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Published: Saturday, 8/13/2005

Dumbing down of Westgate

REGARDLESS of how one feels about the possibility of a Costco store in Westgate Village Shopping Center - and many people regard Costco as a quality retailer that treats its communities and its employees well - the implications for the continuing deterioration of one of Toledo's best neighborhoods are obvious.

When it opened nearly half a century ago, Westgate was indeed a village, an upscale shopping complex in an upscale neighborhood with strong ties to the University of Toledo campus nearby. It was considered by most Toledoans as the place to shop.

Over the years its eclectic assortment of generally smaller stores offered a variety of unusual services and goods from health food and nutritional supplements to expensive cigars and wine.

But the Westgate of 1957 is long gone in 2005.

The closure last spring of Thackeray's bookstore, a gathering place for years for the university community, gave people yet another excuse to stay away.

While some of its patrons still prefer even a reconstituted Westgate to the sprawling - and for some intimidating - Westfield Franklin Park, most Toledoans do not. They regard Westgate nowadays as just one more strip mall in a part of town choked with traffic congestion.

Erecting a so-called "big box" store, and tearing down part of the existing shopping center to do it, will further contribute to the "trash-scape" that so many commercial areas of Toledo have become. Costco stores average 139,000 square feet in size.

We still recall the comment a quarter century or so ago, when this deleterious process was already under way, by a San Jose, Calif., sports writer in town for a major golf tournament. To paraphrase: Inverness, he said, was one of America's loveliest golf courses surrounded by some of America's ugliest urban blight.

Though San Jose hardly qualifies as a garden spot itself, it was a criticism that stung.

Costco officials say they are close to a deal with the shopping center's owners to proceed with their plans for a new store at Westgate and that if arrangements are finalized in the coming weeks, they could open in 18 months.

Whatever happened to the City's talks of a master plan for the Westgate area? What about those good intentions to make Westgate an urban magnet again, utilizing a neighborhood-inspired "Walk Westgate" plan?

Clearly Westgate needs something. As one merchant there correctly noted the other day, "Westgate isn't working the way it is."

Perhaps a case could be made that the Westgate area is no longer a walkable neighborhood anyway, and that Costco's arrival will mark nothing more than an acceleration of a decline that's been under way for a long time.

But is the community really ready to throw Westgate under the bus?



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