One of America’s largest fast food chains, McDonald’s, is looking to move its golden arches in Fallbrook from South Main Avenue to the busiest corner in town – where Ammunition and South Mission roads intersect.
Various items regarding the proposed new restaurant site went before the Fallbrook Community Planning Group (FCPG) at its February 18 meeting and gained approval with only minimal adjustments to the plans.
While McDonald’s affiliates have said the new 3,590 square foot restaurant will allow for faster service to the community, the people who own and work for the three businesses currently located on the property are worried about their livelihood after the bulldozer erases them from the property which is owned by individuals in the Los Angeles area.
Those businesses are Happy Jug Liquor, Smog Bros, and Main Place bar. Owners of these businesses made their feelings known at the February 18 meeting.
In an interview prior to the meeting, Rawia Elfarra, whose family has owned Happy Jug Liquor for 30 years, said, “This is really killing us; it’s greedy and it’s devastating. These businesses feed several local families.”
FCPG member Eileen Delaney, who heads up the Design Review Committee, said, “On one hand, we are sad to see old businesses go, but on the other hand, it will be a nice beautification for the town; there will be large, beautiful trees along the perimeter.”
Delaney said McDonald’s representatives told her they want to start the project in June. “They said based on that they would have the restaurant operational around October. They really want to move forward quickly.”
Elfarra said she was particularly disappointed when she went to a recent Fallbrook Community Planning Group meeting with a petition in hand signed by 700 local residents opposing the new construction plan.
“[The members of the planning group] would not even look at my petition; all they seemed to care about was what types of trees McDonald’s was going to plant,” said Elfarra. “I was so disappointed in how closed-minded they were.”
Josue Gonzalez, who co-owns Smog Bros with Mo Elfarra, said they will seek to move their business to another location in town, but are concerned about how soon they may have to vacate the current premises.
“We have been looking at some options,” said Mo Elfarra.
Gonzalez said in looking at the changes proposed on South Mission relating to the new plot plan for the property, he is concerned about emergency vehicle access through the juncture of the two busy roads.
“It’s already a problem and this change looks like it will make it worse,” said Gonzalez.
Rawia Elfarra also voiced her opinion over the negative impact she felt McDonald’s would bring to the already-problematic intersection.
“The traffic and accidents at this corner are horrible already; I am always worried about people getting hit,” said Elfarra. “With the Base traffic and McDonald’s moving here, it’s going to be a nightmare.”
Dan McGrath, who owns the Main Place bar with his wife, Judy, agreed with the other business owners about the potential traffic impact.
“I don’t know what the County engineers are thinking about in allowing this, given the traffic in this location,” said McGrath.
The future outlook for the three businesses is mixed. At least two of the three (Happy Jug and Smog Bros) no longer have leases in effect and are on a month-to-month tenancy basis.
The owners of Smog Bros said they intend to move their shop, which has proved to be very popular with consumers and is not quite as complex as relocating a liquor-selling or serving establishment.
“We will definitely be looking to relocate to another spot in Fallbrook,” said Gonzalez. “If the project moves that fast, it sure doesn’t give us much notice.”
McGrath said things aren’t looking positive for him to relocate his business.
“I’ve been looking around and don’t see anything available anywhere here that would be that likely for us to move to,” he said.
Elfarra is uncertain about the fate of Happy Jug Liquor.
“We don’t know where we are going – we certainly haven’t found another place; it would cost $40,000 just to build the coolers we need,” she said. “We have such a loyal clientele and our customers are so disappointed in what’s happening. All the locals are telling us they don’t want this change, that it’s bad for Fallbrook.”
Elfarra said it’s not only concern for her family business that has her distressed; it’s for the many organizations they allow to hold fundraising car washes on the premises in order to earn funds for activities and special causes.
“We host a lot of high school fundraisers here; we always let them have their car washes and I pay the water bill for them, because it’s something we can do for the community,” she explained. “People are asking me where they will be able to hold their car washes and I don’t know.” Elfarra said she has also allowed members of the military to hold car washes so they can raise money to attend their military ball.
Working with McDonald’s locally on key issues has primarily rested on Delaney and FCPG circulation committee chairperson Anne Burdick.
Burdick said, “We had anticipated obstacles primarily because of huge concerns about that intersection, but the McDonald’s people could not have been more accommodating.” Burdick said all challenges were met by the McDonald’s representatives saying “How can we make this work?”
“[The committee] feels very upbeat about how this is going to enhance that whole corner,” said Burdick. “We know the current occupants (businesses) are disappointed and upset that they will no longer be there, but it is going to be completely developed with new landscaping, lots of beautiful new trees.”
When asked if she anticipates an added traffic impact at the site, Burdick said, “There is bound to be slowing as cars come in and out. I think our major concern was at both access points (South Main and South Mission) – both avenues of access are pretty congested at peak times.”
Burdick said McDonald’s counter statement to that concern was improved speed of service.
“They said they can get people in and out really fast with the new design they are putting in,” she said. “They also said if their customers aren’t happy, they won’t come back and that they will do everything they can to make the traffic circulation work well.”
Burdick said the construction work itself is bound to have an impact.
“There will be a construction period where lanes on South Mission and South Main will be impacted; I’m not sure of the time period for the impact yet,” she said.
The reasons McDonald’s has to move its operation to that particular corner could be many, but Burdick said she was told the company wanted “a new, more modern, efficient restaurant.”
“They claim this will be a ‘new generation’ style McDonald’s and they will be able to handle a greater capacity at a greater speed,” she added.
Final traffic design approval will be determined by the County Dept. of Public Works.
In working with McDonald’s on its exterior design, Delaney said the FCPG wanted to be sure the new restaurant had “a rural look.”
“Our big concern was we didn’t want the ‘big city’ look of McDonald’s; we wanted it more in tune with our rural town,” she said.
“They now have an exterior design that includes rock, stone, and other natural materials,” said Delaney. “We asked them to remove some signs from the plan, lower some of the signs in height, and place some signs in stonework.”
“They’ve been very easy to work with for the most part,” she said.
The current McDonald’s location at 1050 S. Main Ave. will be remodeled, primarily to remove trademark roof design, arches, and more.
“McDonalds refers to it as ‘de-arching,’” said Delaney. “They will be taking the old roof off and put one of different design on, taking arches and other branding symbols down, and then they will put that property up for sale.”
Writer’s Note: Numerous phone messages left for McDonald’s representatives as well as the owner of the property, for comments in regards to the plan, were not returned.