I’ve been thinking a lot about retail lately. For one, I’m still thinking about that presentation on downtown retail and hotels given to the City Council at their August 28 meeting (I wrote about that presentation in my last post, Going, Going, Gone!). It still has me thinking about what kind of retail environment Redwood City should strive to develop. Some time ago, while doing some historical research at the downtown branch of our public library (in the Local History Room—it’s a tremendous resource for anyone trying to track down specific details of Redwood City’s history) I stumbled across the following, taken from Polk’s Redwood City Directory, 1959:
Retail Trade: Redwood City holds an enviable retail business position in comparison with the twelve other cities of San Mateo County, on a per capita basis. Redwood City has become an outstanding medium-price shopping district. Both the cause and the effect of this development are reflected in the establishment in this community of many nationally known retail organizations, which tends to draw business from an extensive trade area. Redwood City’s “Quality Market” index is 130% or 30% above the national average.
I’m not sure what our “Quality Market” index is these days—or whether that is a metric that anyone even uses any more—but I’m not sure that Redwood City can be classified as an “outstanding medium-price shopping district” these days. Certainly, when compared with some of the other cities within San Mateo County (there are a total of twenty, now, incidentally), we aren’t attracting many “nationally known retail organizations.” But the question is: should we be? Do we want to compete directly with our sister cities, such as San Mateo, that have large shopping malls? And with malls such as Hillsdale Shopping Center, Bridgepointe Shopping Center, and Stanford Shopping Center so close by, major retailers may not even be willing to come to Redwood City. Thus, it does seem as if we should instead focus on building an eclectic mix of smaller, mostly independent retailers. Retailers such as Gelb Music, Brick Monkey (and their sister store, Brick Monkey Squared), Pomegranate Seeds, or Véloro Bicycles, just to name a few.
Speaking of Brick Monkey, if you’ve been downtown recently you are probably aware that they are having a “moving sale.” Why are they moving? Apparently because the building was sold to a new owner, who raised the rents. I was told that a bank will be moving into Brick Monkey’s current location at the corner of Winslow and Broadway. As for where Brick Monkey will be moving to, when I last talked to one of the business’s owners I was told that they hadn’t chosen a new location yet. Unfortunately some of their best options are not within Redwood City—San Carlos is a possibility—but it seems that the owners of the business really want to remain in Redwood City. They may be hanging their hopes on a retail space that doesn’t yet exist: apparently it is in one of the projects proposed for Main Street.
Having Brick Monkey on Main would provide a great boost for retail on that street, which would be great. Brick Monkey seems exactly the type of independent merchant that Redwood City needs, and thus the City should do all in its power to keep them right here in Redwood City. Since they came to Redwood City co-owner Stephanie Kolkka has taken an active interest in the workings of the city: she has spoken on various topics during the public comment portion of our City Council meetings.
To their credit, our City Council has made some efforts toward preserving and encouraging downtown retail by requiring that essentially all street-level storefronts along portions of Broadway and Main Street be dedicated to retail (there are some exceptions; for instance, existing non-retail uses are “grandfathered in” as long as they continue to meet certain conditions). That doesn’t mean that the entire ground floor of those buildings must only be retail, however: in some cases a portion of the building behind the retail space can be used for other purposes, as can the upper floors. And part of the frontage can be used to provide access to those non-retail spaces. Because a landlord can usually get more rent, on a per-square-foot basis, for offices than they can get for retail, we’re seeing an increase in the number of formerly all-retail spaces that are being turned into mostly office space with a small retail presence along the sidewalk.
There are three such spaces side-by-side on Broadway, across from City Pub. One, which fronts the office space currently occupied security firm Avast, is being fitted out to sell ice cream. Next door, the old Goetz Bros. Sporting Goods space is also being turned into office in back, retail in front. Back in July a reader let on that a wine shop may be going in to that spot. The third space, next to the old Goetz Bros. store, is again being reconfigured as retail in front, office in the rear (and above). This space most recently was the home to TechWorld, a technology retail and repair shop; before that it was Mariela’s Bridal Boutique. I have yet to hear what might go into that retail space, but the project is still in its early days. At this point it seems that the demolition is largely done, and construction is just about to get underway:
For some reason the sight of that truck parked in there just tickles me.
Other mixed-used projects are proposed for Main Street. And the building that is going to be built at the corner of Jefferson and Broadway, where until recently the Powerhouse Gym operated, is also going to be office upstairs, with a large retail space at the ground level. I’ve been watching that building for some time now, and was pretty sure that just as soon as Powerhouse Gym completed their move, the contractors would swoop in and tear down the old building. Indeed, that turned out to be the case. Construction fences went up in front (on Jefferson) and behind the building right away. Last Tuesday plywood walls were erected to block off the parking spaces and sidewalk along the Broadway side of the building, presumably to create a space for demolition debris and equipment:
A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post (“A Modest Proposal,” in March 2015) that made a case for closing parts of Broadway to vehicular traffic, turning it into a pedestrian mall much like the one block of Theatre Way in front of the Century Theaters building. To do research for that particular post, I slowly walked Broadway from the Caltrain tracks to Main Street, writing down the number of parking spaces in each block and the shops that were there at that time. At the time I was more focused on the number of parking spaces that would be lost if the street was closed to cars, but I noted all of the shops and other businesses so that I could consider how they might be affected by the lack of vehicular traffic.
Although it wasn’t my intention at the time, that list has proven to be useful for this post: this week I printed it out and walked the same route again, noting the differences between what we had 2-1/2 years ago, and what we have now. While the changes aren’t drastic—generally there are just a couple of changed stores in each block—I’m encouraged by the fact that storefronts that were empty back then have been filled, and the changes are mostly like-for-like: where we’ve lost restaurants we’ve gained new ones, and where we’ve lost retail shops we’ve gained others. For instance, the small space at the corner of Marshall and Broadway was empty back then (it formerly had been a hair salon); today it is Kristie Marie’s, a wonderful breakfast and lunch place. And the spot where the very popular Philz Coffee is today was empty, but under construction, back in early 2015.
In 2015, the highly acclaimed “New Kapadokia Turkish Restaurant” stood at the corner of Broadway and Winslow. Today, after a long recovery from a disastrous fire, the then next-door “Broadway Masala Indian Cuisine” has expanded into the space.
The largest number of changes over the last two years have occurred between Jefferson and Main Street:
- “Yokohama Japanese Bistro” has vacated their space between “Talk of Broadway” and “May’s Vietnamese Restaurant,” moving further down the street. This space is currently being reworked for an unknown business.
- “Cafe Zöe,” a coffee place, has been superseded by “Comebuy,” a bubble tea place.
- “Grooming with TLC” (a pet salon) is now “Origins Juicery.”
- Powerhouse Gym has moved, and the building is being replaced by a multi-story office building (with retail on the ground floor).
- “Downtown” restaurant is now home to an expanded “Yokohama Japanese Bistro.”
- “The Living Room” (a wine bar) has become “Blacksmith,” a bar.
- “Broadway’s Sub” (a sandwich shop) is now “Nick the Greek,” a Mediterranean restaurant.
The biggest change along this stretch of Broadway, however, is the recent closure of both “Curious Things” and the adjacent “Fortune Restaurant” (which served Chinese food). The posted application for a liquor license (visible in the above picture) led me to discover that both spaces are being combined and reworked into yet another bar which will be called “The Nighthawk.” The Nighthawk will sit directly across from Blacksmith, and appears to be owned by the same individual. Blacksmith must be doing very well, if the owner thinks a second, larger bar directly across the street can succeed.
I will admit I never tried Fortune Restaurant. It received mostly good reviews on Yelp, but they never seemed to have any patrons; I always wondered how Fortune managed to stay in business. As for Curious Things, it was a great store, although very specialized: it mostly sold Hot Wheels and Matchbox-style cars. While the general appeal wasn’t there, for collectors this store was a real gem. I don’t know the circumstances of the shop’s closing, but a specialty shop such as this, that drew people from well beyond Redwood City’s borders, seems to be exactly the kind of retailer that Redwood City needs.
Redwood City’s City Council will most likely appoint a commission to determine our ideal retail picture, after which they will presumably work to bring that ideal to reality. Given my level of interest—both as a blogger and as a Redwood City resident—you can bet I’ll be keeping an eye on any activity related to this subject. I’m just hoping that this is something that the City can act on swiftly: I don’t believe that we can afford to lose retailers such as Brick Monkey.
If you drive up and down Jefferson with any frequency, you likely have noticed that our Whole Foods Market is having a mural applied to its back corner, at the intersection of Jefferson and Adams. This mural is being done by long-time Redwood City resident Marlon Yanes, who hopes to inspire healthy eating, community gardening, and the importance of local farms. In a compliment to the mural Local nonprofit Incredible Edible Mid-Peninsula is also constructing a community garden in the small space immediately below it.
The mural and garden are the brainchild of Community Advocacy Through Art (CATA), a project of the Redwood City Parks and Arts Foundation. This is the same outfit who gave us the mural on the Emerald City Liquors and Premium Wines shop at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Upton Street.
Next time you are in the area, be sure to check out the mural. And if you live nearby, consider helping to maintain the garden! Note that the mural is cleverly designed to be viewed from the corner diagonally opposite the store: if you view the building’s sides head-on, the images you see will appear stretched in the horizontal dimension. Perhaps this would be an interesting way to show your kids how perspective works: show them the image on the back side of the building from across Adams Street, and then cross Jefferson and show them the same image from where I shot the above photo: it will look markedly different.
The mural will be officially unveiled on Saturday, October 7 from 5–7 p.m. at Whole Foods Market Redwood City. The unveiling ceremony begins at 5 p.m. and will be followed by a party in the store’s taproom. Free hors d’oeuvres will be provided for all, and a GrowPot herb garden gardening kit will be given the first 50 attendees.