While walking or driving on 19th Street east of Chester Avenue, the word “antique” can be found often.
There are around a dozen antique stores between Chester Avenue and Mill Creek Park, but owners say many people — tourists, but also some locals — don’t know that they exist. To help mitigate that, the stores have begun to band together in an effort to create a Bakersfield Antique District.
“The whole thing with the district is trying to let people know that we’re down here,” said Nick Avalos, owner of 19th Street Antique Mall. “We’ve been here for five years but to this day, I get customers who come in and say they didn’t even know we were here.”
City Councilman Andrae Gonzales has had a major part in bringing the owners together to talk about creating a district. They now meet informally each month as part of initial discussions about a district.
“Already, there are lots of people who visit our downtown because of the various antique stores and they come from all over,” he said. “I recognized there is an opportunity to really promote an antique district to the broader community. I wanted to help get things going. It’s really up to the antique owners to set the direction.”
The development of the district is still in the early stages. At this point, the owners have produced cards that includes the names, location and contact information of downtown’s antique stores. The other side of the cards include a map of where some of them are located.
A website has also been created for the district that includes the same information and an interactive map.
Gonzales said there has been talk about getting new signage and banners promoting the district, similar to the Arts District ones that already exist downtown. Gonzales said he’s working with city staff on the issue and hopes to see some funding set aside for it.
“Downtown is such a large area,” he said. “It’s really important to create a smaller district that can develop its own identity, a sense of place.”
Bruce Cooper, co-owner of the Merry Go Round Antique Mall on 19th Street, said he’s excited about the prospect of an antique district.
“I think it will help put us on the map,” he said. “Bakersfield’s a heavier antique destination than many towns, and that’s something that should be recognized.”
Cooper said that if the antique shops were more widely known, it would likely lead to more sales, which could do nothing but help the stores and the health of the downtown area. While Cooper said the mall is doing steady business, it couldn’t hurt to have more.
So far, Cooper said the customers to whom they have given the new Bakersfield Antique District cards have been receptive to the idea.
“They like that it shows them where all the stores are at and they can find us all,” he said.
Avalos said a district makes a lot of sense given that most of the antique shops are located a short distance from each other.
“People could just park and walk to a few, drive a little more down the street and walk the rest. It’s pretty convenient.”
While Avalos said things like additional signage would help bring awareness, he would like to see city funding or some kind of grant go toward making the downtown area more safe and inviting to visit.
Avalos said troublemakers in the downtown area have broken store windows, sprayed graffiti and even urinated on the building.
Lighting is also an issue for the store and many others downtown, Avalos said. With no outside lighting for most of the antique shops and other businesses, he believes potential customers feel uncomfortable about walking around that part of downtown at night.
“It gets a little scary at night,” he said. “I have to close my store at 5 because no one wants to shop at night. Lighting would be great so people know we’re here and feel safer to come here. We survive, but it would be better if the street was more inviting.”
Avalos said he’s tried to install some light fixtures himself, but they were damaged.
Gonzales said that while he recognizes that things like lighting are a concern, it may be more difficult for the city to allocate funding for it.
“The big question is how we’re going to pay for that,” he said. “Without redevelopment funds, it makes it more difficult to do something like that in downtown area.”
Gonzales said the city has begun to look into other ways to obtain funding to help improve the aesthetics of Downtown Bakersfield.
Avalos said that he understands that it may not be an issue that will be solved quickly.
"I'm happy that at least these things are being talked about and the city is interested in doing something," he said.