Single Gal and Shopping

Where is a Single Gal to go if she wants to walk and shop?  I know we are a suburb—with malls and mini-malls galore—but where is our downtown shopping?  Where is our Union Square?  They have bums and homeless people there too, but they also have big-time shops and street performers and it all works together in one place.  Why don’t we try to create something like that now in San Jose?

No one is allowed to bring up the failed Pavilion Shops as a reason not to have retail downtown.  That reason is old and tired, and this was a very different city back then.  Why can’t we have it all here?  Fountain Alley, which is supposed to be the center of the downtown, could so easily be turned into a great street of shops and become a real destination.  With a few changes, a beautiful street, made from what is now a strip of boarded-up buildings, could be just what San Jose needs. (Are the subsidies just reserved for chain restaurants?) 

Then there is San Carlos Street.  What is now a haven for second-hand clothes shops and tattoo parlors could be our own Melrose Ave.  The area needs a higher density of shops and to be made walker-friendly, and then it will need to be publicized. You have heard it before as these aren’t new ideas, but it seems that good ideas are there and, with a little energy spent on implementation, things can be changed for the better—and rather easily. 

I understand that most good neighborhoods are organically created—like Willow Glen and Los Gatos—but that is not happening in downtown San Jose.  Santana Row was man-made, so why not take some great streets that already have character, feeling and an infrastructure and give them that boost they need to become better?

I feel like the same issues get brought up again and again, and the only thing City Hall is doing about bringing retail to downtown is paying for one expensive study after another.  And this Single Gal doesn’t have that much time to wait.




  1. Gal,  I agree and have said here before that W. San Carlos, roughly between Meridian and Bascom, is a Melrose Avenue waiting to happen.  It’s been waiting way too long, but since this isn’t the creative community that Los Angeles is, I suspect that wait is going to continue indefinitely. 

    I think part of the problem is that a good portion of this street runs through unincorporated county pockets.  So it’s not just SJ’s decision to promote and/or sink money into this type of business district, and we already know the Supes are useless. 

    Another part of the problem is that we don’t have any creativity in retailing like LA does.  The people who would open a shop like what’s typically found on Melrose simply don’t live here in greater suburbia, and neither do enough people who would patronize such a business.  No way any trendy or cutting edge shop will ever be a success when you’ve got soccer moms & dads with Disney references on their license plate frames as the bulk of your potential clientele.  This kind of simpleton SJ demographic that thinks Target is trendy truly is the major reason why shopping in this town is a crashing bore. 

    And Fountain Alley is far too logical.  Our horribly misguided re-do agency would rather spend our tax dollars creating a false Fountain Alley scene via the CIM group a couple blocks to the south.

  2. I like the ideas, but unfortunately the San Carlos = Melrose idea would be very hard to pull off.  Like Mark said, the streets may look similar but the Burbank area is not Los Feliz.  LA attracts the type of person who would hangout on Melrose.  SJ does not.  I wouldn’t say one is better than the other, they’re just different.

    As for downtown shopping, that will remain to be seen.  Nothing will change until all the residential buildings are up and running.  Then if things reach a tipping point more businesses would be attracted. 

    It is kind of a sad state of affairs when yahoo and google both run free shuttles for all their employees to get to and from SF every day where they spend all of their money after work.

  3. This is The Capital of Silicon Valley.
    For shopping we: 1) point. 2) click.

    Seriously, a revitalized West San Carlos Street would make a lot of sense. It’s already a wide street linking major freeways. It also connects Downtown with it’s nemesis Satan’s Row. Acres of retail space and parking are already there and the whole sorry mess is just screaming for redevelopment. Best of all it’s home to a couple of my favorite San Jose businesses: Mel Cotton’s Sporting Goods and The Falafal Drive In.

    But as Mark T. points out the City/County issues are bound to get in the way. If those folks can’t agree on where to build a money-losing theatre what are the chances they could collaborate on a mutually beneficial shopping district that would generate millions in tax revenues?

    It would make too much sense for local government.

  4. The area along San Carlos mentioned is mostly County and that might not be a bad thing. It is refered to as the Burbank district and you ca bet that if it were to become a “destination” San Jose would be drooling to annex it for its tax value. Then they’ed have Barry Swanson build some Moscow Housing and extend light rail as far as Shasta (yeah about half way, as usual) which would guarantee that nobody would go there.

    Another great location would be Alum Rock just east of 101. There is an interesting mix of stores there now. The area was originally Portuguese and slowly became Hispanic. Now I am seeing Asian stores. What a great admixture of cultures to encourage growth.

    Fountain Alley has far to many drug dealers for my taste. Think they would just go away if there were more people. Expanding the customer base comes to mind.. But no sales tax revenue.

  5. Agree with Mark T. here.  Seems in this city and in Silicon Valley we are programmed to do our shopping in a big shopping mall (Oakridge, Eastridge, Valley Fair/Santana Row) or any of the random strip malls found around here.  That programming has been ingrained into many people here frm my observation since the Dutch Hanman days of the 1950’s. 

    With all of its expansive, free parking lots and free access it is a prime reason why public transit in the Valley has historically not been as successful as areas like San Francisco – areas with high density that have always built around buses and trolleys.  It’s quite the opposite in the Valley; we build malls and then fit (often poorly) bus routes around those malls.  The bus stop location at Eastridge Mall – about 1000 feet from the nearest main entrance – is a good example.  Contrast this to San
    Francisco, where buses stop at or near the front door or corner of stores like Old Navy and Macy’s.  Even the Capitola Mall has the main transit center just steps from its front entrance, with signs in the mall pointing you to the bus stop.

    I am speaking as someone who lives within a 10-minute walk of the Capitola Mall, who works in Santa Clara, and does all shopping either in Capitola Mall or in San Francisco itself.  And in San Francisco, I can get good clothing selection and do other specialized shopping I cant get in the town of San Jose.  I only spend money in the Vallley only when absolutely necessary.

    In the end we need to elect local leadership who encourages smaller, mom-and-pop businesses to do business in San Jose and in Silicon Valley.  Such leadership needs to show smaller businesses the same enthusiams in doing business here as they would large chain stores.  By accepting “useless” leadership at the city and county level, we are saying we want everything in the city and in this Valley to be bland, and to never see its potential.

  6. I would love to have a Santana Row-esque atmosphere in downtown San Jose to shop in, but to be fair, I don’t actually “shop” at Santana Row—I just eat and walk around.  A lot of those stores always seem empty.  Does anyone know how well the retail parts of Santana Row are actually doing?

  7. One has to understand the problem before it can be fixed and SJ’s problem is not easily recognizable. It’s the old NIH (not invented here) factor that shows up all over the place. If someone else has done it, we don’t take advantage of that creativity, we spend more money on studies to re-invent a solution. Many examples are around yet we keep doing the same thing. Maybe, the only way to change is to take the purse away!

  8. I usaually go to Valley Fair or The GreatMall to shop; its very convenient. On occasion I’ll go to Santana Row for Urban Outfitters or Crate and Barrell.  I don’t really care to go to San Francisco to shop, unless I was looking for some wierd, wacky, zainy gift, then I know I’d find it in there.  I’ll never go to Los Gatos or Palo Alto to shop..cuz there really isn’t any reason to.  But I’d have to admit, they do have alot of those cute specialty shops and ambiance of the whole area is great.  That would be nice if we had that along the way on Santa Clara Street.

  9. Max, considering the prices for merchandise at SR, I doubt any of those high-end stores have to make very many sales to survive.

    I cruised through the shops there once.  In one store I picked up a pair of boxer shorts and saw that they were priced at $100.  Even Tommy Bahama doesn’t charge that much.

    I knew on the spot that any money I would be inclined to spend at SR going forward would be on food or a movie and not on clothing.

    I think a lot of other people are taking this same approach so we’ll have to see how the retailing piece plays out.

    Gelvey, you are so right about light rail to Shasta Ave.  Good one!

  10. Let’s face it and face the reality all at ones!  Downtown will never ever be a small shopping destination because that’s not the nature of current downtown personality.  It may have only 4 stores in the next 10 years, but that’s ok because downtown will certainly not go away.  The new city hall is astounding along the with HP Pavillion and Martin Luther King Jr library.  Don’t forget the lavish Fairmont and the Tech.  The California theater is also nice.  I really enjoy the Camera 12 cinema.  You see, there are alot of things to enjoy in the downtown area.  First St. is very pretty, lined up with enteresting businesses. On a hot summer day, you should hang out by Guadalupe River Park and for the evening, hang out at the Smoke lounge.  Now, that’s plenty of things to do, so forget about it being a shopping destination.  Our Union Square is Cesear Chavez Park in front of the Fairmont with very few bums.  Downtown is cool and chic!

  11. Max –

    My sister went to Santana Row and tried to shop at Theory, a high end women’s store and they left.  I think St Johns and one other high end store are also going out of business. I think we’ll find that Santana Row will soon be restaurants.

  12. Actually single gal, I’ve always thought that The Alameda could be transformed easily into our version of Melrose.  The Alameda already has “good bones”…It’s flanked on the west by the Rose Garden neighborhood and the east by the Arena/downtown urban housing.

  13. Why do you (single gal) always bring up Santana Row?  Downtown San Jose is not Santana Row, San Francisco, Los Angeles or anyplace other than Downtown San Jose…Shopping in Downtown San Jose is not going to work until the Gap is willing to place a store in the core.

  14. Tony D –

    Another great idea!  We can all see the potential, I just don’t know why an effort isn’t make neighborhoods or streets that have the “bones” into real destinations…

  15. Max, Mark T, Gal, the same merchandise being sold at the high end stores, eg Tommy Bahama, Ferragamo, Cole Haan, etc. are also being sold across the street at Macy’s and Nordstroms at a lot less price.  My theory is that these stores in Santana Row are there just as a showcase and not to really out to compete or make money.  Their department stores sales take care of that.

  16. Tony D, you are right that The Alameda connects two key areas that would provide shoppers.  This stretch has had its low points, but has never gone totally dead.  Heck, I remember the first Cost Plus in town was right there next to the TraveLodge back in the 60’s.  Sure would be nice to have stores like that located there again.  Andy’s Pet Shop has survived there for decades.  It’s a viable commercial zone.  No storefronts or offices there remain empty for very long.

    The Alameda takes more work to get across than Melrose if you like to jaywalk, but other than that it could provide a similar experience.  Since it’s the state’s main drag, diagonal crosswalks probably would hold up too much traffic, and since it’s a state highway, CalTrans probably wouldn’t consider them.

    I always felt that the old Falstaff brewery was a perfect candidate for adaptive re-use, like SF did with The Cannery and Ghiradelli Square, and many more enlightened communities have done with similar old industrial buildings.  It would have been an interesting retail center where people could spend a good chunk of their time and money.  And there would have been parking too!  Of course, the shops would be mainstream but I think it would have been a successful endeavor.  Instead we have a sterile apartment complex and a few convenience businesses, punctuated by the ubiquitous corner Starbucks scene that’s being repeated all over the planet. 

    West San Carlos has a funk about it that makes it perfect for a Melrose type environment.  This likely stems from the fact that it’s mainly County territory.  How fun it would be if the arty types took advantage of the relatively cheap rents for housing and storefronts and invaded Burbank.  Maybe what’s needed is for the gay community to start buying/renting in Burbank.  That’s practically a guarantee that Burbank would become a desirable area and that its business district would take the trendy turn towards a more Melrose type of experience.  Take the success story a little further and you’re spilling down Bascom Ave to City College, more interesting shops could move in there and it even has a theater, the pefect anchor for the whole scene, that’s waiting to be rescued.  What a hopping part of town this could be, and a great alternative to the drudgery of the nearby mega-mall scene.

  17. I recently moved to San Jose, and to the Newhall/Alameda neighborhood just a month ago. I’m struck by the complete lack of ordinary shops and services that I was so spoiled by back in Washington, DC—even undistinctive major chains. Just today, I tried to find a place to get my hair cut anywhere near here. I’d have to drive at least 3 miles. Want a steak at Outback? Nowhere near here, the closest is at least 8 miles outside the city core. Heck, even going to a McDonalds means a long drive—the closest is less than a mile away, but because of the railroad tracks and roads that don’t connect. I must drive into Santa Clara and then loop back to get there.
    It just seems that all the retail, grocery, and services are concentrated way outside the center of the city, leaving arenas, theatres, and high $$ restaurants downtown.
    When I do go downtown for an evening, I’m struck at how many cars are parked there. Where are all those people? Are they not enough to sustain a more vibrant downtown? What about all the condos and the like there, one of which I nearly bought? Where do they buy groceries, get their hair cut, or get a cheap burger?
    There is one street downtown—I don’t know the history of it, but it is populated by old, empty storefronts. And entire street, abandoned, but with light rail running down it! Why in the world doesn’t the city establish an “Old Town San Jose” area and get some merchants in there?

  18. I picked up a taxi fare that wanted to go up to San Francisco for lunch. Actually she said, “The City.” As I waited for her to finish her dim sum, in a restaurant on a little alley of a street, I sat with my head back while a street musician played “Ruby” on his sax.  My thoughts? I’m not in San Jose anymore! There was magic in the air.

    Where is our magic? Seattle has Pike Place Market, San Antonio has the River Walk. San Jose has? What? We do have some hilariously funny looking public art. I’m not sure if what we need is a department store or maybe we just need some magic.

  19. Hang on everyone.  I have high hopes for downtown – shopping districts and all.

    It is going to take some time, but the impact of downtown residential developments is beginning to have an effect – just wait for a couple years when all of the planned highrise product is finished – then we can start talking about retail, or action, or real “districts”…It will be well worth the wait!

  20. Gene- that abandoned street is First St.  It is the same one that Fed up blogger calls a pretty street lined up with interesting businesses.  I guess beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.  Sigh.

  21. Novice 23

    “And then we’ll need to spend zillions more to keep the downtown businesses afloat until the construction is completed”

    This has never happened in regards to transportation.  And it not in the plans for the bart construction.  The city and VTA will literally throw the small businesses under a bus; and what few we have will go out of business during contruction.

  22. All the Alameda needs is palm trees, lots of palm trees.

    If they’re going to move them, the might as well move them there. It’s only 81-181 thousand dollars. Gosh WE can afford that, can’t we?

  23. Gal, Newhall & The Alameda is a SJ intersection.  A couple of blocks further up The Alameda is where you enter Santa Clara. 

    Gene, I grew up near Hedding & The Alameda.  That whole area did at one time have the types of businesses you’re seeking.  Park & Naglee had everything, including a fountain, deli, antique shop, bakery, hair salon, 6 chair barber shop, shoe repair, grocery store, liquor store, women’s sportswear, hardware, pharmacy, record shop and two gas stations! These businesses slowly started to disappear beginning in the 60’s and most got completely wiped out when the old center on one side of Park was torn down and rebuilt in the mid-70’s.  At this point only the pharmacy remains in its 3rd reincarnation, along with a sewing store that has taken up most of the storefronts across from the pharmacy. 

    This type of convenient neighborhood retail center is tough to find anymore anywhere in SJ.  Developers were allowed to push them all over and replace them with either a sterile strip mall with fewer options, or as in the most recent project at Park & Naglee, with mainly condo’s and single family homes.  And that’s sad.

  24. “I think DSJ will have a completely different look/feel to it once the full impact of high-rise residential is felt.”

    Substitute “the average citizen’s wallet” for “DSJ” and you’ll be closer to the mark.

    And then they start the digging up of the downtown for BART. 
    And then we need to be patient for several more years whilst the city is gutted once again.
    And then we’ll need to spend zillions more to keep the downtown businesses afloat until the construction is completed.
    And then…

    Haven’t we been here before again and again already?

  25. West San Carlos must really be the in thing these days since the homeless, transients, bums, or watchamacallits are already out in force over there.  When you gas up at that 76 station on WSC and Bird,it is rare that you don’t get approached by one with a story weaved to squeeze a buck from you.  Sometimes, the approach is more direct. But when they ask you for money you decline, no matter how politely, you get a bunch of expletives back.  There’s also quite a few of them at the corner of Lincoln Ave. and at Midtown Safeway.  Surprisingly, only a few of them make it down to the Willow Glen shopping area.  However, if you take an early Sunday morning walk, you’ll find plenty of evidence of them there.

    I understand that we have to be compassionate to the less fortunate.  Compassion however seems to be the hardest emotion to bring out when you are harassed, threatened, or simply disgusted by the behavior of some of these people.

  26. The Alameda is downtown’s best hope for revitalization, even though it is some distance from the city core.  I hate to admit it but Starbucks on the Alameda has actually put some life into Hanchet Park and downtown.  It acutally supports two decent bakeries nearby. As for the rest of downtown and retail, it will come to fruition, slowly but in time.  Afer having spent some time looking around at downtown L.A. I would say that we have a great thing going on here in San Jose!  BTW Melrose is kinda of dirty and gross anyway.

  27. Has anyone been to Quincy Market in Boston?  Now that place was awsome.. 

    Gene, are you sure Newhall and The Alameda isn’t in Santa Clara?

  28. I totally agree with you Joseph P.!  I think DSJ will have a completely different look/feel to it once the full impact of high-rise residential is felt.  Personally, I would like to see more loft/condo developments similar to Mariani Square (J Town) or the new Centex 51/Cannary lofts.  I think such low-rise, loft/condo developments would be great for W. San Carlos and The Alameda.  It’s going to take some time (as well as a new CH administration) and we should all be patient.

  29. I went to eat at the super taqueria on 10th street last week and some homeless dude was sitting outside and asked me for money.. I said are you hungry and he said “Hell yeah I’m hungry”.  So I gave him a taco.  There was no “Thank You!” or even any hint of appreciation.  Maybe next time I should say “Get a Job”….

  30. Girl, they’re not taking any of the palm trees out, they are just relocating some of them.  But they shouldn’t even be doing that.  The route for the race is a disaster for the cars themselves.  They were going airborne over the trolley tracks last year.  They could easily change the route, still showcasing the downtown, and avoid the trolley tracks and the section of Park Av where the palms supposedly need to be moved out of the divider.  But no, they’re going to create a mish-mash palmscape along Park Av that’s going to look crappy.  Palm trees and symetry tend to go hand in hand in the landsaping world.  But it’s been decided that for race action that takes up a few days out of the year, we the citizens get to look at the mess on Park Av the other 360 or so days.  We’ve got some real geniuses running the show in this town, I swear.  I predict that once the palms have been moved, the race is going to quit SJ and leave the Park Av mess in its wake.  That’s the type of treatment this town is famous for receiving.  Why should we think it will be any different in this situation?

  31. Sounds like maybe there is growing opposition to moving the trees.  Whether this group gets stopped cold by the out of control City Hall steamroller remains to be seen.

    Mr. Daye you could not be more correct with your use of the term “desperation” to describe this town’s decision making process. 

    Now this disgustingly misguided group has gone global with their desperation by including the “claim of the lame,” (10th largest U.S. City) on the SJ logo.  Talk about desperate!

  32. The other desperate slogan:

    Safest Big City in America

    Come downtown any weekend night or during day for that matter and you see otherwise.

    We are the safest suburb in america.

  33. No question, the palm tree mess is and will be a debacle. Once again SJ shows its desperation—we’ll do anything just to be popular and maybe we’ll get picked again. It’s a sad state in SJ.
    And how many of the trees do you think will survive the “relocation?” If you recall, when the trees first were “installed”, many did not survive that and had to be replaced. At least then the city had a replacement guarantee. Who do you think is going to pay to replace dead trees this time???

  34. I agree with Tony d (Jan 24th) it would be nice to have more developments like the lofts at Mariani Square.  For this it is important to identify convertible old industrial buildings for this pupose, and save them before they are all torn down. These buldings are the essence of the old San Jose, the center of a prosperous farming community.