Being a Part of Downtown Chico
● By Jon Lewis
Hometown VibeAugust 2015
By Jon Lewis
Russell Van Dewark admits that he sounds "kind of Hallmark-ish," but the best description he can come up with for downtown Chico is: "it's a warm community." A supervisor at Formal Education, a men’s clothing store, he has been in Chico for less than a year but he already calls it “my home away from home.”
“It’s a really awesome place and there are a lot of really awesome people. It’s definitely a really diverse downtown but there’s a sense of togetherness,” Van Dewark says. There’s also a practical side to the downtown scene: “During school, it’s pretty sweet to wake up and within walking distance is everything you need and more.”
Downtown Chico is pretty sweet, and it’s not exactly by accident. Business owners, employees, residents and even the customers put a lot of work in to keep it as nice as possible, and nobody takes it for granted.
“There’s just a feel of ownership, which I adore,” says Amy Anderson, manager of the popular Made in Chico store. “Everybody feels like it’s their own.”
“Being a part of downtown is belonging to a great neighborhood where everyone knows and helps each other out. There’s a great vibe to our downtown area,” says Eric Metcalf, owner of the Chico Paper Co.
Chico is not a large city—its population was 86,187 at the 2010 census—but its downtown is impressively large and it shares in the vibrancy that permeates a city that is home to both a public university and a massive and much-loved municipal park.
With its well-shaded sidewalks, colorful shops and pedestrianfriendly vibe, downtown Chico just looks like what a downtown should look like, and it feels like one, too.
Visitors pick up on that on a regular basis, says Katie Simmons, head of the Chico Chamber of Commerce. “People have asked if downtown has ever served as a backdrop to a movie because it’s so iconic,” she says, noting the “beautiful tree canopies, the lovely architecture and classic storefronts.”
“A lot of the businesses are owner-operated, so you have a real local feel to most of the shops. It’s a quintessentially beautiful community. There are features for children, the water fountain
in City Plaza, fabulous retail shopping for all ages, an historic hardware store, a vibrant nightlife … visitors often remark that the most memorable part of Chico is downtown.”
“We have a very unique downtown,” says Nicole Romain, membership services coordinator for the Downtown Chico Business Association. “For one thing, we’re fairly large with 40 square blocks and 450 different businesses. And another thing: we’re very well known for our events. Our Thursday Night Market is ranked up there with the best markets nationally.”
A combination of street festival and farmers’ market, the Thursday Night Market is held weekly from April through September on Broadway between 2nd and 5th streets. It routinely draws between 8,000 and 10,000 people to downtown to shop, dine and enjoy a variety of free entertainment.
The biggest and most popular event, though, is the annual Taste of Chico. On a Sunday in September, downtown streets are closed to vehicle traffic and more than 100 restaurants, bars, wineries and brewers offer samples. “It’s a one-day event, from noon to 4 pm, and typically we see about 12,000 people throughout that time span,” Romain says.
This year’s Taste of Chico is set for Sunday, Sept. 13. The Downtown Chico Business Association also hosts free concerts every Friday evening at the City Plaza. The family-friendly events are held from May through September, with Chico-based musicians offering up everything from blues and swing music to classic rock and reggae.
The association also has had good luck with the “Beautiful Clean and Safe” campaign that it implemented last year, Romain adds. The program created a team of downtown ambassadors who walk the downtown streets, helping customers and shopkeepers alike and serving as additional eyes and ears for public safety and social service providers.
The program also enlists clients at the Jesus Center, a Chico-based day center for people in need, and pays them to keep the downtown area neat and tidy. “It’s nice when you see a majority of merchants coming together and being fans of keeping downtown clean and safe,” Romain says.
Anderson, from Made in Chico, says a blend of continuity and infusions of fresh energy keep downtown alive and vital. “Many of the merchants have been here for 30-plus years. You’ve got the same people day in and day out, enjoying downtown and walking around. Plus you’ve got great local businesses coming in all the time. You can’t re-create that.”
“There’s a special charm to downtown Chico,” says Metcalf, the Chico Paper Co. proprietor. “From the college to the great restaurants to the murals that surround us, it’s all artful in nature. The diversity of all the locally owned shops makes it fun for the whole family.”
Having his gallery and custom framing shop located downtown “makes us more accessible as a great place to view our local talent. I am in awe of the amount of artistic craftsmanship right here in Chico,” Metcalf says.