Editor’s note: This is the fifth installment of a multi-part series on the history of Old Town Clovis, as told by Larry W. Gamble, a member of the Central Clovis Steering Committee in the 1980s. The committee provided input to the City Council on what would eventually become Old Town Clovis.
“It’s like trying to herd cats!”
That was the humorous comment made by one of the merchants in Old Town Clovis about members of the Business Organization of Old Town, or B.O.O.T. He laughed and continued, “They are totally unmanageable.”
Of course, that was not necessarily true, but fitting conjecture. We certainly had a diverse group people.
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During the first few years, the early participants included Bob and Gloria Burkheimer, Fred and Suzi Osterberg,Thurman and Robyn Husler, Larry and Sylvia Gamble, Cora and Bill Shipley, Jay Brinkley, Rand Holecek, Jim Linenbach, Judy DeRouchey, Marty Watt, Robert Salazar, Nancy Lastreto,Wayne and Pat Wilhelm, Bill Sauter, Barbra Holthe, Ken and Sandy Schulte, Pat Patterson, Doug and Terri May, Louie and George Sarantos, Cecil Hill, Wayne and Roberta Rhode, Will Rhode, the Bristow Family, Chuck Riggsby, Jim Ware, Vittorio DiCicco, Bev Porter, Les and Marjorie Sassano, Thelma Riley, Vicki Winn, Linda Rossi, Bob and Marion Johnson, Kathy Sobelman and Frank and Carmela Liberta. They should all be considered self-made, dedicated people of stature, business expertise, and experience.
When major decisions were made, B.O.O.T. always tried to take into consideration individual needs.
Each merchant was a person and, as such, we respected their view. Their economic well-being and livelihood were placed on the line every day they operated their business.
They believed they had correctly analyzed the market, purchased products that would appeal to consumers and were willing to stand behind their product, as well as their counter, to serve the public.
It was little wonder they were obstinate when something or someone challenged their wisdom. It was just human nature.
The first organization of business and property owners was formed in 1987. It was called the Downtown Business Association (DBA). Our constitution and bylaws were actually carried down from an original Clovis group dating from the nineteen thirties.
Les Sassano said his father was part of that earlier association of businessmen. He still had a copy of the constitution and bylaws so, we adopted them.
But the changes in time and variety of personalities of members sometimes made it downright difficult to get consensus concerning decision making. Arguable questions were raised.
How can we enforce limits on parking by employees who occupy customer spaces? How can we best determine the evening of the week for stores to remain open? Which day is most ideal for special events and street closures? How can we placate irate shoppers who are ticketed for exceeding parking limits? How can we solve the shortage of electrical capacity for vendors at street fairs? How can we ask a visitor to kindly remove their dog from an event because of the liability clause in our insurance policy?
These questions and many others plagued the leaders of our group. What was good for one, wasn’t necessarily good for the other. And so it went during the early years, concessions and compromises. Lincoln was right; “one can’t please all the people all the time.”
He would have felt right at home in Old Town Clovis.
As far as I am concerned, my frustrations are long forgotten.
I prefer to recall only the good times and the enjoyment we shared. Here then, is my personal perspective, as I remember those early days. Just thinking about these people, brings back so many fond memories.
During the late 1980s, I operated an advertising agency in Old Town Clovis and became well acquainted with “The Merchants of Clovis.”
The majority just wanted run their businesses and, in general, support the revitalization of Old Town Clovis.
Some shop owners wanted to volunteer; others didn’t. Finding volunteers amongst the busy trades people was a challenge. We used to call it the 90/10 Rule; ten percent of the people did ninety percent of the work. Some members were content to just sit and do nothing.
But just sitting back didn’t get things done. Someone always had to take the lead.
The leaders quickly began to surface. I recall one lovely lady who admirably fits the description.
The first “grande dame” of Old Town Clovis was Suzi Osterberg.
She and her husband, Fred, a kind, soft-spoken man, owned and operated Osterberg’s Mercantile, an antique shop on the corner of Fifth and Clovis. They purchased the building about 1980 and had a large selection of antiques and collectibles for sale.
I knew two of their four children. Daughter Kathy is a renowned collector, appraiser and estate liquidator in central California. She also served as president of B.O.O.T. nineteen-nineties. Their son, Gary, owned and operated Gary O Furniture, a retail facility along Clovis Avenue.
When Suzi identified a problem, she thought about it and soon developed a solution. There was no way to keep her from achieving success. She just made things happen. Suzie was very enthusiastic about everything. Her excitement was contagious and it was impossible not to get caught up in her optimism.
The Old Tarpey Depot, once located south of Clovis, lay decaying in the country dust near the Kearney Mansion. She was instrumental in working with Mickey Wells of the fledgling Big Dry Creek Historical Society. They worked tirelessly with LANCO, a local General Contractor, and the Fresno County Historical Society.
In 1998, these two ladies got the depot moved to Clovis and placed it at Clovis and 4th.
It took 10 years, but they got the job done, thanks to the City of Clovis, more than 70 volunteers from the community and many local businesses and supporters who helped restore the building.
When the “Gateway to the Sierras” sign over Clovis Avenue needed new support poles and lighting, she worked with the city and Shawn Miller of the Clovis Community Development Agency (CCDA) to complete the job. The team at the CCDA were extremely helpful with all of the various projects.
Suzi also spent many long hours in developing the Clovis Big Dry Creek Historical Society and Museum working with Mickey Wells and later, Peg Bos.
Suzie and Fred were recognized with awards in 1992 by the Clovis Chamber of Commerce: Fred as “Citizen of the Year” and Suzie for “Community Service.” In 1998, they received jointly, the “Spirit of Clovis” award.
Our good friend, Suzie Osterberg passed away at the age of 76 in October of 2007 and she is sorely missed.
Osterberg-Sobelman continues the “Osterberg tradition” of volunteering her professional services three times a year to B.O.O.T.’s Antique and Collectible Fair. She provides free expert appraisals to the general public. Kathy has been a stalwart member of the group.
A second delightful, hard-working couple, instrumental in the founding of B.O.O.T., were Bob and Gloria Burkheimer.
Wherever one found Bob, Gloria was nearby. They were inseparable, supportive of each other and were adored by the general public and members of the organization.
Bob spent 40 years in the newspaper business, including four years, from 1981–85, as the publisher of The Clovis Independent. He opened Burk’s Press in 1985 and operated it with family members until his death in 2002.
Bob worked tirelessly in helping to found the organization and directing the membership through some of the initial organizational hurdles. When he got frustrated, I told him he was the “trail boss” and herding should be instinctive. He just laughed out loud with that infectious chortle which always ended with an all-knowing smile, a shake of the head, and a wink of understanding.
We were good friends and I respected his judgment and thoughtful leadership. B.O.O.T. would not have been B.O.O.T., without Bob.
Our members honored him with the Distinguished Member Award for “outstanding leadership, dedication, service, and support.” The Clovis Chamber of Commerce acknowledged him too as an ardent supporter of community sports. He was inducted into the Clovis Hall of Fame in 1997 for being a “Friend of Youth.”
In respect to his work in the formation of B.O.O.T., Bob became the first president of the fledgling group in 1987, the first year of our existence.
He was very intelligent, communicated well and a decisive leader. Yet, he had an affable manner and a great sense of humor. He was a mentor to me and I shall long remember his kind heart.
Bob was president and I was vice president.We worked closely during those early years and we tried to come up with creative schemes to bring people to Old Town.
Bob noticed citizen turnout at the polls for local City Council election was small. We thought there might be an opportunity to improve the situation for the candidates while focussing a little attention on Old Town.
The two of us concocted an idea (while imbibing at the 500 Club one hot afternoon) that would become our very first Old Town event, “The Great Clovis Caucus.” We wanted to create something different in Old Town that would attract attention and awareness.
Such an event would provide the candidates with a means to share their personality and philosophy. Such an event would certainly entice shoppers to Old Town businesses, or so we thought.
During the planning process for this first event, Bob and I created a set of general guidelines. We decided the event must:
1. Be based on a theme.
2. Be well organized.
3. Be family-friendly with interesting elements for all ages.
4. Be beneficial to businesses within Old Town Clovis.
5. Be able to create revenue to cover the cost of producing it.
6. Be fun for the all of the participants.
Little did we know, these six points would be the goals and criteria to be met by all future B.O.O.T. events.
Part Six of this series will focus on more distinguished B.O.O.T. members and The Great Clovis Caucus.
Larry Gamble is a founding member and former president and board member of the Business Organization of Old Town Clovis. He and his wife of 52 years, Sylvia, moved to Clovis in 1963. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.