The 349 Main St. complex, as its developer Craig Sellemeyer calls it, has become the hottest retail property on Main Street and it keeps getting better.
"We have retailers lined up trying to lease space here," Sellemeyer said. "I just wish I could find more properties on Main Street to develop like this to accommodate them."
Sellemeyer worked with others years ago to write Pleasanton's Downtown Specific Plan, a land use and strategic planning document that today serves as a guideline for the downtown district. His biggest disappointment was the decision by planners--and ultimately the City Council--to ignore a plea to impose a "first floor retail only" provision that would have forced new developments downtown to lease ground floors only to restaurants and retail shops.
That was one of several proposals by Craig Scharton, then the director of the Pleasanton Downtown Association, whose other ideas for sprucing up and revitalizing downtown also failed to garner property owner and planning support. These included bringing smaller-size stores such as Crate & Barrel and other chain merchandisers to the downtown, adding more pedestrian-friendly plazas such as Tully's at other Main Street locations and even having the PDA pay for minstrels and other small musical groups to play on Main Street during busy weekends.
"The one thing Scharton brought up that was a very good idea that would have been very good ultimately for downtown was the retail-only ordinance or a retail-preferred ordinance," Sellemeyer said. "If you look at downtown Pleasanton today, unfortunately too much of the space is occupied by financial institutions and non-retail uses."
Sellemeyer is particularly critical of a decision by Bud Cornett, who is investing several million dollars in restoring the Kolln Hardware building, to lease its ground floor space to a bank.
"What our downtown doesn't need is another ground floor bank," Sellemeyer said. "Strong growth retailers--and there are many who would liked to have had a chance on that space--won't want to locate next to a bank. Banks are one of the worst co-tenants there are and this will create negative retail energy on a street that needs better."
Co-tenant energy is in the forefront of Main Street Property Services' principles of development and marketing strategies. A good retailer helps bring business to an area, not just its own store, which is why Sellemeyer believes the corner of Angela and Main streets has become such a successful business model for making Pleasanton's downtown more attractive and prosperous. Developer Larry McColm's architecturally striking corner building at 350 Main, across from Tully's, and Sellemeyer's similarly appealing Stacey's Cafe at 310 Main are crowded day and night. These businesses follow the same formula that Sellemeyer imposes on Tully's, Hi Tech Burrito, Cold Stone Creamery, Bibiane Bakery and Fontina Ristorante at the 349 complex--stay open seven days a week from morning to night just as you would do at Stoneridge Shopping Center.
Look elsewhere on Main Street and, except for Towne Center Books, Domus, a few other retailers and restaurants, most of the retail space is dark at night. More retailers are opening on Sundays, but banks, which still dominate much of the Main Street frontage space, are open during bankers' hours, which doesn't include Sundays, holidays or evenings. When pedestrians start passing by long stretches of financial institutions and real estate offices, their buying momentum starts fading, Sellemeyer believes.
That's why he's happy to have just signed a lease with Bollinger Nail Spa for the space just vacated by Hometown GMAC Real Estate on Main Street. Spas are a growing business, whether a medical spa that offers cosmetic surgery, a full-body spa that includes body wraps and massages or a popular manicure and pedicure service such as Bollinger, who now operates four salons in the East Bay.
"We're really excited about the chance to put a spa on the east side of Main Street and thereby increase foot traffic in this part of downtown," Sellemeyer said. "Bollinger will have about 3,600 square feet of floor space, making them twice as large as the next largest salon or spa, so we know it will generate a lot of customer traffic."
As popular as Tully's Plaza has become, it wasn't a city planning favorite when Sellemeyer's group first proposed it. Most downtown city building codes generally call for structures to reach right to the sidewalks or corners, which is common in most downtowns. But Sellemeyer--and Scharton--wanted something different, a gathering place where pedestrians could sit and visit while enjoying their downtown shopping experience. Now, 10 years later, city planners hope Sellemeyer or other property owners will add a pedestrian-family plaza farther north on Main, where retail traffic is suffering, or farther south where there's almost none at all.
To make the plaza a success, Sellemeyer allowed only food and beverage tenants to lease space.
"The plaza is part of the building complex so it's jointly shared," he explained. "So you can go there for an ice cream cone at Cold Stone, meet a friend who has coffee from Tully's and have a friend who just bought a burrito at Hi Tech join you at the same outdoor table. It's European-style outdoor companionship at its best."
But he also points out that as eager as some in the city are to replicate the plaza concept on other parts of Main, it's food that drives Tully's Plaza's success. If he had leased the space at 349 Main to dress shops or boutiques, there'd be little synergism for customers to spend time outside.
Sellemeyer and other property owners who have successful retail tenants are sometimes criticized for the higher rents they charge. But Sellemeyer says those property owners actually collect the least rent. Someone may charge $3 a square foot down the street in a part of Main Street that generates little pedestrian business, but the tenant has poor sales performance and actually spends more on rent. At the 349 building, rents are as high as $7, but business is so good that the percentage paid on rent is much less.
Faced with growing competition from a revitalized downtown in Livermore and plans for a Disney-type Main Street concept for an outdoor shopping mall in Dublin, across from Hacienda Crossings, Pleasanton business will need to upgrade their stores, product offerings and services. Sellemeyer is concerned that too many retailers here like to close their doors at 5 p.m. and all day Sunday and much of Saturday. That doesn't work anymore when there are more alternatives nearby.
"Sure, the ambiance of our historic downtown Pleasanton is a draw, but it's not what really brings shoppers or diners here," Sellemeyer told the PDA's Downtown Vitality Committee recently. "We've always had the old buildings, but, even so, downtown has had a number of ups and downs nevertheless. It's what you sell and offer and the hours you provide those services that count."
"Downtown Pleasanton is like a stage," he added. "The colorful historic sets are nice to look at, but without good actors and a script, no one's going to buy tickets just to look at the attractive backdrop."