Community Columns

In Modesto, you get exactly one chance to get it right

There appears to be real excitement building in our fair community in anticipation of the grand opening of the Gallo Center for the Arts.

But danger lurks as all of Modesto is poised to execute its well-rehearsed and greatly feared propensity to swarm upon all things new and unique, then turn its collective back when expectations somehow are not met or exceeded.

I call it the "Modesto Syndrome" -- that wonderful local phenomenon that occurs each and every time a restaurant, club, theater or similar attraction opens.

All of Modesto seems to descend on the attraction during its opening days. Alas, too often the establishment is simply not equipped and-or capable of withstanding this great frontal assault. And, alas, soon the place is empty and erecting signs for yet another "grand opening."

Generally, this occurs because the new place simply does not prepare for the great outpouring of support in opening days. The food is cold, poorly prepared, not well-served by lesser-trained staff.

But, generally the same result ... great initial turnout, then things quickly tail off to a lesser level. Eventually, there is a likely closing with unhappy results all around.

And who among us could ever forget the spectacle of "American Graffiti" played out on our city streets a few years back. Talk about a rousing success -- yet we simply killed it off with our huge turnouts and lack of preparation for all those visitors to McHenry Avenue and the downtown streets.

Which begs the questions: First, why is Modesto so quick to try out a new place, and, second, why are most new places so poorly prepared for this early audition?

Recently, I met with the board and the staff of one of our local performing arts groups, one which will be performing in the early days of the Gallo Center for the Arts.

I cautioned the group: "Please, I beg you, be prepared! No tacky second-hand costumes; no underrehearsed performers; no glitches during these openings."

Because Modesto will surely not return if such things are present. And I know that those good folks have many more seats to sell for future events if they are to retain their success in the community.

The center itself needs to be prepared.

Just this week I wandered in the front door to buy tickets for opening week. The woman who waited on me was most gracious, but with two computer terminals in front of her, she wrote out my request longhand on a piece of paper. My request for box seats was relayed to the back room, which yelled back to the front, "Yes we still have box seats for that performance," but she apologized and said she could not tell me which seats they might be.

I know it will be great, and I know we will all be proud of the center and its events. But I am hoping that all involved are listening and remembering that Modesto Syndrome is lurking in the wings, prepared to come, be critical, go home and return only if satisfaction is met on first impression.

Modesto, somehow, is never in the mood to hand out second chances.

Hagerty is an Oakdale real estate developer active in community nonprofits. E-mail him at