Building Character

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:

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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.

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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).

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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!

42 thoughts on “Building Character

  1. Pingback: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors | Walking Redwood City

  2. I have to chuckle at the previous reviews about what is missing downtown. You must be all newcomers to Redwood City. Yes, we desperately need stirs that cater to everyone. Redwood City had a great downtown: JCPenny, Montgomery Wards, Woolworths, Ben Franklin Five and Dime, See’s Candy, three clothing stores, two fabric stores, stationary store, two pharmacies, a bike shop, TV store, two shoe stores, pizza parlor, coffee shops, a great movie theatre. No fancy restaurants though. What happened? Malls and parking meters. The majority of residents have to drive to town, so they might as well drive a little further to a mall and free parking. Then all the businesses left, leaving us a dead downtown. It’s great to see Redwood City pulling itself back up.

    • Seems like most people like the hogepoge of little shops. Thats why most of the time I always went to Palo Alto. Well when the Federal and State governments started a requirement for Cities to have a 20,10, and 5 year plan and basically follow it. I think thats where the problem started. Add in the Reagionalism ( Plan Bay Area ) and “its” effects on Cities. Its anti Car/GHG agenda. The desire to have the European Village mindset. Created this thing your seeing now. Seams as though only big Developers can pay for what is wanted by the Citys Plan. My take is to let small shop owners develop it. Apple fits well on University Ave its big but small. Its a quality thats really hard to put into words. Maybe with all the other cities going “Big” RWC will outlast them with small shops. I hope so.

  3. I agree Orens Hummus(P.A.) or Village Hummus(San mateo) would be welcome. I’m just wondering if we could sustain a place like Orens off hours. I enjoy Mediterranean Delight (S. C) but would prefer something in Rwc. Falafel Tazah is good but quite a drive.

    • Hmmm, I can’t think of why Oren’s Hummus would be any more difficult to sustain here during “off hours” than any other restaurant? The one in Palo Alto is offers table service and a full menu. Wouldn’t all such restaurants be in the same boat with respect to what hours they can sustain?

      Yeah, too bad Falefel Tazah isn’t downtown instead of out in Redwood Shores. But then if they were downtown, they’d probably have to raise their prices to cover what I assume would be higher rent … but then they’d probably do a much higher volume too, so maybe that could offset the likely rent hike.

      • I just noticed that we are getting a new Mediterranean place at 2653 Broadway (and the next door storefront as well), next door to Ike’s Lair. The sign says:
        Zadna
        Coming Soon
        Mediterranean Food
        Fresh Bread * Falafel * Shawarma * Hummus * Kebab*
        Works for me!

      • It seems Paradise Kebab House at 2653 Broadway closed on November 22. I hadn’t really noticed since I had tried them a couple times and wasn’t wowed enough to put them on my “places I like to go eat” radar.

        Indeed, their website states (shouts?): “… STAY TUNED FOR A NEW RESTAURANT WITH NEW OWNERS WHO WILL TAKE OVER OUR ESTABLISHMENT, OFFERING REDWOOD CITY FOODIES A NEW OPTION IN TOWN.”

        OK, and so as a falafel wrap connoisseur, here’s to hoping the new Zadna is fantastic! That message posted on the storefront sounds like promising line-up.

  4. I heard downtown restaurants are flooded with Box employees today. I guess they’ve started the move-in process. It will be interesting to see how this goes … along with the effects of all the new housing units already in the pipeline coming on-line.

    Should provide a great customer base for all those additional shops and restaurants we’ve been talking about wanting for our downtown.

    • Yes! I was there at noon when the entire company (I think) came flooding out of the front doors. I think that in reality what I witnessed was a safety exercise; they all walked to courthouse square and then returned about 10 minutes later. But I got some great pictures that I’ll put in this week’s post.

  5. Yes an Apple Store would be the anchor downtown needs. Trouble is downtown is waiting for the “class” that money can’t buy. It just isn’t there, wish it was but it isn’t there. At least we don’t have storefront windows with medical cathiters,depends and bed pans anymore. Thats a step in the right direction.

  6. I would like more clothing stores for women and men. There are only 3 for women downtown – one expensive boutique, one consignment/used store, and the very small Brick Monkey Too. While I do like them I can only find a piece or two at these stores. I could never replenish or replace my wardrobe downtown (as I need to do after having a baby) and my husband wouldn’t be able to buy any clothes except for a t shirt at Captain’s. I think clothing retail would draw a lot of attention to our downtown especially when you consider the other nearby options – Stanford is very high end and very expensive and Hillsdale is a little depressing with so many empty store fronts and a building that is lacking in maintenance in places (dressing rooms and bathrooms for example).
    I also vote for a bakery!

    • I think that proper clothing stores is our primary need. I’d love an electronics store, too, although the relative proximity of Best Buy in San Carlos and the various stores in Palo Alto probably make our location undesirable for the electronics retailers. But an Apple Store would do wonders for our downtown, drawing first customers and then other retailers, I’m thinking…

      • Sorry; Apple’s bid is for Laurel St. in San Carlos. As far as the rumors go. But I believe them. Scuttlebut at Council meetings are good information on Deadwoods continueing failures.

      • Yeah, I’ve heard that rumor too. I’m very curious as to where they would put it. And until the store is in place we still have a chance to snatch it away. I’d love to see our City Council fight for it. Hey, I can dream… 😎

      • Greg, have you tried Mayfield Bakery bread? Their cranberry-walnut boules are amazing! Also, Acme Bread is very good. If you’re ever near Freestone (near Sebastopol), do not miss Wild Flour Bread and their wood fired brick oven bread bakery and gardens. We’re talking major bread porn here … so worth a major detour for bread heads!

      • Wow-you really know your bakeries! I’m drooling just looking at the pictures. I’ll be checking out Mayfield soon, since it isn’t terribly far away. The others I’ll just put on my list for when I’m in the areas. Thanks for these!

      • It’s going to be very difficult to compete with Wild Flour Bread…I’ve yet to make it home with an entire loaf still in one piece. It’s quite simply the best bread I’ve ever had. FYI they’re cash/check only if you every make the trek up north, well worth the detour. There’s a rumor floating around Mayfield Bakery is going to replace Woodside Bakery in Woodside. Given that the same management company owns the Village Pub and Mayfield I could see it happening…as long as it isn’t another XYZ investment firm…

        As for downtown RC, like many others mentioned more clothing options would be great. I wouldn’t mind a trendy furniture store aimed towards apartment/urban living…CB2, West Elm, EQ3, etc. West Elm isn’t going to happen given their location in Palo Alto…but I could see a CB2 being attracted to the area.

      • Furniture – that’s a good idea, especially with all the apartments that are going in. Also, I’d love to see a Hallmark store, although I may just be showing my age… 😎

  7. I’d love a ramen place, another brunch place (we went to Bill’s in Palo Alto over the weekend – it would be perfect for RWC) and personally, I’d LOVE an oren’s hummus – it’s a favorite mediterranean place of mine. But as you said, we have a lot of restaurants. I think a drugstore that’s truly downtown vs Sequoia, more boutique gift shops, a florist (do we even have a florist downtown??) and green space. I’d also love to cut the trees back at bit on Broadway – they make it so dark!

    • Good suggestions! I’d love a new Indian Buffet place… And my wife and I regularly go to San Carlos for gyros; I would much rather be getting those in Redwood City. I’ve never even heard of “Back A Yard”; I need to check that one out!

      • Would your San Carlos gyros be at Mediterranean Delite … or where?

        I like my falafel wraps made with lavash (vs pita) and plenty of fresh tasty veggies … and I just had an excellent one at Mardini’s on Willow @ Gilbert in Menlo Park … an unlikely seeming place not far from Back A Yard on Willow @ Newbridge, an excellent little “hole in the wall” place serving a variety of delicious Caribbean-style “jerk” (seasoning) meat dishes.

  8. I vote for fresh baked bread done in a traditional French style. Good Middle Eastern/Mediterranean would be welcome. Ramen would also be something that would be fun to have near downtown.

  9. There are plenty of things that are missing in downtown redwood city:

    Ice cream shop that makes their own ice cream
    Infrastructure for all those new units: Grocery store including Asian grocery
    Flagship store to bring more shops downtown and little shops to support – brick monkey isn’t enough of a draw for people to say I want to shop here. For instance – bigger name women’s shop to draw people in (Ann Taylor loft – missing in mid pen area) then bring in a kitchen/cooking store
    Brewery/restaurant

    • I know exactly what you mean. Redwood City has managed to screw things up for at least 60 years. Would you believe Standford Shopping center bid on the old Diamond Shamrock Chemical Co. (now Foods Co. or older QFI) RWC said no. More up to date, The Hilton Hotel at the Movie and Old Spaghetti Factory. Its going to go down like this. San Carlos (voted the #2 snootiest city) that at the present time, the citizens are fighting to keep out the stores you mentioned. Will loose because of the fee’s (read Bribes) San Carlos will get. There by going to San Carlos and Laurel Avenues. Redwood City loosing out again, and we all continue to shop in San Carlos instead of Deadwood as usual.

      • I would rather see independant stores, not chains. I hope Redwood City does not go down the “generic” path. This is probably the time to consider limits on chains, as San Carlos is doing. Burlingame regrets what happened on Burlingame Ave.. I was living in the upper Haight neighborhood (San Fran.) about ten years ago when the limits on chains went in…they make a huge, positive difference in character and affordability for shop keepers and neighbors: better variety, more interesting (and better cared for) storefronts, etc..

    • I agree that having some sort of flagship store would go a long ways to driving more foot traffic. Target is currently trying to expand their smaller scale urban stores. Their current RWC location on el camino is pretty old…I’d love to see them move downtown.

      • I’m not so sure big-box Target is good for a healthy independent downtown retail environment. It’s really tough for the smaller mom & pop independents to compete with the likes of Target, WalMart and Costco on price. I’m thinking big-box is best kept on the periphery where they can have their acres of parking for the park-n-shop value shopper set.

    • I’m not paid at all. And I don’t work for anyone right now. I’m just a concerned citizen who wants to improve our city and who wants to try to mitigate any traffic problems we may get from the influx of new residents.

      • I suggest you read up on Plan Bay Area. The City follows this hook line and sinker. The goal is “No Cars” what so ever. They are the cause of Polution and YOU don’t need one. You are to take Public Transportation and thats it, period. All parking problems are solved by not needing cars. So in the end it will become more and more difficult to find a parking spot downtown. Its all designed and promoted for walking to everything. I know it sounds convoluted but GHG is the draconian ruler here and its going to take place wether you, I or anyone else likes it or not.

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