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By Jeb Bing

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About this blog: A longtime newspaperman, I have been editor of the Pleasanton Weekly since it was launched Jan. 28, 2000. I was a reporter and Neighborhood News editor at the Chicago Tribune for 13 years, and previously a reporter for the Advance...  (More)

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Look to Burlingame for more sizzle in downtown Pleasanton

Uploaded: Oct 22, 2008
Some merchants in downtown Pleasanton are fighting mad that neither their own Pleasanton Downtown Association nor city government are doing enough to help bolster sales and their stores' profitability during these increasingly difficult economic times.

The culprits, they say, are property owners who charge rents that are simply too high during these troubling business times and let stores close without offering more reasonable rental agreements.

If you walk along Main Street, or even outside of downtown at the nearby Raley's Shopping Center and Rose Pavilion, you'll see what I mean. Empty storefronts and weathered "For Lease" signs are everywhere.

Last Sunday, I had breakfast at Copenhagen, a popular eatery in downtown Burlingame that's a favorite stop when I have to drop someone off at the San Francisco airport. At 10 a.m., both last Sunday and on many previous visits, Burlingame Avenue is filled with pedestrians. This is partly because the Burlingame Chamber of Commerce sponsors the city's Farmers Market on Sunday mornings, but also because all the retail stores are open. Even at mid-morning on a Sunday, the many off-street parking lots the city provides were filled. I found a spot behind Pottery Barn and walked through the store where I counted 12 customers shopping and out onto Burlingame Avenue where numerous locally-owned and operated stores as well as several other chains were doing a brisk business.

Burlingame has done a good job of keeping high-rises out of its downtown, although tall commercial and apartment buildings dot the skyline. It's also developed a retail model that seems to be working, with enough of the Ann Taylor Loft and J. Crew-type stores to attract shoppers of all ages while also boosting pedestrian traffic for the smaller retailers.

Pleasanton could do the same without damaging its historic downtown look and feel. Craig Scharton, when he was executive director of the PDA and helped draft the Downtown Specific Plan which is still in play, suggested asking Williams-Sonoma, Crate & Barrel and Gap Jr. to open downtown stores, but he was shouted down by smaller store owners who felt threatened. They believed then and probably still do and with good reason, that larger stores would pay higher rents, eventually driving them out of business when their leases renew.

But that's already happening. Comerica will soon open a branch bank in the newly-restored Kolln building at Main and Division, paying $4.50 a square foot or more, well beyond what Powell Sweet Shop (which is also in Burlingame) could afford. With chains such as Tully's, Round Table Pizza and others, and Bank of America leasing out premium space in its reduced-service banking facility, rents are holding at rates the smaller family-owned shops are having trouble paying, and certainly too high these days to attract many new retailers.

This is where the city government, through the office of the Economic Development Director Pamela Ott, can lend a hand. The PDA does a good job of sponsoring downtown events, such as Concerts in the Park, and monitoring business activity. As a tax-supported and organization, where all downtown property owners and merchants must be dues-paying members, it answers to everyone downtown and lacks the power to force major change in the retail mix or to offer needed incentives to bring new businesses to the downtown.

It's been unable to provide the teeth needed to develop tax incentives and force property owners to offer lower rents, at least on a short-term basis, to attract new retailers. Unlike Livermore, Pleasanton has no redevelopment district to bring improvement money to its downtown, an idea rejected by Pleasanton in the 1980s. Unlike Dublin, Pleasanton doesn't have major developers agreeing to help finance downtown development as part of their approval agreements for multi-million-dollar apartment, condo and housing projects elsewhere. But Ott and a forward-thinking City Manager, Nelson Fialho and city staff have good ideas for boosting downtown business, such as rebuilding the Domus building into a two-to-three story complex with underground parking, retail-only on the first floor and apartments or condos on the top, similar to what Dublin has been doing.

There's also no rule that an historic downtown must close itself to chains. This doesn't mean bringing Neiman Marcus to our downtown, but a Gap Jr. or Restoration Hardware could help. Again, with a more pro-active City Council to support city staff in reaching out to these retailers, downtown merchants large and small could see pedestrian traffic and sales looking much like Burlingame's with parking lots full and customers waiting in line at cash registers.

It will take a more global view of retailing to compete successfully with our neighbors while also keeping the integrity and historic value of downtown Pleasanton.
What is it worth to you?


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Posted by Timothy T, a resident of Downtown,
on Oct 22, 2008 at 11:37 am

This raises a lot of really good points. Downtown retailers want someone to take care of them but without them having to change anything. They want the PDA to kidnap customers, put them on the bus, and then drop them off in our downtown to buy stuff. That's just not going to happen.

This is partly the landlords problem not just because of high rents, but also because there's just not much diversity downtown. If you're going shopping for things, how many banks and nail salons do you really need in your shopping area? In tough economic times, no one wants to shop somewhere just because the area is "cute," they want an area they can spend a few hours in and get everything done.

The overall mediocrity of most of the restaurants downtown only add to it. Pleasanton residents eat there because they're used to the food, but there's no major reason for someone to come from out of the area just to eat here.

What do you do when you're done eating? You pretty much go home. Even the PDA's own website lists shops that are open after 5, which is pretty much everyone. How about shops that are open after 7? The list gets significantly smaller and much more disappointing.

If shop owners want help, they're going to have to help themselves. They're going to have to change their habits, and not just for a few weeks to see how it goes, they need to do it for 6 months to a year so people can start learning that Downtown Pleasanton is a place to be.

There's so much great potential down there, it's a beautiful place and the people that work at the stores are really nice, but they're going to have to do business differently or go out of business, which will just leave another opening for a nail salon.

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Posted by Melissa, a resident of Mohr Park,
on Oct 22, 2008 at 12:02 pm

I would like our Farmer's Market to be on Sunday. Saturday is a busy day, and I don't have time to go down there just for the market. Sunday is much more relaxed and a day that I would actually remember the Farmer's Market.
I'm not interested in spa's, nail shops, or shops that sell overpriced house decorations. I go to Main St. for Towne Center Books and occasionally for a toy for a birthday party at Doodlebug.
I've been disappointed by Baci, where I had a chicken Cesaer salad that was awful. I went to Rising Loafer recently, and was very surprised that they had stopped serving breakfast. You close at 3pm and you actually stop serving breakfast earlier as well? What a primadonna. I gave up on that place because I'm not going to be calculating whether they're still open and whether they're also still serving breakfast.
Vin's is so far down I tend to forget about it.
New York Pizza is horrible. I used to occasionally go to Domus but that's closed. I went to Coffee Beans and Bistro until the rudeness of the last owners stopped me.
I'm not going to walk through the gauntlet of smokers at Tully's when I can go to Starbucks which is closer and less smoky.
Coldstone Creamery? What is that stuff? If I don't recognize any natural ingredients in something, I don't eat it.
I liked that little bakery next to Coldstone, but that's gone. They made a good cappucino.
High Tech Burrito has good food, but there's no comfort level in that place if you want to eat in.
The food at Stacey's is hit or miss.
I do like Pans on Fire for hostess gifts and cooking classes.
Saavy Seconds was interesting to look through once, but I don't have the time to hunt through racks.
I got good fresh raviolit at the Wine Steward once, but I tend to forget about that.
Basically, I use Towne Center Books and Pans on Fire. I feel like everything in between is spa stuff and overpriced touristy stuff.

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Posted by DocFeelGood, a resident of Val Vista,
on Oct 22, 2008 at 1:56 pm

The downtown is just a place I go to once every 3 months. It really doesnt appeal to me as a father with little kids. Its too stuffy and doesnt have a lot of choices.

I run down to the farmers market, when I remember we have one. I actually shop more in Dublin than P-town, just do to the fact of 'get in and out'. It is just so easy to jump over 580 and run down Dublin Blvd than fighting for parking downtown.

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Posted by patron of Main St, a resident of Downtown,
on Oct 22, 2008 at 2:37 pm

Clearly you either want to help the downtown or point out its flaws, since this is the second time that you have written about the lack of success there in recent weeks.
You make several good points in my opinion.

1. No more banks, nail salons or botox labs on Main Street.
2. Get a first floor/Main St retail only ordinance in place.
3. How about asking the Pleasanton chamber to sponsor something for the downtown merchants -- rather than catering only to the large companies with the larger dues assessments? Why can't we have a Saturday market and maybe a Wednesday market?
4. Get Pamela Ott's office to put up some money -- perhaps fund a bus from local area hotels to downtown for shopping.
5. The CVB seems to want to increase business, how about funding a brochure targeted to wine country/golfing visitors that encourages local shopping and dining? Maybe put a slick book in hotels rooms as you can find in all other wine regions.

The writer who commented about businesses staying open longer for many months has the right idea. The PDA website lists shops that are committed to staying open late -- how many times have you walked downtown and seen those same shops closed during hours they agreed to be open? It does not take many times for a customer to just stay home and give up. A few years ago one group of merchants made a big deal about being open late on Wednesdays. Something like 17 shops if I recall. After dinner downtown my husband and I strolled all of Main Street and found 1 of the 17 that was open. Not a good sign.

We need reasonable parking downtown. Even Hayward has built a downtown parking garage. When the Firehouse center is completed it will be a nightmare for visitors and downtown residents to park during events. How does the city plan to fix that?

The PDA is the only organization committed to the merchants but even they cannot seem to do enough to please the merchants. The PDA does not close the streets 20 times per year (as stated in a previous thread). The city however, does close the street for parades, opening of the fair, etc. How does that help the merchants when the only purpose for being downtown is to set up your gear on the sidewalk and watch a parade? At lease when the PDA closes the streets it is to bring people to "shop". As Timithoy T said, the PDA cannot hold customers at gunpoint and force them to buy.

Speaking of buying -- have you made any purchases downtown lately? We all have to think of the local merchants when doing our shopping. It is not enough to browse and then go online to try to find it cheaper. If you don't spend money downtown then you have no right to complain when downtown dies. And that goes for the city management and elected officials as well. I cannot remember ever seeing any of them pulling out their wallets to help save the downtown merchants.

The greedy landlords may well get their due if the economy continues to falter. Eventually the small stores will go away and people will decide to go without the lipo/botox/mani/pedi routine. With the exception of one "community" bank that did not make stupid loans, the banks may all be gone if credit stays so tight. For those merchants who have steadfastly resisted name stores and a retail only ordinance, good luck in your futures. Wherever they may be, just not likely in retail on Main Street.

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Posted by Mary, a resident of Amador Valley High School,
on Oct 22, 2008 at 5:46 pm

I think Jeb has some good ideas in looking at what works for downtowns in other cities. In Paso Robles and Murphys, small winery tasting rooms occupy retail space. I think they have too many in each case but a couple on our Main St. might add to our wine valley attraction. Antique stores are a draw in other towns like Cambria but I think every one of ours has been driven out.
Another example is farther away in Saratoga Springs, NY. We were there a few years ago and I was very impressed with the downtown area especially considering that the population is half that of Pleasanton. We ate in some small but fabulous restaurants and stayed in a hotel at the far end of the main street that was big enough to have some conference facilities yet still be only 4 or 5 stories. We were there during the 6 week long horse race season with the track walking distance from downtown (yes, think of our fairgrounds track.)I think every room in the city was booked the weekend we were there and downtown businesses were hopping!
The races were a big party atmosphere with large groups and families in attendance bringing their picnic food with them (think 1st Weds). I think with some long-range planning, a similar series of events could be arranged here in connection with the fairgrounds. Especially since Bay Meadows recently closed. That empty lot across from the library could be a possible hotel location that would be convenient to the fairgrounds as well as downtown.
During other times of the year, the natural mineral springs are a tourist draw there while we have the Livermore wine region here instead. The downtown there did have a couple of national chain stores like Eddie Bauer or The Gap. The rest were all small, local businesses including many spas (hey, we already have those!) After we drove from Albany airport, we parked the car and walked everywhere. It is a great destination getaway town but could be a wonderful example for Pleasanton in many ways.

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Posted by Merchant, a resident of Downtown,
on Oct 22, 2008 at 7:54 pm


A couple of facts,

I have been a merchant in downtown (on Main Street) since 1999. Merchants have never been asked to approve or disapprove of anyone coming to town, big box, small box or otherwise. My business modo is focus on your customer and not your competition! I have not once in 9 years been approached by any member of the city council, planning commission, or mayors office asking me _anything_ about my business.

The PDA is _not_ committed in any way to grow business. They are an organization who's primary focus is coordinating set up, maintanence, and cleanup of downtown street closure events. Every business downtown is forced to pay an annual fee (based on sales) to the P.D.A. whether you participate or benefit in any way from the Downtown events.

I've posted before that the street closures happen to hurt my business in two ways. 1. They stop my regular customers from coming (can't park), and 2. They allow vendors to "rent" very inexpensive spaces on Main Street (more money for the P.D.A.), and the only "benefit" to my store is everyone uses the bathrooms.

I personally am not complaining and did not go into business with the notion that anyone would magically draw people and make my business sucessful. I just thought it important to clear up a couple of points.

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Posted by patron of Main St, a resident of Downtown,
on Oct 22, 2008 at 8:43 pm


Thanks for your comments, it makes some things more clear.

As a resident of downtown (my choice, I formerly lived in a "neighborhood" not a downtown) I am thrilled to have things to do. I have a different view of the PDA than yours. The PDA puts on events that draw me, draw my friends, and draw my money to downtown. The primary events for us are the wine strolls. We so enjoy those that we frequently host out of town overnight guests who come just for that reason. Our two guest rooms are already spoken for by friends wanting to attend the July event next summer. We also attend the Magical evening, with or without kids, it is a great kick-off to the holidays.

The PDA runs the concerts in the park which we faithfully attend. I know that some restaurants are opposed to these as they feel that people would otherwise eat out on those Fridays if the concerts did not happen. Nonsense. The people who attend the concerts would otherwise stay home with their families, the concerts do not take patrons away from the restaurants. A family with a picnic dinner and a bunch of kids who partakes of the concert would not otherwise have a fancy dinner out in downtown Pleasanton on that night.

You have a point about vendors getting cheap booth space. Maybe that could be addressed with the PDA or the city. Does not seem fair that the merchants who pay the PDA fees should subsidize the one time vendors. Somehow it does not surprise me that no one from the city asks your opinion, they care little for what their constituents want.

I wish you the best of luck in your business, clearly you have a plan and it is working for you.

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Posted by Brainstorming, a resident of Birdland,
on Oct 22, 2008 at 9:57 pm

I've been reading the comments and have been mulling over what type of stores/businesses would bring me downtown more often, cause me to make the downtown a destination on its own, or cause me to look for parking and stop, when I'm already driving through Main St. on my way to somewhere else in town. I do think that some novelty stores would be a good draw: perhaps an "old-fashioned sit-down table-service ice cream parlor" would be in keeping with the Gay Nineties Pizza and history of Pleasanton... a good family destination, especially if they keep the cost of small fun sundaes around $5.00. A coffee shop which stays open until 10:00 on weeknights (oh my gosh - how urban!) would be a draw for book groups, church(?) meetings and date nights on a budget. An old-fashioned candy store, the kind that they have in Virginia City would be perfect with the "boardwalks" downtown and they are quite profitable for the owners -- those candies by the piece or the 1/4 pound are pricey but fun for all.

How about a walk-up window for hot dogs and sodas, with some festive outdoor seating? Instead of old, tired, dusty trash/antiques, how about an international, "green" shop which brings in items from developing countries, along the lines of the UNESCO Childrens' shop in Berkeley? I think people here would find that interesting and shop there, especially with their kids. Good lessons and nice presents for friends and families.

How about brainstorming together and putting some ideas forward to the Downtown Association and the City Council, rather than just moping about vacant storefronts (sorry, Jeb included!) Maybe a contest or a poll to see what is desired and what the community might support. I'm not pessimistic; there are a LOT of bright folks here in town. Let's just get on it.

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Posted by Rae, a resident of Mohr Park,
on Oct 22, 2008 at 11:12 pm

Just a thought, and I've mentioned it before, but . . . maybe, instead of spending so much money, time and effort trying to influence local politics and politicians, the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce should start actively working with its members, merchants, the Downtown Association, and downtown building owner's to reduce rents to an affordable level. If they didn't have to cover an exorbitant overhead, more diverse, interesting businesses might be drawn to (or have stayed in) Pleasanton, be able to charge reasonable prices, and attract downtown shoppers. Frankly, with all the banks and restaurants, it's just not that interesting anymore to walkabout and shop downtown. The only time it is interesting is when something is going on that brings in a selection of eclectic booths and requires the closure of Main St. - something the downtown merchants don't seem to love.

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Posted by Craig Scharton, a resident of another community,
on Oct 23, 2008 at 12:01 pm

Hey Pleasanton,

Glad to see that you are all still so passionate about your downtown. I had a great dinner at Blue Agave a few weeks ago. Downtown looked very busy for a Wednesday evening. I bourgh some community leaders from another city to show them what success looks like!

some of the goals of a successful downtown are:

To be the central gathering place for the community, the downtown reflects the true character of a community.

Foot traffic is the key. Have businesses and activites that increase foot traffic (1st Wednesday, first floor retail ordinance).

Downtown revitalization is never done. Changing rents, changing economics, changing technologies...all of this means that individual businesses and the organizations with the global perspective (PDA/City) need to be ever vigilant. Which, by the look of this article, you are.

I always favor local businesses over chains. My point in that meeting was, a few chains will not kill downtown. The SLO merchants fought the Gap and then said the Gap increased their sales. It was just informational.

I love downtown Pleasanton. My picture of Main Street is hanging in my office, so I see you every day.

Craig Scharton

If you are even in Fresno please give me a call or visit my website at www.cvbi.org to see what I'm up to now.

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Posted by patron of Main St, a resident of Downtown,
on Oct 23, 2008 at 12:52 pm

Thanks Craig! It feels better to think that someone from the outside sees Pleasanton favorably.
My thoughts about this forum:

How about if people will post things they would like to see downtown as Brainstorming did? No one should expect the city or the PDA to magically make these ideas take place, it is just a place to start.

I agree that a "green" store would be a great concept. And a coffee place with outside seating and ***no Harleys***, unless the riders agree to muffle the sound. I avoid Tully's at all times for that reason. There was rumored to be an old time candy store trying to open in the Koln's building, rents were way too high. Hello Chamber, how about a little help on that front? Even though we are talking about a small store with only a few employees (read: low dues to the chamber). A walk-up food window with associated seating might be fun. And maybe even a few food/wine/music places that would stay open late. (Noise complainer on St. Mary, move from downtown if you don't want to hear it.) It would sure be nice to get the building done where the Cuban restaurant was supposed to go.
A couple of name stores would bring business downtown, maybe the city business development people could work on that. And lastly, who knows how to get an ordinance passed for first floor retail only? Getting that past the few people who own most of the downtown property won't be easy but if they have no one to pay rent they may see the value of working with the retailers. If, as Merchant says, the merchants are in favor if this then the only obstacle is the landlords.

We recently spent a long weekend in another wine region (not Napa!) and dropped many hundreds of dollars on lodging, food and wine. We found all of the information about this region and the surrounding cities from publications put out by their chamber. We had so much fun we are already planning the next outing. I have never seen any publication from our chamber like that. The PDA has some good things but they can only do so much. We have a full sized chamber and the Tri Valley CVB -- downtown Pleasanton should get far more help from those organizations if it is to continue to thrive. Pleasanton is far more than just the mall and the golf courses.

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Posted by Merchant, a resident of Amador Valley High School,
on Oct 23, 2008 at 4:32 pm

Interting comments by some above regarding "brainstorming" etc... Unfortunately no one including the City, or PDA, or the Chamber has the power to tell property owners what they can and cannot do with their property provided they are within the law. The incentive for property owners is to get the highest rent possible. What may be misunderstood is that most properties on Main Street have been owned by the some folks for a _very_ long time (definately prior to the revamping and reconfiguration of our current Main Street). When is the last time anyone can tell me they've seen a "For Sale" sign on any property downtown? I can't remember the last time personally. You can assume based on the lack of turnover in sales that most owners own their property at a very low basis cost, and rents have only gone up since they've purchased. They have collected fairly high rents for some time now, and can afford based on these lower costs of purchase to let the building sit empty waiting for a tennant who is willing to afford whatever they believe is the current market rate.

I will defend the Chamber for a moment. 1. The Chamber is only involved in city politics as it pertains to having "pro business" candidates in office who are willing to commit to learning about, understanding and supporting efforts to improve the business climate in Pleasanton. 2. I know for a fact they tried very hard to convince Bud Cornett (owner of Koln Hardware Bldg.) to consider some other options (shop, restaurant, etc....), but in the end unfortunately a Bank was the only tennant willing/able to justify paying $4.50 per foot to lease the building.

My suggestion would be to have the city try to come up with a plan to ultimately buy real estate downtown and therefore they could have some level of control. I doubt seriously though in this economy that any property owner is likely to sell at depressed prices. Again I do not see a single "For Sale" sign anywhere on Main Street or Downtown for that matter.

BTW, I agree it is GREAT to see Craig Sharton still cares about Pleasanton, and as he said he is bringing community leader HERE to show them what sucess looks like! Maybe the glass really is "half full"!

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Posted by Merchant, a resident of Amador Valley High School,
on Oct 23, 2008 at 4:33 pm

First word should have been "interesting"! Pretty bad when you mis-spell the FIRST word in your post ;-)

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Posted by James, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Oct 23, 2008 at 4:56 pm

this is all the fault of the incumbent mayor and city council! they are failing a primary responsibility to the community.

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Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows,
on Oct 23, 2008 at 5:02 pm

That's funny. I thought it was the economy.

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Posted by patron of Main St, a resident of Downtown,
on Oct 23, 2008 at 5:12 pm

Since Jennifer wants to springboard from Pleasanton to become queen of the universe does that not make it her responsibility? OK, just kidding, sort of.

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Posted by frank, a resident of Pleasanton Heights,
on Oct 23, 2008 at 9:50 pm

This whole thread is simply a pocket book issue. Supply wanted services and goods at the right price and the demand will be there. City government and the PDA simply screw things up to a large extent. Upscale ambiance can garner only a limited price premium. Merchant's point about downtown closures losing sales for the established businesses answers a question I always had about that. The closures always appeared to me to benefit the street vendors at the expense of the established merchants. Confirmed!

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Posted by frank, a resident of Pleasanton Heights,
on Oct 23, 2008 at 10:11 pm

This line sticks in my mind as a stupid comment:

" If you don't spend money downtown then you have no right to complain when downtown dies. "

How else can you vote when "downtown" is over-priced? You have an absolute right to complain AND to not spend your money.

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Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows,
on Oct 23, 2008 at 10:27 pm

My guess is that rents are high because this is Pleasanton. Owners can seem to wait out the economic downturn. Just look at the foreclosure and median housing price data in Dublin and Livermore compared with Pleasanton to see what I mean.

There used to be an ice cream parlor where Quizno's is now. It didn't last too long. I think everyone likes going to Meadowlark Dairy. I noticed a sign for a future yogurt and gelato place on Division behind Kolln.

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Posted by Beth, a resident of Foothill Place,
on Oct 25, 2008 at 8:30 pm


I remember that ice cream parlor - it was terrible. We went there and the menu was really thin and the staff was not good.

We need a real old-fashioned ice cream parlor like the one in downtown Walnut Creek or downtown Castro Valley. Those places are packed all the time - there is even an old-fashioned candy store in the back of the Castro Valley ice cream shop.

All we need is someone to open it - there certainly are enough vacant spots to choose from...

I was in Walnut Creek last night and it was packed - tons of shoppers, people eating out, etc... It can happen - it just needs good planning and downtown owners willing to cooperate with the vision.

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Posted by Jason, a resident of Country Fair,
on Oct 27, 2008 at 5:09 pm

Downtown is boring---banks and restaurants. A small nice movie theater or maybe developing---uh-oh, bad word----the creek area by the hotel like San Luis Obispo might be nice. I feel for the other businesses that are located in the 26=28 square miles of Pleasanton---they deserve "support" too. They have struggles as well. I started going to Livermore a little more often now. Not so many snooty stuffed shirts.

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Posted by ceasar, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School,
on Oct 29, 2008 at 10:10 pm

Major redevelopment and modernization are needed downtown.
Attract major retailers that provide scale and therefore value.
High density housing would support economic activity as well.

The council and the PDA do not have the will to make such changes at
the moment. Perhaps the elected officials that promote a "vibrant downtown"
can show some leadership. Partner with developers to build a destination instead
maintaining a sleepy downtown.

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Posted by concerned, a resident of Harvest Park Middle School,
on Nov 1, 2008 at 11:42 pm

Sounds like some of you want a new face to the look of downtown. When the major retailers come in, along come the major prices, unless you are looking for Big Lots or the Dollar Store and thrift shops. When the buildings are updated along come higher rents, as in Koln Bldg.
The PDA does want a vibrant downtown and is always on the lookout for something new and interesting to fill the retail spaces. In this economy there are not too many who are willing to take a chance.

Jeb Bing is always trying to stir up negativity about downtown.Resist his negativity and say something nice. There are many people who love downtown. Does he need to be reminded that his salary is paid in part by some of those businesses in the downtown buying ad space in the Weekly? Maybe he should look for something positive to write about. Spread some happiness for a change.

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Posted by 41yearresident, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Nov 5, 2008 at 1:51 pm

Pleasanton's downtown should continue to retain its unique character and part of what makes that interesting and unique (beyond the obvious architecture and preservation of the history) is the smaller retail shops that have always made up its character. When I was young we had a full line of service related "mom & pop" businesses downtown. My family purchased a television set from Frank's Appliance and even got it repaired there a few times, we were regulars at the shoe repair shop (now a clothing boutique) across from Kolln Hardware (where my father got all of his home improvement needs met). I worked at the old grocery store (which eventually became the now defunct Domus). As nostalgic as this may first appear, memory is selective and I also remember the "uglier" side of Main St. We had five gas stations (an Exxon where Tully's plaza now rests); Chevron across from Rose Hotel (which was the old St. Vincent De Paul) and further down the street at Main & Old Stanley there were two more gas stations. Now there is only one, the very historic Pleasanton Gas (or whatever name they have this week - seems to change constantly). I cannot even count all of the bars/saloons we had in those years. So, my point is that times change and some of that change is good some of it bad. If too many large retailers (national chain type stores) came into the downtown area I would no longer frequent it and it would definitely impact (negatively) the smaller retail shops. But perhaps the solution is one of a mix-used nature whereby we did consider additional living opportunities (residential) along with ground floor retail shops - we could have an anchor or two (which might be larger stores to attract more folks) but keep this to strict limits. If we allow the "market" to simply dictate we will surely be losers. The PDA could and should become more active in its efforts to both preserve our wonderful downtown character in addition to finding creative methods of attracting new retail merchants (hopefully no more day spas and banks). For those that think Jeb is negative - how so? Simply pointing out what is not working and offering up solutions for consideration makes a lot of sense to me. Or should we all stay quiet and "just hope for the best"?

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Posted by Janet, a resident of Birdland,
on Nov 5, 2008 at 2:27 pm

I have always been an advocate of adding some chain stores to our downtown such as Ann Taylor Loft, Crate & Barrel. The downtown needs to include in its retail mix a store that is a destination spot.

Jeb writes in his article that the Burlingame merchants are all open during the Farmers Market. One problem with our downtown is that the merchants do not have standard hours, such as the mall. Many are not open on Friday and Saturday evenings when there is much foot traffic. Perhaps if the merchants were open when most of the people are downtown they would be more successful. This is something the PDA, Chamber of Commerce or the city cannot control.

The idea of converting Domus to a three story retail/commercial property is a good idea. But, I wonder has anyone talked to the landlord? Property owners have rights and they make the ultimate decision regarding their property. Probably the owners of the Domus property have owned the property for a long time and maybe are not inclined to deal with the high cost of renovations. Or maybe they don't want to deal with hardships caused by the over complicated permitting process of the City of Pleasanton.

The Pleasanton downtown needs to remain economically vital. In order to make this happen the merchants, land owners, PDA, Chamber of Commerce and the city need to work together. The PDA was created to promote the economic vitality and hometown character of downtown Pleasanton. They encourage first floor retail. They actively market the downtown via print ads, special events, etc. Their website is full of opportunities for PDA members. I would encourage all PDA members to take advantage of all the opportunities offered by their website.

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Posted by Bruce, a resident of Pleasanton Heights,
on Nov 12, 2008 at 10:31 am

Maybe we can get a petition going to force the downtown property owners to reduce their rent. After all, we just petitioned away the property rights of the Lin's, why not every property owner. Then we can dictate what you can sell your house for in the future as well. That way we can provide affordable housing to one and all at your expense. Then maybe the Weekly can afford to move back downtown.

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Posted by Steve, a resident of Highland Oaks,
on Nov 13, 2008 at 9:40 pm

One word about downtown: Boring. Pleasanton is full of yuppies (me included). We want Pottery Barn, Williams and Sonoma, Peet's, J. Crew, and Anthropologie. Check out downtown San Luis Obispo for a great example of a merchant and pedestrian friendly downtown.

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Posted by Claire, a resident of Carlton Oaks,
on Nov 22, 2008 at 6:39 pm

As a previous 7 year owner of a business on Main Street, I was continually frustrated with the City's and the PDA"s reluctance to consider chain businesses on Main Street. I never felt it a threat but rather would have welcomed the idea. I saw it as a way to increase visibility of the downtown businesses and a way to increase foot traffic by making Pleasanton more of a destination. Case in point...4th Street Berkeley. Burlingame, 3rd Street in Sam Mateo, Los Gatos. Why can't we as a City consider such a business model. I have my ideas why which I will not go into here. What we have now, or don't have, is not working. What does it take to realize this and commit some resources, PROGRESSIVE planning and change in mindset to fix it? On another subject, Livermore is eating our lunch. How many are willing to admit this?

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Posted by Shopper, a resident of Downtown,
on Nov 28, 2008 at 2:30 pm

Claire-Ruma is still missed by many in town.

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Posted by Bruce, a resident of Pleasanton Heights,
on Dec 3, 2008 at 12:20 pm

I think what downtown needs is for the city to buy a building in Hacienda or Bernal Business Park instead of building a new building downtown. Convert the end of Main St into a retail complex which would include chain stores. Then we would have enough stores downtown to attract shoppers and at the same time probably save 50% on what the city would spend to build. We all know how gov't contracting is a license to steal.

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Posted by Explorer, a resident of Mission Park,
on Dec 29, 2008 at 8:00 pm

It's not only the rents that the merchants look at but the terms of the leases, are they NNN (the tenant pays all expenses, including greatly increased taxes upon sale, Prop 13). Most landlords aren't too greedy in the Downtown. The last thing they want is a failed business, lack of rent, and then the building needs new improvements that delay a new business opening. The last building that sold was 520 Main St, where Accentuals was last. It sold for just over a million dollars or $500/ft, roughly. Can't change the taxes. We do need a stimulus plan and the City has some advertising started. More to come (I saw the City Council meeting where this was announced on Channel 29). Most merchants can run reports through subscription services and come up with a decision in minutes if it is even worth their time to send their people to look. Unfortunately, they have their criteria, and the downtown doesn't meet it. Neither does Livermore or most of Dublin. Walnut Creek has a draw with more money in the vicinity. As for the Domus building, building an underground garage sounds great, however we have a high water table, so I don't know if it could work. The existing building used to be a grocery store and it backs up in the rain. New City imposed fire and sewer regulations are adding to the cost of doing business in Pleasanton, and benefitting the patrons with greater safety. Livermore Valley Winegrowers would like a tasting room, however they can't find a small enough or big enough site, and they don't have much money. It seems that we have seen a lot of restaurants change hands lately. For some of the newer people, it used to be that in order to open a bank in Pleasanton, you first had to have one on Main Street. It has come to bite us. It's interesting that with all the redevelopment incentives in Livermore, they still can't get the national, regional, or many new retail space leased. If we limit the Downtown to retail only on the first floor, that would open up more spots for lease. It's going to be a rough year for the Downtown.

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Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Jan 9, 2009 at 11:02 am

Agree with most posts, we don't go to downtown Pleasanton that much anymore. There's not enough variety of stores. Also, I don't have any place to take my 3 yr old son beside the Farmer Market.
We need more fun and interesting stores beside spa and salons.
What other stores can make this downtown a fun place to go?

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Posted by Claudette McDermott, a resident of Del Prado,
on Jan 13, 2009 at 11:45 am

While it's nice to have a history and a "Historical Downtown" theme..... it's time for a change as it's not working anymore. Being appreciated and liked, perhaps for the historical feel it's not bringing in New Money, nope. We need new customers to be drawn to the downtown on a regular basis as the community can spend only so much. There needs to be compromise and a Chain that has a built in clientele is what is needed and desired by many newcomers that is willing to spend, spend, spend! Until then we may whittle the time away thinking about the past and it will turn out perhaps, to be a ghost town. (a little much I know, but hey we need a wake up call) A chain will bring more people, that's a fact. They will shop, eat, prowl around and check out those shops unique and interesting enough to pull at their attention. We have a spotty retail, and need more variety in retail. What's popular? Who are the big sellers? What are those that are more successful than Pleasanton doing? Those are questions that should have been asked a long time ago (perhaps too much talk) and now it's time to act. I love Pleasanton and have lived here for only 4-5 years now. It's not the historical value that drew me or makes me stay, it's the safety factory, the trees, the people smile easily when passing them on the street.... It is Pleasant in Pleasanton but I worry more and more that not enough is being done in this community that I know can afford to do more.

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Posted by Concerned, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Feb 4, 2009 at 7:08 am

I agree with the writer who said Livermore is eating Pleasanton's lunch. Pamela Ott is "Girl Friday" to the City Manager--she was someone's "friend" and got her job, I believe, without neccessary qualifications. She smiles, act energetic but...Cities are in competition for business. Go Dublin go... I recently saw Dublin's State of the City and saw a enthusistic young Mayor talk about the spirit of partnership, working with business, both new and existing, streamlining business permitting systems, etc., etc. Pleasanton, well yak, yak, yak and guess what--we lose. We need that kind of mind thought and ACTION that Dublin is doing! Pleasanton is getting "old and gray" and yes "yuppie". I pass through Downtown once in awhile as there is not much there for me. Pleasanton PDA and Chamber are "stuck", as is our city government. This community is about "Me, me, me--not WE. We are stuck in paralysis--oh yeah, a FireHouse Theater--and that novelty will wear off too. New blood, new ideas and an "opening of eyes" is needed badly but we are not at that "tipping point" yet---it's coming.

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