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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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Downtown Pleasanton needs our help

Uploaded: Jan 14, 2011
We keep hearing that the recession is on the wane. To measure the sales reports of several of the major department store chains, holiday sales were indeed favorable. Business also picked up in downtown Pleasanton, but not by much and only at certain stores. Others didn't make it, including the Stork's Nest and Euphoria. The once popular Thriving Ink and Your Stage Toys closed their retail outlets earlier.

What surprised me, too, is that as I visited the shops and a few restaurants over the holidays, I ran into a number of Pleasanton friends. But this happened when I was at Hacienda Crossings in Dublin, at the Livery in Danville, in downtown Walnut Creek and even at Nordstrom and Macy's in San Francisco. These folks that I talked to said they go to downtown Pleasanton for First Wednesday street parties, Concerts in the Park and a few other times, but they don't think of our downtown as having a sufficient mix of retail business that they find in these other locations.

Some of you may remember Craig Scharton, who was the executive director of the Pleasanton Downtown Association in the mid to late 1990s and was responsible for starting the First Wednesday parties in 1998. Downtown was facing tough times then and Scharton pressed for changes. He suggested that property owners fill their first floor building spaces with retail stores that would appeal to a wide variety of shoppers, even chain stores such as Crate & Barrel, Restoration Hardware, Ann Taylor Jr. or other regional and national chains that would add to the mix of smaller businesses on Main Street. Burlingame has done this in its downtown where the sidewalks are crowded on many Saturdays and Sundays.

Banks, real estate offices, dentists and law offices are often the preferred tenants for property owners because they pay their rent on time and generally stay put. But in terms of appealing to shoppers, they don't. These are businesses, too, that seldom open on Saturdays or nights and never on Sundays.

Ann Taylor or an Abercrombie, on the other hand, have special appeal to the under-30 set, especially teenagers, which Pleasanton's downtown desperately needs. These are corporate-owned stores that also have deep pockets for advertising. Scharton says promotions by just one of these larger retailers can support at least a dozen nearby stores that don't have large or sufficient marketing budgets.

Scharton believes Pleasanton should consider again a first-floor retail-only ordinance that would require property owners through incentives to rent their ground floor spaces to retail businesses. That was tried in early 2000 when community meetings were held on a Downtown Specific Plan, which was adopted by the City Council in 2002 but without the controversial First Floor Retail only provision. Property owners don't like being told how they can use their properties.

This same issue is now being debated by city planners as rezoning plans proceed for an 800-unit, high density affordable housing development near the Bart station in Hacienda Business Park. Some on the City Council and Planning Commission are insisting that ground floor -- particularly corner ground floor spaces -- be reserved for retailers. The developers, who have experience at building this type of housing, argue that there's already too much vacant retail space in the area and these corner units will sit empty, possibly for years, and become neighborhood eyesores.

That's the problem with imposing a similar regulation downtown, where an empty Domus and a vacant lot across Main Street where the old Union Jack tavern used to stand are causing would-be shoppers to pause before parking their cars and heading to the shops. Property owners need tenants and if there aren't any retailers able to afford or wanting the space, another bank, real estate office or title company suits them fine.

Merchants here are seeing a steady decrease in day-trippers to downtown. Residents seem to be the only ones supporting businesses here and even that isn't saying much. Shoppers used to fill Main Street between noon and 3 p.m., during and right after lunch. The peak now is 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Downtown also is becoming less of a retail environment. Take a close look at the PDA website and you'll see that there are 80 personal care places in the downtown and only 25 retail stores. Businesses that have been here for more than 10 years seem to be weathering this well, but newer businesses aren't, as we saw with Stork's Nest, Thriving Ink and Doodlebug before that.

7zHraity of Pleasanton, its economic development arm and the PDA are working with merchants to boost business. A Danville consulting firm's promotion didn't work; a committee to add more nighttime entertainment in the downtown area to make Pleasanton more of a night-life destination has merit, but lacks the week-day, weekend, daytime attraction merchants need. The 2002 Downtown Specific Plan suggested promotions that still sound good: more mini-plazas attractively designed for small public gatherings, similar but larger than Tully's plaza, more places to grab a sandwich after events at the Firehouse Arts Center and more parking. A better mix and more retailing would help reinvigorate downtown Pleasanton to make it a regional destination for shoppers.
What is it worth to you?


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Posted by Stop the hypocrisy, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Jan 14, 2011 at 11:18 pm

I find the idea of 800 high-density, low-income sudsidized units added in Hacienda, a truly terrifying concept ! Stop, overturn, that is the most twisted thing I've heard about destroying Pleasanton. Anything that stupid, certainly couldn't have come from anybody who cares about Pleasanton. Don't tell me there are hypocrites among us !

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by mellow fellow, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Jan 15, 2011 at 11:10 am

I remember talking to the Hospice group before they vacated. The landlord had raised their rent to $20,000 a month. So, it seems the problem are the landlords who gouge their renters. S/he rents to other gougers (banks) and everyone is making money ... oh, except for the ambiance of Main Street.

One other note. I just ate lunch at a Main Street restaurant. $80 for wine and appetizers. I don't know if that's a rent thing, but it's not something I can support regularly.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by resident, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Jan 15, 2011 at 5:57 pm

"I remember talking to the Hospice group before they vacated. The landlord had raised their rent to $20,000 a month."
WHAT are you smoking?!? I knew the now deceased landlord and the manager of Hospice. The rent was $4,000 per month for 2,000 sq feet, which was half what he could have gotten and one third or less of what other landlords were charging.
Yes, there are some very greedy landlords in town, just look at where the vacancies are. But don't throw around ridiculous numbers when you have no clue about the actual truth.

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Posted by Here we go again, a resident of Downtown,
on Jan 16, 2011 at 9:11 am

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Until the city puts together a marketing plan with money behind it that includes acquiring land etc... NOTHING will change downtown. 3 property owners dominate ownership of downtown area real estate, and own the properties at such low cost that can afford to wait for someone who will to pay the much higher than market rates or simply leave them empty. Without building and property ownership we can wish all we want for what might or could happen. Reality is it won't.

Livermore's downtown revitalization happened because it developed a master plan that included acquiring property, cooperating with developers and provided incentives and advantages to new business being recruited to the area.

Pleasanton has never nor will liely ever has ever have such a plan. Unfortunatly Mainstreet will remain as is or continue to decline until such time as a master plan with budget behind it exists.

It is a joke that we spend any money from an economic vitality committee working to bring new businesses downtown because they have no power since the city doesn't control the properties.

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Posted by resident, a resident of Grey Eagle Estates,
on Jan 16, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Pleasanton has a no growth Mayor and City Council. Main Street died a long time ago. The resaturants are inconsistent and mostly mediocre, parking is not always available,and "historic building" means run down and architecturally insignificant. What Pleasanton downtown needs is significant re-development. I am afraid that like the rest of California, Pleasanton has seen it's best days.

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Posted by Just Shop in Livermore, a resident of Birdland,
on Jan 18, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Sorry, but it's true! Their main street is thriving and lively because it's not full of used clothing shops and overpriced restaurants. When Main St. Pleasantonlooked like a ghost town this past weekend, Livermore's was hopping. And there's a movie theater at one end! Can you imagine?! I want to keep the money here, but there's only a handful of places that I frequent. Tully's, Cafe Main, Gourmet Works, Hi Tech Burrito....that's pretty much it sad to say.

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Posted by R Lou, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Jan 18, 2011 at 6:02 pm

To Just shop in Livermore, You should walk to the north end of Main street. There you will find Towncenter Books, Clover Creek home decore, Sincerely Yours Cards and Gifts, Ricks Pics also plenty of parking and a nice Park on Peters Ave. I was on Main Street Saturday afternoon and there were Happy people walking all around town.

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Posted by Reality Check, a resident of Downtown,
on Jan 19, 2011 at 8:35 am

Walked downtown yesterday at lunchtime. Literally a ghost town feel. Has anyone looked at how many run down old empty buildings that are vacant? I spotted at least 10 spaces not including Domus and the empty lot that used to be a bar. Those buildings have been owned by the same ownwers for long enough that they don't mind them sitting empty until someone willing to pay the inflated rates for sub standard spaces comes along. Even though the old Koln building is finished and occupied by a bank, it looked sterile and empty and has lost its charm. No one ever mentions The Wine Steward, but it is has been here for over 10 years and seems to be ok. The British Pub also seems to have its act together. Why doesn't the city look at what is working and try to build on it?

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Posted by Sad scene, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Jan 21, 2011 at 10:32 am

I walked along Main Street, yesterday, from Del Valle to Old Bernal at about 3:30 PM. This was quite a revelation. Not many people walking, so many run-down, closed properties, and just an atmosphere of a failing zone. And no less than three piles of dog feces. Not sure what the laws are, or what can be done about that, but a sign of the times, I guess.
We need a good urban planner, for sure.

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Posted by Maria, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Jan 21, 2011 at 6:18 pm

The only stores of interest (for me) are Towne Center Books, Heroes and Villains Comics, and the Berry Patch. One can only do so much clothing shopping/ eating in a single outing, after all, and I wasn't impressed by the last two downtown restaurants I went to...

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Lisa, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Jan 27, 2011 at 11:09 pm

A Crate and Barrel would be great....
a Crabtree and Evelyn...
A good Jewish or Italian Deli....
A Bakery.....
I love the Wine Steward..they are so helpful...and Our Towne Centre Books....That new Indian Restaurant is lovely...
bring the car show and parades back to Main Street too!

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Steve, a resident of Highland Oaks,
on Feb 3, 2011 at 7:04 pm

I went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and it is a great example of downtown revitalization. The old "head shops" and run down buildings were completely replaced by modern retail and dining. Yes this means chains. However, SLO was able to balance the new with the old and everyone benefitted. It is consistently rated one of the best downtowns in all of the U.S.

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