Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - July 9, 2010

Marketing boosts downtown

With an estimated 10,000 crowding downtown streets and sidewalks for the First Wednesday festivities this week, it's clear that the marketing efforts and retail and restaurant attractions of Pleasanton's historic downtown are paying off. Although profits are still on the slim side, business has picked up with far more shoppers and diners than we saw at the peak of the recessionary economy a year ago. Reservations are needed at most restaurants on Fridays and Saturdays, stores are staying open later, and night-time entertainment at Barone's, Redcoats, Main Street Brewery and the Farmer Restaurant is attracting larger crowds than ever.

Much of this is due to the aggressive and productive efforts of the Pleasanton Downtown Association, the city of Pleasanton and a downtown merchants group skilled in retail marketing. The PDA, under the leadership of its new director Laura Olson, who has extensive business marketing experience, sponsors the Wednesday street fairs and Friday night Concerts in the Park. The merchants' group, headed in part by marketing guru Melanie Sadek, owner of Murphy's Paw on Main Street, has championed several successful campaigns over the past year, including a street carnival last summer that raised $20,000 for Pleasanton schools. Now it's gone a step farther, creating and selling discount coupon books with the goal of raising $100,000 for the school campaign under way by the Pleasanton Partnerships in Education (PPIE) Foundation.

The coupon books, designed and produced by Dee and Rob Nitzsche, owners of Your Stage Toys in collaboration with Allegra Printing, include pages of coupons from 40 merchants who each paid $130 to cover the cost of printing. They're being sold at a number of downtown stores and restaurants for $10 each and offer discounts up to 50 percent at some establishments. Using just two or three of them more than reimburses the buyer and sends every cent of that $10 purchase price to PPIE.

But that's not all. An advisory group has been meeting regularly to focus on making Pleasanton's downtown more of an entertainment destination. Working under the auspices of the Santa Cruz-based Responsible Hospitality Institute (RHI), a national consulting agency, representatives of the city and civic and business organizations are looking at areas where downtown attractions might help boost the downtown entertainment sector while also driving more business to local shops and eateries. Suggestions so far include more late night eating places, especially those that might serve desserts to after-theater crowds once the new Firehouse Arts Center opens in September, and sidewalk food vendors to cater to the after-10 p.m. crowds. Other ideas range from theme nights that cater to certain age groups, staggered closing hours in different downtown zones, "What's Happening?" bulletin boards at downtown kiosks, and live music and performers on downtown sidewalks.

Another outside agency has been hired by the city through its Economic Development Department, headed by Pamela Ott, who once was executive director of the PDA. She has contracted with Danville communications agency EMC Creative for some initial marketing research. In its first presentation to the city's Economic Vitality Committee, EMC reported that its initial public survey showed considerable interest in more downtown entertainment and a larger variety of stores and restaurants. Peet's Coffee and a Gap store were among requests made to EMC, even a movie theater. EMC will make a second -- and more detailed -- report at an upcoming meeting of the Vitality Committee, which will then consider recommendations on how to proceed.

Additions to the downtown that almost everybody liked are the sculptures that have been on display on downtown sidewalks since April. Created by internationally known sculptor J. Seward Johnson, they made their final appearance at last Wednesday's street party before being moved to another city. More of these kinds of unique exhibits along with the creative thinking of the committees and consultants working to add greater vitality to downtown Pleasanton bode well for a business district that is seeing economic recovery.

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