Living Here Guide

The simple life takes off in Arroyo Grande

Doug Epley, general manager at Mullahey Ford in Arroyo Grande.
Doug Epley, general manager at Mullahey Ford in Arroyo Grande.

As a boy growing up in Arroyo Grande, Doug Epley recalls riding his bike to the Village to stop for a giant scoop at Burnardo’z Ice Cream followed by a trip to Don’s Variety for baseball cards and gum.

He can recall setting trap lines in Arroyo Grande Creek, fishing at Lopez Lake and buying confetti eggs at the annual Arroyo Grande Valley Harvest Festival. The eggs could be cracked over the heads of friends and family.

“It was a simple life,” said Epley, 49. “People leave here trying to find a better place to live. They end up back here.”

The Village has changed, of course — Burnardo’z Ice Cream is gone, for example, and now long lines of children form at Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab.

The city has also grown, both in population as well as the number of restaurants and retail shops.

The city is also home to the Clark Center, the South County’s only performing arts venue; a 65-bed hospital; large retail stores, including Wal-Mart, Albertsons and Trader Joe’s; and the Lucia Mar Unified School District office, one of the community’s key employers. 

But it still turns out every year to celebrate its heritage. This year’s 77th annual Arroyo Grande Valley Harvest Festival will be held Sept. 26 and 27.

“I just don’t ever want to see people lose sight of what this city was based on,” Epley said. “It’s a ranching-farming community.”

Some of the city’s history is being illustrated on the east side of the former JJ’s Market building in the Village.

The city’s first public art project is a large mural depicting some aspects of life in Arroyo Grande in the early to mid-1900s: a narrow-gauge railroad used to ship produce from the community and farmers surrounded by vegetables, wine grapes and fields.

Epley said he hopes the city focuses more attention on East Grand Avenue, which needs more revitalization to encourage people to stop and shop there.

Epley, general manager of longtime business Mullahey Ford on Traffic Way, helped start a recent “shop local” campaign that urges community members to support their local businesses.

Sales tax revenues fund about one-third of the cost of the city’s police, fire, streets and parks, according to the Arroyo Grande & Grover Beach Chamber of Commerce.

“Shopping locally is an effective way to ensure the quality of life we all enjoy,” the chamber’s website states.