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Troy’s Family Restaurant has been tucked inside Clairemont Town Square since the early 70s. So Lynnette Fleck was surprised when a few years ago she turned on the television and saw a line of protesters standing outside it.
The otherwise docile octo- and septuagenarians who usually fraternized over coffee and toast had taken to the streets to protect their favorite stomping ground. The building’s owners were raising rents and would not renew the restaurant’s lease.
Troy’s was threatened with closure, and the patrons who sustained it would have none of that.
“People are regulars here. They have three meals a day here sometimes, and the prices are reasonable,” Fleck said Tuesday morning from one of the diner’s baby-blue colored booths. Seniors occupied many of the tables nearby, and greeted friends by first name as they walked through the front doors. “You get a really good idea of what Clairemont is by coming in this restaurant.”
The tenancy dispute was ultimately resolved. Troy’s got to stay. But the fight, however brief, had threatened to disrupt something else: the source of constancy and routine in the lives of many of Clairemont’s seniors.
Clairemont is one of San Diego’s first suburban communities. When developers Carlos Tavares and Lou Burgener built it starting in 1950, they were ushering in the post-World War II building boom that would transform San Diego from a dense urban city to the sprawling metropolis it is today.
Developers knew they could tap a gold mine. Servicemen were returning from the war and needed homes to start their families. Many of them bought homes in the tidy suburban housing tracts of Clairemont, which Tavares marketed as “A Village Within a City.” Many of those families still live there.
Today Clairemont is home to a large senior citizen population (a third of households have at least one resident older than 65), and many of them have been eating at Troy’s long enough to be able to look out its wide windows and discuss the way their community has changed.
“I liked it a lot before it got so busy,” Fleck said. She moved to Clairemont in the early 1970s. Her husband was in the Navy and the two preferred Clairemont to University City because it had more parks and shopping centers they could walk to.
“Clairemont Square had everything you need. It still does,” she said. The Starbucks there plays doo-wop standards.
But the shopping center has been expanded and redeveloped several times, as have many of the others that serve the neighborhood. In the process, some fixtures have shut their doors as developers have tried to improve the aging facilities and raise rents. Clairemont long ago ran out of developable land.
A few years ago, a Marie Callender’s restaurant shut down in a shopping center at Balboa and Genesee avenues. The shopping center was being redeveloped and the restaurant’s lease was set to run out. Instead of renewing, it closed its doors against the objections of many of its senior customers.
Since then Paul Marsh and his wife have had to drive to the next nearest Marie Callender’s — in La Mesa, 15 minutes away.
He recently asked for help on an online message board hosted by the Clairemont Community News, a local newspaper.
“Clairemont needs a Marie Callender restaurant and bakery,” he wrote. “We would much rather stay in our neighborhood. Can anyone bring this about?”
I’m reporting from Clairemont today as I explore a different San Diego neighborhood each day this week. Have a story idea for me? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 619.325.0528 and follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido.