” A music teacher at Sky River Music on Main Street, Mitchell has called Red Bluff home for the past 14 years.
That down-home vibe is a key feature of downtown, says Dave Gowan, the top man at the Red Bluff Chamber of Commerce. Pausing to catch his breath after a week’s worth of Red Bluff Round-Up events, Gowan appraises the scene:
“It has that unique downtown feeling you remember growing up with. It’s Main Street, USA, with the specialty shops, food you can eat, shops where you can buy knickknacks. We have people coming in all the time, looking for places to go, eat and shop and we’re able to point ’em downtown for most of that.”
Red Bluff ’s downtown does have a picture-perfect feel to it, and that’s not by accident. “We’re always working on improving and sprucing up downtown,” Gowan says. “Working on planters, the frontages, the signage … folks are doing a great job of branding themselves, and in the process they’re creating a stronger brand for downtown.”
As a member of the Red Bluff Downtown Business Association and the chair of that group’s beautification committee, Sandra Jansen appreciates the work that goes into making the downtown so inviting. “I love being downtown and in business,” says the owner of Ragz 2 Rich’s, an upscale resale boutique on the well-traveled 600 block of Main Street. “I love the relationships. This is still a small, caring township. People will stop and help an elderly person if they fall.”
That caring attitude is just one of the traits that motivated Kate and Brandon Grissom to invest in downtown Red Bluff. Their Enjoy the Store celebrated its second anniversary in April. The Grissoms launched their venture with the goal of advancing Red Bluff ’s renaissance.
“Our purpose is to support the community,” says Kate. “We believe downtowns are the heart and soul of the community.” The downtown business owners have formed a community of their own and they meet monthly over coffee to share ideas and customer feedback.
Not long ago, the owners figured out that a lot of customers were looking for shoes, “so we decided to start a shoe store,” she says. Rather than open a brick-and-mortar business, the group decided that each boutique would carry a shoe line. “It’s fun. We manifested it—we built a shoe store.”
That kind of cooperation helps strengthen the sense of community and makes shopping downtown that much more enjoyable, says Red Bluff resident Brin Greer, who serves as the watershed coordinator for the Tehama County Resource Conservation District.
“They’re really striving to create a sense of place,” Greer says. “Downtown is just structures, but what makes the downtown is the people.” That fellowship is evident during the holidays when the historic downtown district comes to life. “I can get all of my Christmas shopping done downtown; it has a really spirited vibe,” she says.
Greer also likes how merchants continue to develop events to keep downtown hopping. In addition to the Christmas parade, Greer looks forward to other downtown events like the Wednesday night markets in the summer that combine a farmers market with a street fair and art walk, the chili cook-off that’s part of Red Bluff Round-Up week, Beef and Brew, and the Wild & Scenic Film Festival.
The events are always fun, but longtime Red Bluff resident Louetta Bullington takes an equal amount of pleasure in the sights and sounds the downtown area has to offer. From certain vantage points, visitors can see Lassen Peak, Mt. Shasta and the Coast Range, and the cool waters of the Sacramento River are always near by.
Bullington also enjoys Red Bluff ’s rows of Victorian homes that quietly hold court just a block off of Main Street. “They’re awesome. They have a lot of character. You can just feel it, looking up at the balconies and imagining the ladies all dressed up.”
All dressed up is an apt description of the Cone-Kimball clock tower, which stands as the symbolic heart of Red Bluff. Erected in 1886 by businessmen Joseph Cone and Gordham Kimball to add stature to their general store, the tower stood until 1984 when it was lost to a fire. A wide-ranging community drive, led by the Red Bluff Rotary Foundation and the Downtown Red Bluff Business Association, led to the rebuilding of the 75-foottall tower and it was dedicated in 2008.
Red Bluff ’s roots date back to 1843 when Peter Lassen and two other pioneers visited the area in pursuit of horse thieves. By 1853, the community was a vibrant commercial hub for the northern portion of the Sacramento Valley and the head of navigation on the Sacramento River.