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The Other ‘Military Spending’

With 20 years of retail experience on Mission Avenue, Rick Wright knows the lay of the land in Oceanside.

The city just outside the main gate of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton has the expected complement of barber shops and dry cleaners downtown. Then there are the not-so-gritty businesses, such as Asylum Surf and the Petite Madeline Bakery Patisserie.

But don’t let their polish fool you.

“There isn’t a business downtown that doesn’t have the military as part of its business plan,” said Wright, executive director of the Main Street Oceanside business association. “Even your surf shop has military clients.”

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Oceanside is one of several pockets of businesses in San Diego County that cater to individual sailors and Marines.

Another pocket is the neighborhood north of Miramar Road, near the north gate of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. A third pocket is Coronado and Imperial Beach, near the U.S. Navy’s southernmost bases in the region.

Prince Harry Was Here

Imperial Beach is where Katy Fallon operates Katy’s Café. She says there is a good deal of military traffic at her eatery as well as a nearby watering hole Ye Olde Plank Inn.

McP’s Irish Pub in downtown Coronado can do them one better. It hosted Britain’s Prince Harry and his party recently when the prince was in the southwest United States participating in military training.

The San Diego Military Advisory Council estimates active duty military will bring $6.27 billion in salaries to the region in 2012. That number is likely to rise to $6.46 billion in 2013. Citing federal statistics, the nonprofit military advisory council says the number of Marines in the county is expected to fall from 57,000 this year to 56,100 in 2013. The number of Navy personnel is expected to rise from 50,650 this year to 52,800 in 2013, largely because of the expected return of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.

Those sailors and Marines need financial services. Among those providing them is Pacific Marine Credit Union. Formed 60 years ago to cater to Marines, it is still the credit union for recruits at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot near Old Town.

Brad Smith, the credit union’s vice president for strategic development, estimated that 60 percent to 70 percent of the institution’s clients are military members and dependents.

“Our business model was originally around the military, but over the years, we’ve expanded to include the community as well,” Smith said. The credit union has 75,000 members in California and roughly $700 million in assets; military credit unions tend to have a lot of members and a smaller number of assets than their counterparts, Smith said.

Payday Advances Banned

Milan Vonsighart also deals in money matters. He opened Cashpoint Payday Advances on Miramar Road in 1999. He expected to get some of his traffic from the nearby military base. In 2007, the Defense Department ordered servicemen and women not to patronize payday loan providers. Five years later, Vonsighart pushes on.

“As long as I’m making some profit, I’ll keep the place open,” he said.

His Miramar Road neighborhood hosts a variety of businesses, including Miramar Cash & Carry, a grocery store specializing in Indian and Pakistani foods, and a wealth of furniture and building material stores.

Famous1s on Black Mountain Road opened in June. It sells men’s and boys’ clothing with edgy designs. Twenty-five year-old Jose Estrella says his eight years in the Marine Corps gave him the discipline to run the business and insight into the Marine market. “I know what they’re looking for,” he said.

Art Molina, who runs Miramar Car Center at Miramar Road and Kearny Mesa Road, estimates one-third of his business is military: “E-3s to officers,” he said. “They come from all over the country.” Trucks and muscle cars are popular, he said, as are SUVs for clients starting a family. Asked about special military programs, Molina said the dealer offers cash or free gas in exchange for referrals.

The nearby 24 Hour Fitness gym offers servicemen and women a 25 percent discount off the regular price of membership, and it does not charge members if they are deployed overseas, said manager Eric Avila. One of more than 400 company-owned gyms, 24 Hour Fitness’ Miramar Road location has 32,000 square feet and offers fitness classes and daycare. Better yet, it offers something the Miramar base doesn’t. Marines like it because the on-base gyms have limited hours, Avila said.

Back in Oceanside, local politics centers on how much of downtown Oceanside ought to be given over to military-serving businesses.

Military Uniforms Since 1954

Chad Elliott of Oceanside Jewelers recently had to go to the City Council to get permission to add pawn shop services. Elliott said a nearby business got rights to run a pawn shop and he wanted to be able to do the same thing.

Some 30-40 percent of his business comes from military and military families, Elliott said.

One business in downtown Oceanside has been around since 1954, nearly as long as Camp Pendleton has been a military base.

H&M Military Supplies anchors the corner of Coast Highway and Pier View Way. The business is an emporium of military uniforms and gear, plus novelties such as teddy bears dressed in camouflage or the Marine dress uniform.

Owner Mary Cathey says the business would thrive even if it wasn’t near a military base, since it offers tailoring, sewing and embroidery. She noted that H&M has a business selling law enforcement uniforms as well.

Since it was nearly Halloween, Cathey said people came to her store for their costume needs.

The business was founded by Cathey’s late husband, a Marine whose trade was shoe repair. Some 58 years ago, Harry Cathey opened a 600-square-foot shop down the hill, closer to the pier. The business eventually moved uphill to the 3,000-square-foot corner building on Coast Highway.

There is still sentiment in Oceanside to have more than barbers, dry cleaners and check cashing stores downtown. After all, it is a California beach town.

“We’re surrounded by residential” space, including upper-end residential, said Oceanside Main Street’s Wright. More housing is planned.

Also on its way is 81,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, Wright said, noting that authorities such as the California Coastal Commission want that space to serve visitors.

Wright, who previously ran a gift shop in downtown Oceanside, sees room for all: businesses serving military members, their families and visitors.

“The truth is the enlisted guys have visitors from all over the country and they act like tourists,” Wright said.

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