In the Basement

A good friend’s husband recently got a job at our new Sports Basement, which was my first clue that the store is actually open. I was a little surprised, given that upon my last visit — I’ve been dropping by every week or two — they looked as if they had a long way to go. But knowing that they are indeed now open, I made a beeline for the place, hoping to see what makes them different from your typical sporting goods store.

As you probably know by now, Sports Basement has taken over the storefronts previously occupied by Toys ‘R Us and Babies ‘R Us. When I got there I was pleased to see that the cute toy-themed bollards in front of the two storefronts remain: I always thought they were a delightful bit of whimsy that went nicely with the store. Stepping inside, it immediately became apparent why they were able to open so quickly: after having stripped out all remnants of Toys ‘R Us (except for the bollards outside), they pretty much just put up racks for clothing and equipment, piled other stuff on the floor, and opened the doors:

They may not have done much, but they didn’t really have to: it works. I’m assuming that Sports Basement has bargain prices — I’m not a big shopper and couldn’t say whether or not their prices are especially good when compared with the competition — but certainly the atmosphere gives the impression that you are only paying for merchandise, and not for fancy decor. Simple signs hanging from the ceiling help orient the shopper; otherwise, the ceilings, like the floors, are bare.

The interior is wide open with one giant exception: because they’ve occupied two storefronts, the wall between the two spaces largely remains. There is a wide opening or two between the old Toys ‘R Us store and the Babies ‘R Us store, and of course the sparse decor applies to both spaces, but there is a definite transition when walking from one to the other. I should note that the Sports Basement entrance and exit are in the old Toys ‘R Us space: the doors that previously served Babies ‘R Us remain, of course, but are marked as emergency exits only. From the outside, arrows on the old Babies ‘R Us doors make clear what you have to do:

(click the image for a version you can zoom in on; do so, and read the words on the arrows)

There is at least one quirky aspect to the Sports Basement decor: periodically as you wander the store you encounter seemingly random groupings of living room furniture where you can sit and rest for a moment. These are great if you are shopping with someone else who isn’t as interested: they can plop down and wait for you as you shop:

If you have little ones, watch for this space:

When I was there it was furnished with a dollhouse, a Jenga set, a small crate containing kid’s books, and a couple of other random toys.

Sports Basement is a large-scale sporting goods store that focuses on snow sports (they sell and rent skis and such), cycling, running, camping and travel, team sports (basketball, football, tennis, etc.), and swimming. They appear to have an extensive clothing collection. They also seem to pride themselves on their classes and events. In Redwood City, so far they mostly have Zumba and Yoga classes, fun runs, and a Ski/Snowboard Camp for kids ages 7-16. For dates and details, check out their website.

Sports Basement rents not only skis, but also wetsuits, camping gear, and bikes. They also have a bike repair shop, where they will do tune-ups or complete overhauls, as well as make general repairs and adjustments. Finally, Sports Basement has a bicycle trade-in program where you can get store credit for your old bike. Note, however, that only certain bikes qualify: the bike being traded in needs to be model year 2000 or newer, and must have had an original MSRP of $500 or more.

They have a shoe department (on the Babies ‘R Us side, near the bike shop) in which all of the shoes, in boxes, are simply stacked on the floor. The piles are sorted by size, so you can relatively easily find whatever it is you are looking for. I tried on a pair of new hiking boots — after more than five years of walking through Redwood City in service of this blog, my day hikers are wearing out — and discovered that, curiously, there appears to be no convenient nearby seating where one could sit and try on shoes. I had to take them into an adjoining department, where there were some chairs in which I could sit. I’ll be curious to see if they make a change here, and add some seating to the shoe area.

Sports Basement is a small chain that is local to the Bay Area. They have ten stores at the moment, and until ours opened the largest was in San Francisco’s Marina district. Ours is apparently now the biggest store in the chain, though. They are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Note that they are closed on Christmas Day, and close early on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and on New Year’s Day.) You’ll find Sports Basement in the Kohl’s Plaza shopping center, facing Highway 101, at 202 Walnut Street. You can get there from Walnut Street, but because of the way the shopping center is laid out you may find it easier to enter from Main Street instead: Main Street dead-ends into the shopping center parking lot, right next to the Sports Basement store.

Because Sports Basement faces Highway 101 and Redwood City’s waterfront area, after leaving the store I was reminded to pay a visit to Docktown, to see if there was anything new. Some of you may know that there is an unofficial trail that leads from the parking lot directly in front of Sports Basement beneath Highway 101; it emerges on the other side at the so-called “bridge to nowhere” that connects the road through Docktown to the Bair Island area, close to our new Courtyard by Marriott hotel. I’ve taken this path a half-dozen times or so, but because there are usually homeless encampments under there I generally take the long way around instead: I follow Maple Street over the freeway, walk past Redwood City’s Police Station, and continue on past BIAC (the Bair Island Aquatic Center) straight into Docktown Marina. That is what I did this time, too. Note that Redwood City is planning to make that unofficial trail into a proper underpass for pedestrians and cyclists, one that is paved and well-lit. I did take a look to see if any progress had been made on the project, but except for the utilities that have been relocated (work that was done some months ago), I could see no evidence that the project to build the underpass itself was getting underway. However, the most recent project update, posted to the project website in late August, indicates that work wasn’t expected to commence until the new year:

While the project continues through the permitting process, on Monday the City began efforts to secure a specialized construction management team to oversee the various regulatory, environmental, and construction complexities of the project.  The construction management team is expected to be on board at the end of this year in advance of heavy construction.

As I said, this time I elected to take my more usual path by following Maple Street. After I passed by BIAC, I did what I usually do, which is to walk straight ahead into the Docktown Marina parking lot. I then turned left, as usual, in order to follow the lot and parallel the creek — but quickly ran into a fence.

The Docktown floating home community — what is left of it, anyway — sits on Redwood Creek. The land alongside the creek has for years been a parking lot for the Docktown residents, and has held a two-story office for the Harbormaster, the Peninsula Yacht Club (a sort-of clubhouse, bar, and restaurant built largely beneath the historic water tank), and a long blue building that once was primarily used as a workshop for the servicing of boats, I believe, but also had bathrooms and a laundromat that Docktown residents could use. Finally, a large part of the land has been used by local automobile dealerships for the storage of cars.

To help you get oriented, here is an image from Google Earth showing a satellite view of the area:

Highway 101 is in the lower left corner of the image. Along the bottom edge of the photo, towards the right side, is a building with a teal-green roof: that is our police station. Redwood Creek slices through from left to right (and bottom to top), and the boats and floating homes you can just make out all along this section of Redwood Creek constitute Docktown Marina.

Ever since Redwood City concluded that Docktown could no longer be home to “live-aboards,” a consulting firm hired by the city has been working with the Docktown residents to help them relocate. When the process started there were some 65-70 households at Docktown; today about a dozen remain. Most of the former residents’ boats and floating homes are still at Docktown, but most of them are locked and scheduled for demolition or, hopefully, sale. Lawsuits by the residents are still working their way through the courts: they are trying to retain the right to live at Docktown. Whether or not they are successful, though, life just got a lot harder for them.

If you look closely at the above picture (click it for a version you can zoom in on), there are cars parked all along the length of Docktown, up close to the floating homes. However, much of the land adjacent to Docktown is privately owned, including the land beneath all of the buildings in the Docktown Marina and all of the land where the parking lot and automobile storage areas are. And because the current owner of all that private property has elected to redevelop the property and build 131 townhouses there, access to Docktown Marina is effectively being cut off.

When I got to Docktown, the fence I encountered clued me in to the fact that access to many of Docktown Marina’s amenities has already been cut off. A large chunk of the property, including the area where the parking lot sits and where the marina buildings are, has been surrounded by construction fencing. Only a small parking lot, with one ramp connecting that parking lot to the docks that contain the long line of floating homes, remains accessible to the remaining Docktown residents. As far as I can tell, from my viewpoint outside the construction fencing, it appears that Docktown residents no longer have access to their Yacht Club, and no longer have access to the building containing the bathrooms and laundry (the boat repair service has been gone for a long time). Access to the Harbormaster’s office is also cut off, and that building is clearly closed up.

Here is what you see from the entrance to Docktown Marina today:

The brown two-story building behind the blue dumpster was the Harbormaster’s office. The blue domed building is the laundry/restroom/boat service building. And to the right of that you can probably just make out the historic water tank: it is painted in shades of blue (its behind a sort-of carport structure that was used by the boat maintenance facility, I believe). In this picture you can probably make out the construction fences. In the foreground the fences are open, and not covered with privacy screening. Look through that, and you can just make out the fence that runs along the water’s edge: that fence is covered with green privacy screening.

Here is a closer view:

I of course followed the simple hand-made bike path sign. It points down Maple Street, towards the Maple Street Shelter. When you get to the shelter, I was pleased to see that the developer has left a narrow alley that allows you to follow the perimeter of the property and eventually work your way over to the Bridge to Nowhere:

The following picture shows how the property is already being cleaned up:

And here is a picture from the One Marina condominiums, looking back at Docktown Marina and the new development site:

Note the ramp angling up from the empty slip: it pretty much dead-ends into the construction fencing. It appears that only by walking along the docks to the left will one come to a ramp that actually opens onto the small parking lot that remains.

It was a good day for a walk — a bit on the cool side, but I didn’t get rained on — and I of course found all of the goings-on at Docktown interesting. But with so many residents having moved on, and with the construction activity taking place so close to the boat slips, life for the few remaining members of the once thriving Docktown community must be very different indeed.

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