Strait On: Hemet small business bites the dust

Norton’s Nutrition to close its doors for good June 29

Photo by Rusty Strait/The Valley Chronicle
Norton’s Nutrition is closing its doors due to poor sales and crime.

■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter

Chris Shrimpton has owned and operated Norton’s Nutrition Center at 2115 E. Florida Ave. for 13 years. He previously managed Thrifty Drug stores (bought out by Rite-Aid) for seven years in the San Gabriel Valley as well as other types of retail stores.

Why move to Hemet?
“At the time I had a small neighborhood agency with Avis Rent a Car in Claremont, California, where I’d been since the early 1990s. I sort of got gypsy feet and considered moving on to something similar to my job at Thrifty Drugs, but more in the health line. Something like G.N.C.
“As it happened I found this location – already a nutrition establishment – that was for sale. I grasped the opportunity, sold my current business back to Avis, purchased this place and moved to Hemet.”
Business was so-so in the beginning but he had hopes of improvements and better sales.
“We sort of went sideways from the beginning, but were still holding on. When the recession hit in 2008-2009, we took a 20 percent hiccup and have been going pretty much downhill ever since.”

Here comes Hemet Code Enforcement
He says that his relationship with the City of Hemet has been so-so, except for the harassment from local Code Enforcement.
“They nitpick small businesses to death,” said Shrimpton. “A simple sandwich sign in front of your business, which brings customers in, is not allowed, nor is a sign in your window designed to bring customers into the store.
“First thing you know, there is one of their enforcers at your door. ‘Can’t have that…it’s against the rules.’
“The City Council raves about how business-friendly the city is. Maybe to big corporations that can stand up to them, but not to the little guy. Their attitude toward us is not conducive to helping small businesses,” said Shrimpton. “Not very friendly. A simple sign and they say, ‘no no, can’t have that.’ I know from personal experience that a lot of small businesses have closed their doors and moved out of Hemet because of Code Enforcement.”
Alex Meyerhoff, Hemet’s city manager, said the Code Enforcement Division enforces the ordinances adopted by the City Council after a full public hearing process with the Planning Commission and Council, which are open for public comment.
Meyerhoff said that several factors are considered when adopting sign ordinances, such as the benefit of temporary advertising signs, the overall appearance of the business corridor and the need to limit driver distractions.

Going, going, gone
“Diagonally across the street from us, in the next block, a well-established restaurant, Millie’s, moved on six years ago. A Comfort Zone Furniture Gallery – a large store, left 11 years ago and within the past two years a large grocery store moved out of this center. We have no grocery stores now in our center or the one on the other side of Yale Street.”
The grocery store, he says, “has been replaced by a Family Dollar Store, which is basically a Walgreen’s without a pharmacy. A cut-rate furniture store is going in next to them. Between the two shopping centers, separated by Yale Street, there are at least six vacancies.” Some seem to be like hotel rooms – rented for awhile and then vacated.
But there are new businesses coming in, such as the new Taco Bell on the corner of Yale Street and Florida Avenue, and the old Millie’s just closed escrow and will soon transform into The Wild Crab restaurant.

A poor, crime-ridden neighborhood
“Why anyone would want to move into this part of town is questionable. It has changed so much since I bought this business. This is the poor side of town. To say it has become trashy is an understatement. It has turned into a ghetto with panhandlers, crime, graffiti and vandalism. Break-ins are common.”
A year or so ago a high-maintenance pawn shop offered to buy a building on one end of the center for $1 million and install security and flood lights. He says the city turned it down. One of the councilpersons at the time said, “That’s not the kind of business we want in that center.”
“Look what they have now,” says Shrimpton. “Everything we have around here seems to be an accommodation for the have-nots – liquor stores, check cashing stores, dollar stores – stuff that attracts the homeless. Along with that we get freeloaders, panhandlers, the criminal element and ex-convicts bussed in, although the city government will deny that. They can deny all day, but facts are facts and that is an element that is not good for any kind of business – large or small.
“I wouldn’t recommend anybody walking through this center after dusk,” he says, citing a nearby apartment complex which, he says, “is like a gang clubhouse, attracting drug dealers, prostitutes and other undesirables, all of which have been a contributing factor to small businesses leaving and they will continue to leave long after I am gone.”
Why the city allows this kind of activity in one section of the city is strange. “You would think they’d want to clean the area up, not allow it to continue to get worse.”
Meyerhoff says it is starting to get better. Last year, following a number of incidents of vandalism including broken windows, the property manager sought guidance from the Hemet Police Department, who worked closely with the property owner and advised the owner to make significant improvements, “including greatly enhanced perimeter lighting and limiting access to the public through the use of fencing. The owners also installed “No Trespassing” signage throughout the center and provided the HPD with a letter allowing the HPD to immediately remove the homeless and other vagrants from the center,” says Meyerhoff.
As to code enforcement, Shrimpton believes that “we are just sitting ducks for Code Enforcement. It depends on the mood of whoever is working that day. Some can be very nice while others just pick at every small store in the area, all too quick to cite us for signs, flags or banners. Hemet is not a good place for small business. I will never look back when I leave this city.”
While Meyerhoff is sorry to see Shrimpton pack up shop, he believes that “Code does not ‘pick’ on anyone, they enforce the ordinances uniformly – frequently in response to complaints, and prefer to do it through notification and education, not citations,” he said. “In terms of the sign ordinance, the Planning Commission and Council have made several changes to the ordinance over the past few years in response to the needs of the business community. In fact, we have another amendment to the Temporary sign provisions on the Planning Commission agenda for Tuesday, which clarifies some of the requirements for temporary banners and cane signs and provides more flexibility for businesses to advertise.”
Shrimpton says he will be going to work for a friend with an Avis franchise until he finds another business in another place far from Hemet. His last day of business is June 29.
“I taught him the Avis business. Now he is going to help me through a period until I find another place, preferably in the health business because that’s a field of work I enjoy.”
Note: If you have any similar issues, please contact me and I will look into them.

Just sayin’.
rustystrait@gmail.com

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