Oldtown Revival

La Cantina Brewing Company is one recent addition to the scene on Salinas’ Main Street - it opened in January 2022.

About a hundred years ago, Oldtown Salinas was in the process of rebuilding after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. In the early part of that century, Oldtown thrived as a destination for commerce, hospitality and entertainment. The three blocks of Main Street that stretch from San Luis Street down to Central Avenue were home to retail shops, hotels, restaurants and theaters that drew crowds.

But then Prohibition took effect in 1920, forcing many Oldtown establishments to shutter their doors or take their operations underground. (There is rumored to have been a network of underground speakeasies in Oldtown at that time.) By 1933, when Prohibition ended, Oldtown emerged – broken but not beaten – and eventually rebuilt before things started to decline, again, toward the latter half of the 20th century.

Now, fast forward to the modern day, post-Covid-shutdown era in Oldtown Salinas, and a similar story of resurgence can be found.

“Great things are happening in Oldtown,” says Justin Saunders, owner of Dubber’s Oldtown Bar & Grill, a mainstay located in the heart of the neighborhood, on the corner of Main and Gabilan. “We all took a hit during Covid. It got pretty scary there for a while, but fortunately we survived thanks to perseverance and also the help of some great people of this community.”

When Saunders opened Dubber’s in the historic Glikbarg Building (built in 1907) in 2014, there wasn’t much happening in Oldtown. A handful of restaurants and bars were doing a modest business, but most were largely unsuccessful, and many had long since closed their doors.

“The first couple years were pretty rough,” says Saunders. “But then Taylor Farms moved in, and things have been getting better ever since.”

In 2015, Bruce Taylor made the decision to make Oldtown the worldwide headquarters for his company, agriculture megagiant Taylor Farms. Businesses that were around during the time credit much of what came next to Taylor’s choice.

“The Taylor Building changed everything,” Saunders says. “When Bruce and his team came down here, they brought with them a couple hundred employees and a bunch of great energy. That’s when you really started to see the transformation.”

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Wally Moore, general manager at First Awakenings, echoes that. “Taylor Farms changed everything,” he says. First Awakenings is a breakfast and lunch favorite that has resided in the historic McDougall Building (directly opposite Dubber’s) since 1996.

On the heels of Taylor Farms’ arrival, several new businesses opened. Farmers Union Pour House was among them.

“We opened in 2016, about a year after Taylor Farms arrived,” says Lauren Hattersley, co-owner of the craft beer and wine establishment. “There weren’t a whole lot of other options for craft beer lovers, but the landscape has really changed since then. I love our location down here.”

While the pandemic curbed the Oldtown resurgence temporarily, it also presented opportunities in the form of retail space for new owners with new concepts. Suddenly, on a casual stroll down Main Street, you can find a plethora of options for cold craft beers – Brew N Krew, La Cantina and XL Public House, along with the aforementioned Farmer’s Union Pour House, Dubber’s, etc.

“The foot traffic has really picked up,” Saunders says. “We have a line out the door on Friday and Saturday nights, and we’re not the only place that’s busy.”

There’s more to come. Construction is underway at the old Rabobank Building, with popular Monterey spot Alvarado Street Brewery set to occupy the ground floor with a new Salinas outpost, and the fire-damaged Dick Bruhn building is being renovated.

This, coupled with engineering and cosmetic improvements throughout the streets of Oldtown, have business owners excited for the future of Oldtown Salinas.

“Things are trending in a very positive direction,” Saunders says. “I think the best is yet to come for Oldtown Salinas.”

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