If it’s true that change is the only constant in life, it’s also true that such transformations can have both an upside and a downside.
So when The Californian learned Thursday that big changes are coming to the northeast corner of 18th and H streets in downtown Bakersfield, it soon became clear that the planned development of this key slice of downtown real estate will also mean saying goodbye to a longtime downtown business — and its proprietor.
“At the end of last month, my landlord served me with a 30-day notice,” said Pankaj Patel, 61, who for two decades has operated Downtown Deli Market on that corner.
After working at the store seven days a week for 20 years, Patel knew what it meant: He would have to go.
But the storekeeper is quick to say there are no villains in this tale.
“Nobody is bad,” he said. “Only the circumstances are bad.”
Wayne and MaryAnn Arnold, the husband and wife who bought the property three years ago for $450,000, and Chris Gonzalez, the operator of the Curbside Kitchen food truck, which for several weeks has been drawing rave business in the store’s parking lot, confirmed Thursday that they have formed a partnership to develop a restaurant and bar on the property.
“We’re willing to spend up to half a million dollars to remake this corner,” Wayne Arnold told The Californian. “We really think it’s going to be good for Bakersfield.”
The news comes just weeks after the newspaper reported that friction had developed between some “brick-and-mortar” restaurants and food trucks like Curbside that had begun doing brisk business downtown.
“They wanted me to go brick-and-mortar,” Gonzalez said of his critics. “So they’re going to get brick-and-mortar. But we’re going to keep the trucks.
“If God gives me the strength to do it, I’ll have trucks on every corner of Bakersfield.”
The Arnolds say they want to transform what for years has been something of a dingy little corner in a business district that has been experiencing dynamic change and rapid growth. Located directly across the street from the Padre Hotel, the building may be expanded and a patio added for outdoor dining.
The structure was constructed in the 1920s, and the Arnolds hope to reveal something of how the building looked during the flapper era.
The city’s parking garage next door will supply plenty of parking, Wayne Arnold said. In fact, the close proximity of the newly redesigned garage was a huge selling point when he purchased the property from local attorney Milt Younger and his wife, Betty Younger.
The Arnolds acknowledge that the circumstances behind their decision to end their business relationship with Patel were not ideal. But the monthly rent for the building had remained stuck at $2,000 for as many as 20 years. Allowing Curbside to operate on the lot had generated more income but it had also created tension between landlord and tenant.
The fair market rent for the location should be between $3,500 and $4,000 per month, the Arnolds said.
The two parties ultimately disagreed about the longterm vision for the future of the property.
Said Wayne Arnold: “It finally came to a head.”
For his part, Patel is not celebrating the change.
Married with two grown children, the native of India still remembers the day — and the hour — he arrived in the United States from his mother country.
“I landed at LAX on Feb. 27, 1989, at 3 p.m.,” he recalled.
When asked why he remembers the exact moment he touched down, Patel said the answer is simple.
“Because I was starting a new life here.”
He bought the business in 1996 and has rarely spent a day without working within those walls. Each day he gets up at 4:45 a.m. to arrive at the store at 6 a.m. He switches on the lights, starts the coffee brewing and begins another typical 15-hour day.
“Twenty years,” he said. “No sick leave, no vacation.”
Only once has someone tried to rob him.
It was the late-1990s. A young man approached the counter as if he was about to buy something.
“He pulled out a big ol’ knife and told me to give him all my money,” Patel recalled.
No, Patel said. The young man left empty-handed.
Despite the brutal hours and the inevitable problems, Patel said he loves coming to work every day.
Some call it progress, Patel’s only employee, Elizabeth Dowdy, said of the coming changes. Others say it's just business.
“It is what it is,” she said. “But I think downtown will miss having this little market.”
Todd Hansen, owner of a nearby billboard company called Sun Outdoor, said he regularly stops at the market to buy a lottery ticket or get a cold drink. He’s also a big fan of the food at Curbside Kitchen, so he relates to both sides in this wave of change.
“A lot of people depend on that little store,” he said. “I do kind of feel sorry for the business owner, but it’s the property owner’s decision.”
Patel said he doesn’t know yet what he will do after the doors to the market are locked for the last time.
Still, he remains optimistic.
“A coin has two sides,” he said. “Good and better.”