Developments proposed to overhaul downtown -- adding high-end residences or renovating the adjacent Redlands Mall, a timeworn, lackluster place -- have stalled or faded away.
"You have to adapt," Argentina said. "A town will eventually die this way."
Downtown Redlands has begun to suffer, partly because of the newer shopping plazas -- which, adding insult to injury, send no property taxes to Redlands because they rest on a "doughnut hole" of unincorporated land in the middle of the city. Downtown, vacant storefronts are popping up even as rents have doubled in the last five years.
"It's hard to see that," said Kerry Cummings, 24, Paul Emerson's daughter and an owner of Shake It Up, a State Street dance studio.
Husing offered a host of suggestions the city will begin tackling next week. Among them: stricter enforcement of property maintenance rules and a possible tax hike to address infrastructure failures. Many of his suggestions address the downtown area. For instance, the report says the city should consider buying the Redlands Mall, potentially to turn it into a government center. Husing also suggests renewed marketing efforts and the creation of a new, larger business association. Downtown, he wrote, "cannot be allowed to fail."
It is too late for some.
When Tamara Barr launched her first business 20 years ago, she could not have been more conscientious, standing in front of one potential storefront after another with a hand-held clicker, counting cars and pedestrians that passed. She settled on State Street. Her Crackerjack Gift Co. quickly developed a strong bond with the community. Parents began bringing kids in for arts-and-crafts projects. Women jammed the store for events, including annual preholiday card-making and gift-wrapping workshops.
Soon, she broke off part of the business -- scrapbooking, which was becoming popular -- and moved that to another State Street storefront. All told, she was running an 8,000-square-foot empire with 28 employees who could qualify for a profit-sharing program, too.
Then, in 2003, construction began at Citrus Plaza, the first of the large shopping centers to be built on the north end of town. Two of the shops that would come next, Michaels and Jo-Ann Fabrics, turned out to be competitors.
"You could just feel the synergy going that way," she said.
Three years ago, she moved one of her shops to a commercial park on the outskirts of town. This year, she pulled out of State Street altogether.
Today, she runs a pared-down version of the business, now called Collective Journey and focused on scrapbooking and other crafts.
"We didn't look down the road to see what was going to happen to our downtown," she said.
"These stores bring in money. And it's easy to jump ahead, wanting that money and thinking the other business will just follow. It doesn't always work like that."
She, like other small-business owners, is lobbying residents to shop locally. And she, like others, is not sure it's going to work.
"People hated to see us go. But they hadn't been coming in that much," she said with a shrug. "If you don't support the small businesses and you just shop at the biggies, then that's what you're going to get. We create our own destiny, don't we?"