When Andy and Lauri Brown look around their Grover Beach vehicle repair shop, they see 22 years worth of memories: They see the loft space where their daughter used to hang her head over the edge to check out who was in the office; they see a well-worn photo pinned to a corkboard on the wall of their son grinning at the camera while sitting on top of a vintage vehicle; they see the decades of customers who’ve walked through the front door with special projects.
The Browns will be saying goodbye to those memories at the end of April, when they close Troxell’s Alignment and Brake at 939 Highland Way.
The reason for the closure isn’t retirement: They say it’s marijuana.
Troxell’s is one of several businesses that have closed or are expected to close in the industrial portion of Grover Beach in the months since the town announced its plan to allow marijuana businesses and concentrate them in the 70-acre area between Farroll Road and Highland Way. The City Council has since abandoned the idea of a single marijuana district while it drafts a new plan.
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Though some of the closures could be attributed to the normal ebb and flow of business, other business owners in the area say they are being pressured out as commercial cannabis stakeholders flock to the area and offer property owners huge sums of money to secure their spot in what could be a highly competitive market.
Andy Brown said he was notified at the start of March that he would need to leave the property the couple have leased for 22 years because the building owner intended to sell it.
“These people come in and hot-shotted all this money talk,” Brown said. “The owner of the building has high hopes for getting lots of money for the building. So he’s like, ‘I’m going to sell the building no matter what, and I want to give you guys fair warning.’ ”
According to the Browns, the building owner had an offer from a cannabis-related company fall through in late January. That deal was for $1.45 million, they said. (The property was assessed at $383,000 for the 2016-17 tax year, according to San Luis Obispo County tax assessor records.)
The Browns pay $1,600 per month for the 3,000-square-foot building and 1,500-square-foot yard.
Requests for comment from the building owner were not returned Friday.
I’m very excited about the cannabis business. What an amazing and fun opportunity to do something totally unique for us. At the same time, we have these local businesses whose lifeblood is here in our community and who give so much.
Grover Beach City Councilwoman Debbie Peterson
The Browns say they aren’t the only ones impacted: Lauri Brown noted that other local businesses like California Millwork have closed or left in recent months for similar reasons. (The phone number for California Millwork has been disconnected.)
“It’s just stupid. These guys are going around and pumping up these owners for incredible amounts of money,” Lauri Brown said. “Nobody can afford that. And then the people who are getting booted out of this area, they have nowhere to go in this area.”
Paula Richardson, co-owner of Central Coast Refreshments at 998 Hudson St., said that because of the new regulations, she and her husband don’t know what will happen to their business next year when their lease is up and whether they will be forced to move as well.
“In a year, who knows where we will be?” she said. “We are already looking for a Plan B; we might have to move to another city.”
Richardson said she knows of at least five businesses that have closed or moved from the area in recent months.
Besides the potential for losing their space, Richardson said her chief concern with the regulations is that bringing the marijuana industry to the area will increase crime and negatively impact the reputation of the city.
“We’re worried about our quality of life,” she said. “It’s a tiny area, and to concentrate all of that down there — the council is in essence just trying to hide it away. We need to have a bigger voice than the Big Pot coming in.”
The worry that some businesses are being forced out by the new regulations has been the topic of much discussion at the Grover Beach City Council while they consider new ordinances allowing marijuana businesses to operate in the city.
In those meetings, Councilwoman Debbie Peterson has been outspoken about her concerns for existing business owners in the industrial area.
In a year, who knows where we will be? We are already looking for a Plan B; we might have to move to another city.
Paula Richardson, co-owner of Central Coast Refreshments
“I’m very excited about the cannabis business,” Peterson said. “What an amazing and fun opportunity to do something totally unique for us. At the same time, we have these local businesses whose lifeblood is here in our community and who give so much.”
Peterson said she is aware of about 20 businesses that have left or are leaving because of the proposed regulations to allow marijuana business in the city’s industrial areas.
“This was an unseen consequence that we still have time to address,” she said. “If they go, they take a large chunk of our economy and a swath of goodwill with them.”
The ordinance process has stalled while the city drafts new rules allowing marijuana businesses in any of the city’s industrial areas, not just the former proposed district. Though the new rules would allow the businesses in other industrial areas in the city, it is likely more would operate in the 70-acre industrial zone on the southern end of the city because of its size. The other industrial areas are sandwiched between Highway 1 and residential areas and are much smaller than the Farroll and Highland zone.
Several concerned residents and business owners are petitioning the city for support to help keep the local businesses in Grover Beach.
For the Browns, though, much of it is too little, too late.
The couple will close the shop April 26 and relocate to a warehouse owned by a friend. The space doesn’t have room to fit much of Andy Brown’s equipment, including the rack he uses for car alignments — a major part of his business.
“Everybody knows me for doing that, and once I lose that, it’s huge,” he said.
Lauri Brown estimated the couple would lose about 50 to 60 percent of their business while they look for another suitable location outside of Grover Beach.
When asked how they thought they would feel on their last day in the shop, Lauri Brown paused and looked away, close to tears.
After a minute, Andy Brown replied.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly indicated Barnick’s Wood Design had moved. It is still open and located at 1091 Highland Way.