Pleasanton Weekly

Column - September 17, 2010

Let's add more 'sizzle' downtown

by Jeb Bing

Downtown merchants could see their profits rise by 3%-5% this holiday season, thanks to programs being advanced by the city's Economic Development Director Pamela Ott, the Pleasanton Downtown Association's new executive director Laura Olson and the business owners, themselves. Olson, who was named to the PDA post last May, said the "Shop Local" campaign that is being advanced by EMC Creative, a Danville-based marketing group, is a city-funded (e.g. taxpayer-paid) effort to encourage more shoppers to take their business to Pleasanton. Because it's a publicly-financed effort, the campaign won't limit its strategic thinking to just the downtown but will also include retail centers in other parts of Pleasanton, including the Stoneridge Shopping Center. Although clearly, Olson told a Realtors' group earlier this month, the campaign's focus is on the downtown where small businesses especially have been struggling in the economic downturn.

While the EMC program, that recommends newspaper advertising, fliers and greater uses of what if calls "freebies," such as Facebook and Twitter promotions, puts an immediate focus on the upcoming Christmas shopping season, Olson says the city and the PDA are working together to bring more sizzle to the downtown. A big boost is expected to come with the opening tonight of the $10 million Firehouse Arts Center on Railroad Avenue, just a block from Main Street. Some pubs are already open late on weekend nights including those that offer music, dancing and other entertainment, such as Barone's the Farmer Restaurant, Redcoats and Main Street Brewery. The PDA is working with other businesses to make a downtown trip to a Firehouse performance even more enjoyable with restaurants that will guarantee quick service so that patrons can dine and still make it to the theater on time, and some that stay open later with menus for late night desserts and drinks even if they don't have music and dancing.

Beyond the Firehouse, Olson wants to expand special events downtown. This year's First Wednesday street parties brought record crowds, partly because of good weather at each of the five summertime events, but also because more folks who live here are finding the street parties better organized. The popular beer garden was restricted to adults only this year with a second band added along with family seating at the north end of Main. Next year, Olson plans to add a wine bar and entertainment at the family section, and she also hopes to draw more people to south Main Street with a limited number of hot rods and classic cars on display, courtesy of the Pleasanton-based Goodguys organization. Olson says she knows the added attractions are working. The September First Wednesday usually attracts only 5,000 people. This year it was well over 10,000, about the same as August's event. Main Street Brewery's business was up 10%-15% vs. the month prior when the First Wednesday venue was not extended north to the arroyo.

Another benefit of First Wednesdays is that there's more appeal to Pleasanton residents than other major attractions, such as antique shows and exhibits at the Fairgrounds which have a greater Tri-Valley/East Bay appeal. Downtown merchants like it when out-of-towners shop at their stores and dine locally, but it's those who live in Pleasanton who need to be more supportive. Olson cited a study by a national nonprofit grass roots group called the "350 Study" that found that if every employed person in the U.S. spent $50 a month at independently-owned businesses in their home towns it would generate $42.6 billion in local revenue throughout the country. That's not to say those who live here should avoid Stoneridge Shopping Center or other Pleasanton shopping centers, which bring in huge sales tax revenue to the city, but Olson simply reminds everyone how much a meal or two or a special gift could benefit our historic downtown, which most of us consider the crown jewel of Pleasanton. Still, PDA and city surveys show that the public would like more variety and even more special downtown events. Merchants, as members of the PDA, want to hear from their customers about just what they'd like to see. Those are the ideas Olson will use in the coming weeks as she and her PDA directors plan their 2011 strategy to add more sizzle to downtown.


Posted by Nancy McKain, a resident of Val Vista
on Sep 18, 2010 at 8:59 am

Laura is doing a bang-up job! It's great that she has such a proactive approach and it seems to be making a difference! My sister, Linda Bourland, who owns Serenity Stoneworks, and I, who owns The Bracelet Bar @ Serenity (both at the south end of Main) really enjoyed the additional foot traffic due to the bands that were placed in front of our stores. We are looking forward to having more activity down at our end of Main St. Thanks Laura, Sue and Elisha for your concerted efforts to make a difference!

Posted by Steve, a resident of Highland Oaks
on Sep 19, 2010 at 5:55 pm

If small businesses want to succeed they should be lobbying for adding some "main attraction" type retail businesses. A few examples: Restoration Hardware, Whole Foods, Williams Sonoma, Peets, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf etc. I'm not saying to add only chains, but a good mix would help everyone to get more people downtown. For those of you who know San Luis Obispo, you know this is exactly what they did to their downtown to spruce it up.

Posted by Alice G., a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2010 at 8:36 am

So what is there to shop for? Main street is primarily restaurants and boutiques, not mainstream shopping. And, the ever present problem - no parking!

Posted by Lee, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2010 at 8:53 am

About downtown--someone should have a retail store that focuses on fashions for the 40+ woman. Flattering cuts, good quality fabrics and shoes that are comfortable would do wonders for the shoppers of this city! My wife and her friends are always complaining they can't find clothes or shoes like this!

Posted by Roar, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2010 at 8:54 am

Lets encourage the motorcycles and more noise downtown to increase the sizzle!

Posted by jaycee, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2010 at 9:17 am

After living near several larger cities over the past 15 years, I was drawn to downtown Pleasanton when we were first looking for a home here. However, it is not the same downtown it was even 5 years ago. Steve is right on - San Luis Obispo has done a wonderful job of mixing it up and the only reason there's no parking there is because it is FULL of people shopping, eating, strolling, etc. I know it's difficult to admit, but we do need some kind of big name anchor. Trust me, the other shops/restaurants will benefit!

Posted by need to shop, a resident of Foothill High School
on Sep 20, 2010 at 9:20 am

Jaycee is right...
let me tell you what we don't need more of:
nail salons
yogurt shops
consignment stores

There are plenty of shoppers in this town that would love to be able to stay/shop local - unfortunately, it's just not possible with our downtown selection right now.

Posted by Shopper, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Sep 20, 2010 at 9:31 am

I love Main Street but I forget to shop there. If I owned the independent coffee shop across from Tully's I am not sure that I would support another chain coffee shop, but love the idea of a large anchor. I do shop regularly at The Wine Steward, the meat and fish market, Sincerely Yours, Apparel & Co and I have never had a parking issue. (With the exception of the events that close the street.) I I am not sure if it is because I am on the north end of the street when I park, but if i am willing to walk a block I can always find several spaces. The same rule applied for the many times each month that I have a meal downtown. There are several spaces within a block of my destination on all but a handful of occasions.

Posted by Marie, a resident of Downtown
on Sep 20, 2010 at 10:36 am

I shop downtown all the time, its nice to be able to buy yourself or gifts for someone things other than what you can get at the mall. Its a great downtown. I would like to see the stores stay open a little later on the weekends so you can shop after you have dinner. I would hate to see some chain go in and make it feel like some strip mall! I like it the way it is. Of course it would be great to fill the empty spaces with a few more stores. I do agree that we do not need another nail place thats for sure. Parking is what it is, its downtown just like most places. I moved to Pleasanton for the small town feel, please don't ruin it with chain stores and foreign language on the buildings. The cigarette store is bad enough.

Posted by Dane L., a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2010 at 10:47 am

@Marie... I honestly don't believe any successful downtown feels or looks like a strip mall with the addition of a well known anchor store! Maybe you could site an example. And quite frankly, I can't think of any of the stores we have downtown at present that would really have much competition with say The Gap, Restoration, Crate & Barrel. Most of the stores that would have been affected have already closed up shop! I don't think parking is a problem - especially if you've visited other downtowns where there are problems!

Posted by Jessie, a resident of Mohr Park
on Sep 20, 2010 at 10:55 am

You don't seem to realize that downtown Pleasanton can not ATTRACT "some big name anchor"! There is not enough business for them here. Also, the only one that has ANY control over what type of businesses come in to downtown are the building landlords. And all they seem to care about is who will pay the most rent.

Posted by Marie, a resident of Downtown
on Sep 21, 2010 at 8:43 am

I am not opposed to an "anchor" store depending what it is. But for example I grew up in Milpitas, we have a Main street. Had parades there all the time, small town fun. Now Main street is 90% business and churches with signs in different languages. Also alot of condos/townhouses have been built. There is no reason to go there unless you need to go to the feed store. Its sad what it has turned in to. They use to have art and wine festivals in Milpitas but over the years it evolved into Celebrate Milpitas because of all the diversity they say,,,, guess what they don't even have it anymore because no one goes. I moved to Pleasanton because I like the small town feeling like I use to have in Milpitas.

Posted by Downtown Business, a resident of Downtown
on Sep 21, 2010 at 2:20 pm

I've posted before when topics such as this come up, and I'll do so again here.

1. I am a downtown business owner and have been going on 11 years.

2. No offense to the PDA or Pamela Ott of Economic Vitality Office, but efforts such as the "shop local" campaign are in effect not measurable. You could throw just about any number you wanted to publish within reason and support it with statistics.

3. There is a reason we have several large and visible spaces vacant and available downtown as they have been for quite some time ie... Domus, the old bar that was torn down to build an approved restaurant, and the 4,500 square ft. above Red Coats, (which the owner is willing to lease for $1.50 per foot and still can't find a tennant), just to name a few.

4. No specific plan exists in any form of what the City of Pleasanton would like to see as a road map for what downtown could or should become.

As such, our downtown is simply a beautiful backdrop for the various downtown street closure events that occur there. ie.... First Wednesdays, Harvest festivals, antique shows, soccer parade, Foothill Band review, Scottish games parade etc, etc...

It is not a "shopping district". If it were truly viable shopping district, potential businesses would be falling all over themselves to do whatever it would take to be here! Instead, we have seemingly prime locations that have remained empty year after year.

Sorry if I offend anyone with my personal experience and opinion. I do get tired of reading how everyone is trying to help me as a business, while I can tell you for a fact they've never asked me whether I could use the help..... The fact we are paying an outside consultant to come up with a shop local campaign where they don't interview the existing businesses for input just seems absurd to me.

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