One of the things I like most about Redwood City is all of the ways that the city has worked over the years to build community. Although Redwood City is by no means alone in sponsoring or supporting activities that bring its residents together, few cities of comparable size seem to have such a large number and variety of activities as Redwood City does. Or, I should say, did. Unfortunately, as we are all well aware, pretty much all of those activities have had to be canceled in order to keep people from gathering in ways that could increase the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
This being Independence Day weekend, I am of course saddened by the cancellation of not only Redwood City’s downtown parade — which apparently is usually the largest such parade in Northern California — but all of the attendant activities as well. I’ve always enjoyed admiring the old cars, the chalk art (that particular activity, at least, is continuing this year in a virtual manner), and the various vendor booths, in addition to the parade itself. And, of course, Redwood City always put on a glorious fireworks display out by the bay which, too, has been canceled this year. Curiously, as seems to be the case in cities throughout America this year, our citizenry seems determined to make up for the lack of an organized display by shooting off their own fireworks for days or even weeks before the official holiday. Personally, I’ve gotten tired of hearing our nightly concert of explosions, which we’ve been hearing every night for the last couple of weeks. At least my wife and I no longer have a dog: ours used to be terrified whenever he heard an explosion of any kind, making the Fourth a particularly problematic time in our household.
Although the cancellation of Redwood City’s Fourth of July activities is a blow, for many of us an even bigger one has been the cancellation of the many events that typically take place downtown and in Redwood City’s various parks throughout the summer. Personally I am most saddened by the lack of summer concerts. As each summer approaches, Redwood City sends to each household a catalog of upcoming classes and activities. In that catalog is a listing of the concert series that I personally enjoy the most: Music in the Park, which takes place on Wednesday nights from mid-June to mid-August in Stafford Park. When that catalog arrives at my home I diligently add each park concert to my calendar, ensuring that I don’t miss any. This year, when June 17 rolled around, my calendar dutifully reminded me that Top Shelf, a Motown/Soul band, was scheduled to play from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. that evening. But of course the park concerts — like the Music on the Square concerts — have all been cancelled this year. So I’m left with an empty reminder of what we should have had.
If COVID-19 taketh away, so, too, does it giveth, sort-of. I do have to give it credit for something I’ve been wanting to see for years: the closure of some of Redwood City’s downtown streets in order to turn our downtown into a more pedestrian-friendly shopping and dining area. Of course, in my head I had visions of throngs of people filling the streets and socializing with one another as they investigated all of the restaurants, entertainment venues, and retailers that operate in our downtown area. Unfortunately, our downtown has few retailers, and one of the area’s largest draws — our theaters — are closed thanks to the virus. Thus, although the closures will hopefully keep many of our restaurants afloat, they won’t bring the throngs that I had envisioned. Which is a good thing at the moment, of course…
Late last week Redwood City closed portions of Broadway and of Main Street in order to provide outdoor space for local restaurants and retailers. I spent some time walking around the closed-off portions downtown (I believe that there may be some closed off portions of parking lots elsewhere in the city, but I have yet to look into those), and found the result, at least so far, to be a mixed bag. A few restaurants are going all out, taking maximum advantage of what they have been given. Milagros, for instance, takes the prize on Main Street:
Although Milagros wasn’t yet open when I walked by — their hours are 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays, noon until 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and noon until 8 p.m. on Sundays — they clearly were ready for a nicely spaced crowd. And just down the street, I was delighted to see that Lovejoy’s Tea Room was open and doing business using a handful of outdoor tables:
Even Angelicas had a few tables out front, although they of course have their backyard area too.
Theatre Way has been re-closed, so those of us who love to stroll down that particular block can once again do so without fear of being run over by a car. None of the restaurants on Theatre Way seem to have taken particular advantage of the extra space that the closed street provides (beyond what they had been using before), likely because the protective railings that most put around their outdoor seating areas now prevents their seating from being able to spill out into the street. However, some people were enjoying what outdoor seating there is:
With the Century Theatres closed there are few people walking along that block, so it looks pretty sparse at the moment. Hopefully the Redwood City Improvement Association will once again deploy the umbrella tables and chairs that they’ve filled the street (and Courthouse Square) with in past summers; those have proven very popular, and would attract more people to the area.
Unlike Main Street and Broadway, where large concrete blocks have been used to close of much of the streets, Theatre Way is blocked off at its Winslow Street end using orange plastic water-filled barriers. The city has plans to put in some sort of mechanized gate, however, so that the street can easily be reopened for deliveries and emergency vehicles and such. I don’t know exactly what type of mechanism will be used, but I suspect it might be the one that the city has temporarily used to block off Broadway, down near where it intersects with Main Street:
I couldn’t tell whether this barrier is operational in its current location. Regardless, it is designed so that the main panel, which is made out of heavy metal and painted white with yellow diagonal stripes, can flip down and lie almost flat against the street. It is activated by a simple control panel on one end of the mechanism, controls which are guarded by a lock so that not just anyone can activate it.
This barrier helps block off the one (or two, depending upon how you count) block of Broadway that probably has the most restaurants along it: from Main Street to Jefferson Avenue. In the middle of this block (or dividing the two) is a small alley that provides access to the Marshall Street Parking Garage and to the Main Street parking lot; both of these accesses have been blocked off so that cars cannot stray onto Broadway from these parking areas. Rockn Wraps (& Kabobs), which is located in this alley, is taking advantage of the closure to have some outside seating:
Pedestrians strolling along Broadway still have to wait for the crosswalk signal at Jefferson Avenue since that street is not closed off. The next block, between Jefferson Avenue and Theatre Way, is closed, although pretty much no one had taken advantage of that block’s closure when I was there on Thursday afternoon:
That red umbrella at the far end of the street is Sakura Teppanyaki & Sushi. Their indoor hibachi tables are open, or, if you prefer, you can sit outside.
The rest of Broadway from Theatre Way all the way out to El Camino Real remains open to vehicular traffic, although in parts the street parking spaces have been blocked off for dining. The most extreme example of this is the block between El Camino Real and Perry Street (basically, to the Caltrain tracks): all of the parking on both sides of the street has been surrounded by barriers made from large concrete blocks:
There wasn’t a lot of activity in these blocked-off spaces when I was there (That red umbrella is in front of Crouching Tiger Restaurant; they at least are using some of their space), but I plan to give the area a look-see some time this weekend, when I expect things will be a lot livelier.
One downtown street that hasn’t been blocked off in any way is one that doesn’t really need to be: Winslow Street by the “Box” buildings has a couple of eating and drinking establishments, but the two largest — Old Port Lobster Shack and CRU — both have dedicated outdoor spaces on North Plaza. CRU has been using theirs for years now, while Old Port Lobster Shack seems to have finally moved into theirs:
In addition Old Port Lobster Shack currently has three small tables on the sidewalk near to their main entrance.
Human beings need each other, and particularly now when we are being asked to stay home and limit our interactions with one another, our hunger to see others in community needs to be satisfied. With theaters closed and concerts cancelled, dining out is one way to be in proximity with others. Although indoor dining, safely spaced, is allowed in San Mateo County, many of us are not yet comfortable being in an enclosed space with a number of strangers. Fortunately, Redwood City has enabled a number of its restaurants to provide outside seating in addition to, or in place of, their indoor tables. Not only will many people feel (and truly be, it seems) safer sitting outside, there is the added bonus that these diners will provide a sense of community to those passing by. Although I’ve enjoyed a number of takeout meals since the beginning of our shelter-in-place, I for one am ready to get back to our restaurants — although for now I’ll be one of those you’ll see outside. I’ll be enjoying my meal, and, hopefully helping to build community while I do. I hope you will do likewise…