ASTORIA - If you frequent downtown Astoria, you've likely noticed the growing number of vacant storefronts.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to conclude that big-box store development in Warrenton, combined with a weak economy, are wreaking havoc on our downtown and its independent businesses - critical to our small-town quality of life.

We'd all be fooling ourselves to say we didn't have an inkling this would happen. So rather than waste time lamenting it, we need to work together as a community to do something about it.

The good news is, there are a great many differences in the present-day Astoria than with the economically depressed Astoria of the 1980s, when Bumblebee Seafood ceased operation here, logging declined, and the Fred Meyer and Payless (now RiteAid) malls were developed.

Astoria has

more to offer today

There's reason for optimism because today's downtown Astoria has assets it didn't have 20 years ago: A waterfront River Walk; restored Liberty Theater, Commodore Hotel and Hotel Elliott; a significant stock of other renovated historic commercial buildings; active preservation-related programs and organizations; the Astoria Sunday Market; a good number of quality shops and restaurants; thriving brewery operations; expanded and improved museums; and a revitalized Astoria Downtown Historic District Association with strong volunteer leadership.

And while it's too early to know if our business community can capitalize on this new reality, the fact that the big-box stores attract more people to this part of the north coast could work in downtown Astoria's favor if we play our cards right.

So, on the bright side we have a lot to work with toward solving the rising store vacancy issue.

Landlord forum

on the agenda

To address commercial vacancy concerns, the business development committee of the ADHDA recently initiated the concept of a commercial property owner forum in Astoria; the date for the event has not yet been established.

The forum will give downtown Astoria's landlords an overview of financial and other resources available to them in their efforts to retain and attract long-term, successful tenants.

Team members working with us on this project include the City of Astoria, Clatsop Economic Development Resources, Craft 3 (formerly Enterprise Cascadia), the Astoria-Warrenton Chamber of Commerce, the Columbia-Pacific Economic Development Council, and two statewide organizations that also have a stake in the economic health of our area.

More business development ideas

Our committee also has been discussing business development strategies and economic improvement activities that could bring more working people close to the core area.

While it is important to keep key blocks filled with retail stores and restaurants, there are locations on off-streets that could house other businesses.

Are there specific programs run by large organizations, for example, that would benefit from a downtown presence?

How do we attract more professional and other services to the downtown core for increased foot-traffic?

Do we need to remove obstacles that might inadvertently be in the way of establishing this type of business downtown?

In concert with these efforts, the business development committee is conducting surveys to gain a better understanding of what consumers want from downtown Astoria, and how business can meet that demand. More extensive investigation of this subject will be possible if grant-funding requests for expert assistance are successful.

We urge community and business leaders and citizens to engage in the conversation about how to increase the number of bustling storefronts in downtown Astoria. This effort is critical to ensure a vibrant, active community for the benefit of those who live, work or visit here.

(Susan Trabucco can be reached by calling 503-440-7732 or emailing susan@trabucco.biz. The Astoria Downtown Historic District Association is a 501-(c)(3) organization. For more information about the ADHDA, call 503-791-7940 or email office@astoriadowntown.com.)