The sad economy of southern Inyo County grew sadder over the week-end with the closure of long-time Independence grocery store Mairs Market.
Independence has done nothing but lose population and services in the past three or four decades. In the 70s, the little town boasted DWP’s Owens Valley Headquarters, a bank, Physician services, restaurants, a grocery store, a mechanic, service stations and other enterprises.
With no land releases and no chance for growth of any kind, the population has dropped to less than half its former 1,000 or so. Independence is the county seat of Inyo and still hosts the courthouse and many county services, but that’s about it.
The Owens Valley school suffers from a lack of people and children in the community. In recent years, with real estate prices high in Southern California, some people sold in LA and bought in Independence to get away from the crowds. But, there is no trend in that direction.
Mairs Market, founded by Omie and Glorian Mairs more than 60 years ago, began to flounder under tough times, fewer customers and shopping habits at the bigger stores.
Steve Tapia, a grocery store owner from the Lancaster area, did take over Mairs and stocked it at great expense to build clientele. He did not get enough support, and had to make the tough decision to call it quits after 5 years. The business and building are now up for sale.
Tapia has invested considerable resources in a new restaurant to the north on Independence’s main street. Sunshine & Co. is slated to open sometime this spring. Citizens of Independence say they eagerly await what will represent a bright spot in the diminishing town.
Tapia likes the small town environment of Independence, has put lots into the town and says he will stay.
As for economic development of the depressed southern half of Inyo County, officials have done nothing and only recently got word that a little bit of Los Angeles-owned land will go to the auction block.