When 80-year-old Nick Peirano decided to retire last year after a lifetime behind the counter of his Italian grocery, he wasn't about to hand over the shop apron to just anyone.
Developers knocked on his door, but he refused to sell the cherished brick building that for 109 years housed the family-run Peirano's Market on Ventura's Main Street.
"I didn't want it to get into the hands of some slum deal," he said. "I didn't want any trashy stuff."
His persistence paid off. Earlier this year, the city bought the structure with a grant from the state Office of Historic Preservation and promised to make it a showpiece in Ventura's downtown revitalization effort.
On Monday, the city took another step in that direction. The City Council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency, agreed to begin soliciting proposals from developers who want to rehabilitate the structure and reopen it for a tourist-oriented commercial use.
Specialty Shops Sought
Proposals for restaurants, specialty shops, bakeries, delicatessens or even another Italian market are being sought.
"People feel good about this building," said Miriam Mack, the city's redevelopment administrator. "It's important to their identification with the city. The success of this project will do a lot to boost the rest of downtown."
A list of 10 guidelines prepared by city officials will have to be followed by all developers interested in renovating the structure, which was built across from the San Buenaventura Mission in 1877 by Peirano's great-uncle Alex Gandolfo.
They include preservation of the existing facade, its gilt-lettered sign and the old-fashioned advertisements painted on the building's west side. An archeologist must be present during any excavation. Another provision bars the sale of any second-hand merchandise at the location--an effort to stem downtown's burgeoning thrift-store trade.
The city has set aside $100,000 for a low-interest loan to assist the developer in the project.
"We want to make sure the building is upgraded properly," Mack said. "And we want to make sure the user complements downtown."
Proposals will be accepted until Dec. 31. Final approval is expected by May, 1988, after a hearing before the Redevelopment Agency, Mack said.
While city officials are excited about the project, at least one downtown businessman is less than anxious for its arrival.
Norton Ingram, who has run the Wilson Portrait Studio for 41 years in the warehouse portion of the building, will likely have to move to make way for the development, city officials said.
"They told me they would give me a 90-day notice. It begins to feel like a jail sentence," said the 78-year-old. "They have not done this thing to enhance the buiness community here. They're just doing it to get more revenue from the improved buildings in taxes. All they do is chase out legitimate businessmen."
Mack, however, predicted that the project would be a boon for the entire downtown area and would help meet some of the recommendations spelled out in the retail market study conducted by the city last February.
The study, which notes that downtown Ventura has been "under-served by a poor mix of substandard retail facilities," recommends that a wide range of food, entertainment, clothing and electronics stores be lured to the city's center.
"Attracting businesses to fill gaps in the retail sector could advance the establishment of a cohesive commercial center in downtown Ventura," the study concludes. "These new stores could provide stimulus for existing businesses, sparking a renewed interest in downtown shopping."
In addition, city officials hope the Peirano project will give impetus to the proposed China Alley development, an outdoor dining plaza planned for the alley behind the 200 block of East Main Street.
Property owners are being asked to restore the rear facades of their buildings at their own expense in exchange for the city-funded plaza, which will serve as a memorial to the Chinese community that inhabited the block in the late 19th Century.
The developer of Peirano Market must agree in advance to contribute to the restoration of the alley, city officials said.
"We hope this building can dovetail into the entire block-wide rehabilitation plan," Mack said. "But whatever happens, this by itself is going to be really outstanding."
All that comes as good news to Nick Peirano.
Since the 1930s, when he and his brother, Victor, bought the store from their father, Nicola, he said he tried to preserve as much of the original ambiance as possible.
The pastas, salamis, aged cheeses and imported canned goods were always of the highest quality, he said.
Then there were the children from the Catholic school across the street who would come by in the mornings and afternoons to get goodies. Peirano said he knew three generations of families that stopped by after school.
Now that he is no longer there to run the shop, he said that having the city ensure its preservation adds comfort to his memories.
"That was the big corner in town at one time," Peirano said. "That was the center of activity. I think a lot of old-timers still have an affinity for it."