The best way to get to know the small, west Stanislaus County community of Newman is to take a walk down its Main Street.
Newman’s Main Street is a true ‘blast from the past’ when business, government and entertainment could all be found in a city’s downtown. From the iconic West Side Theatre and its historic neon signage to the popular Mexican eateries, City Hall and a hardware store, downtown Newman is a thriving center of commerce.
Those looking to open up business in downtown Newman may have a hard time finding space, as the vacancy rate is near zero.
“It’s in demand. People want to be in the downtown but are not able to pick up a spot,” said Newman Mayor Casey Graham.
Michael Passarelli of the Newman Chamber credits the close relationships with City leadership, the city’s longtime newspaper, the Chamber and community all working together to make Newman a better place.
The West Side Theatre is a prime example of what a great partnership between a city and its community can accomplish together.
Opened as the Newman Theatre in 1940, mainstream movies were shown at the theatre for 40 years before devoting its last days to Spanish-language films. The theatre was converted to a roller skating rink in 1984, but soon fell into disrepair. In 1996, the City of Newman took over the property and a non-profit organization – the West Side Theatre Foundation – was formed. With the help of redevelopment agency funds, and volunteers and donations through the foundation, the theatre was refurbished with the outside a tribute to its original golden years.
In the past several years, the theatre has drawn crowds from around the region for live music shows, movies and other events. While still closed due to COVID restrictions, many in the community anxiously await its reopening.
“One of the main focal points of our town is the theatre. When people come to town, they are shocked that we were able to maintain a historic theatre like that,” said Graham.
Passarelli said the positive relationship with the City and the business community has made a big impact during COVID, when businesses needed all the help they could get.
“We have a quaint downtown with restaurants and shops. COVID was very tough for all of them. Through our close working partnership with the City of Newman we were able to do a couple of things that really helped,” he said.
After having the city’s spring farmers market closed due to COVID in 2020, the City brought an eight-week harvest market in September and October to encourage shoppers to downtown in an outdoor venue. The City also approved a Main Street Eats event every Friday during the market, which saw the street closed so that restaurants could set up outdoor dining areas.
“We started and it was 105 degrees and it was smokey due to the fires, but people still came. They were tired of the quarantine and the local businesses needed it…It was just unbelievably successful. People were out every Friday night supporting the restaurants and the shops,” said Passarelli.
Downtown has also been a gathering place for the community of Newman.
“It’s the heart of Newman. This downtown always brings the community together. Centrally located, it brings both east and westside areas together. You can grab an ice cream and settle down for a peaceful evening, take graduation photos or come for classes at the dance studio,” said Alicia Mendoza, City of Newman Recreation Director and Community Liaison.
The annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony in downtown is a Newman tradition.
Downtown is also where the community gathers to celebrate the local high school’s homecoming every fall — and to mourn, as it did when Newman Police Cpl. Ronil “Ron” Singh died early on Dec. 26 after exchanging gunfire with a man he pulled over on a suspected case of drunk driving.
“We’re kind of hidden away but we have a great community and people really come together,” said Graham.