Happy Thanksgiving! I hope everyone had a nice turkey day, ideally spent with family or friends. My wife and kids and I had Thanksgiving with my parents, my siblings, and their families. In all, there were thirty of us this year. We spent a lot of time shopping for the Big Day, making repeated trips to various supermarkets first to get the things we needed, and later to get the things we forgot. I’m extremely thankful that I live in a place where I can just run to the store and (usually) get whatever it is I need. It’s easy to take such convenience for granted; Thanksgiving is a good time to stop and give thought to all we have, and to all that some others don’t.
Oh—and I’m thankful that the construction fences around the Crossing 900 (the “Box buildings”) are finally down!
Getting back to shopping, I was interested to read in The Daily Journal that our northern neighbor, the City of San Carlos, has passed an ordinance that makes it somewhat tougher for chain stores to get established downtown. The City Council unanimously passed the ordinance in an effort to “preserve historic downtown core’s current charm and mix of locally owned businesses.” I’ve thought for some time now that San Carlos is indeed in danger of losing a lot of its charm due to the influx of chain stores. I don’t think that Redwood City is necessarily in the same boat, but we should remain vigilant. We’ve been blessed with a number of independent restaurants and retailers, which give Redwood City its special character.
Recently, Check, Please! Bay Area aired segments highlighting two of the restaurants that make Redwood City special: Aly’s on Main, and La Viga (click the links to watch the two shows in which those restaurants were reviewed on your computer, your tablet, or smartphone). In both cases the restaurants came off well, which is no surprise to me: my wife and I enjoy and happily patronize both. If you’ve never been to La Viga—a sister restaurant to the more upscale LV Mar—don’t be put off by its rather casual appearance. While it looks a lot like a taqueria, the seafood-focused Latin cuisine that comes out of Chef Miguel’s kitchen is decidedly upscale. Check out their menu, watch the corresponding Check, Please! episode, and consider making a reservation. La Viga is located at 1772 Broadway Street (just below Maple). Aly’s, on the other hand, is at 911 Main Street, sandwiched between The Striped Pig and The Patty Shack. They have a seasonal menu that is made up entirely of sustainable local and organic ingredients. Make a reservation and give them a try: Chef Michael will insure that you have a great time.
Recently my wife and I were driving down El Camino Real when out of the corner of her eye she saw a shiny silver Airstream trailer parked at the Chevron station just below Woodside Road. “What’s that?” she asked me as we sailed on by. I hadn’t noticed it; I had been concentrating on my driving. She said it seemed to be a business of some sort: that it wasn’t just any old Airstream trailer. Later that day we went back by, and decided to stop in and check it out. Here is what we saw:
Most days of the week they are at the Chevron in Redwood City, but they also spend a day or two each week in Palo Alto. As the signs show, iBar Express is an “eyebrow threading” business: it is a simple technique for shaping your eyebrows. My wife decided on the spot to give them a try, and was very pleased with the result: pleased enough that she plans to use them again. This is one small business that is thinking outside the box, cleverly getting around the high costs of renting retail space.
In a comment to my last post, Keeping Score, reader Ron noted that Mountain Mike’s (the pizza place on El Camino Real at Finger Avenue) was moving. Another reader, “Reality Check”, asked where they were going and then answered his own question: 1.2 miles up the street, to 774 El Camino Real, in San Carlos. Their new home used to house Pudley’s Tavern and Grill, a well-regarded burger/beer joint. Curious I walked over there the other day to see what was up. I learned that Mountain Mike’s has already moved, although if you look into their old location it appears that they simply locked up and left: the chairs and tables, plus the video games that used to flank the front entrance, are still there. It appears that they stayed in operation right up until the new location was built and furnished, and then one day they simply slapped a “we’ve moved” sign on the old location and opened up the new place. I next went by their new location (which is right next door to the Leslie’s Pool Supplies on El Camino, if you know where that is) and saw employees tossing pizza dough in preparation for the day. The new location is a little smaller, but a lot cleaner and nicer than their old one. I’m not sure that the video games will be moving; it doesn’t appear that they have the room. But based on the signs I saw, they still seem to be encouraging sports teams to drop by after their games.
Although my wife and I stopped ordering pizza from Mountain Mike’s years ago (we have found a couple of places we like even better, and so have switched our allegiance), I know that they have a loyal following (and there are those sports teams!) so I’m glad that they’ve moved, and not simply closed. As for Mountain Mike’s former location, I haven’t yet found any evidence that the property has been sold; as far as I can tell, it is still owned by a San Carlos resident. I wouldn’t be surprised if it eventually gets bought by the developer of the next-door property, 150 El Camino Real, where twelve townhouse-style condominiums are being built. I could envision a “phase 2” that results in the entire length of the block along El Camino being covered with townhomes. But perhaps the owner of the A-frame style building that used to house Mountain Mike’s simply plans to find a new tenant for the old stone-and-wood covered building: I’ll keep an eye on the place and let you know if anything develops.
We are fortunate to live in a city that can supply most of our needs; the vast majority of the shopping that my wife and I do, we do within the city limits. There will always be certain specialty items that we need to go elsewhere for, but with few exceptions we can get what we need right here in Redwood City. For instance, my wife gets her shoes repaired at Cinderella Shoe Service on Woodside Road, which is a tad over two miles from our house. We happily patronize Ralph’s Vacuum & Sewing Center in downtown Redwood City, taking in both our vacuum cleaner and sewing machines whenever they get repaired. And we increasingly shop for meat at Gambrel & Co. on Main Street (near the intersection with Broadway).
Downtown Redwood City has some wonderful retailers, but we need more of them. I’ve been thinking about what we are missing, and what types of retailers the city should try to lure downtown. Imagine that you are living in one of the new apartments down there. What things can you do and get simply by walking? We’re in pretty good shape as far as restaurants go, I think. And entertainment: between the Century Theatres, the Fox Theatre, the Little Fox, and the Dragon Theater—not to mention the summertime entertainment that the city puts on in Courthouse Square—there is plenty to do only a short walk away. Grocery-wise, considering that Sequoia Station and the Whole Foods Market are both within the Downtown Precise Plan area, you would be in pretty good shape.
If you like books, as I do, you can easily walk to Barnes and Noble, for new books, and Encore Books (under the San Mateo County History Museum) for used. Personally I’d like to see more, but I recognize that I might be a bit of an outlier here.
Clothing-wise, you would be in fairly good shape if you are female: places like Brick Monkey Squared and Pickled Clothing are great (according to my wife, anyway). But I’m having a hard time thinking of where you’d shop if you were male: I shop at Men’s Warehouse, which is too far afield for most to walk, and Kohl’s, whch is closer but still not really close enough for most to walk to.
Need to clean those clothes? There are laundromats and dry cleaning establishments within a fairly easy walk. Need to fix something around the house? Orchard and Hassett Hardware are both too far away; a hardware store of sorts within the downtown area would be nice.
Having the essential retailers within easy walk of those who live within our downtown means that they won’t have to drive, which will not only help to keep our roads a bit clearer, it will also keep our parking lots free for those of us who live outside the immediate area. By filling out the retail picture downtown, even those of us who live outside the immediate area can park downtown and do a lot of our shopping without having to move our cars. This extra convenience would draw more people downtown and get them walking our downtown streets, which means more foot traffic for all of the downtown retailers. Which is surely what our civic leaders both want and need, right?
The array of retailers is an important factor in shaping the character of our downtown and thus, to outside visitors, our city. What retailers do you think our downtown needs? Submit a comment with your opinions. And help Redwood City build character!