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The old Kolln Hardware buildingThis last year has brought an unusual number of changes to Main Street, reflecting economic stress and turmoil all over America (and elsewhere). Some changes (like the renovation of the old Kolln Hardware building) have been in progress for quite a while; other were more sudden or unexpected.

Like many other people, I was initially disappointed that the Kolln building, which is being lovingly restored to Victorian glory, would be home to a Comerica Bank branch. Banks clearly have their place on Main Street, and I’m glad Wells Fargo returned earlier this year. But the problem with a bank in the Kolln building is that it would essentially limit its use to those who bank with Comerica. (Which is not to say that Comerica would not welcome visitors, or perhaps even host a historical display.) Retailers attract a broader spectrum of local residents and visitors, and — yes, I know, I always say this — a specialty food retailer like A. G. Ferrari or Dean & Deluca would have been ideal.

But these are difficult times in commercial real estate, and banks are attractive, stable tenants. (At least until very recently, and Comerica has made efforts to assure Pleasanton of its stability and longevity.) So I can’t really blame the owner, and who knows what other offers (if any) he got?  Most recently, there seems to have been a rather silly attempt to keep the bank from putting an ATM on the exterior of the building, but the Planning Commission wisely approved it. One odd note from that story was that the possibility of Division Street becoming two-way was mentioned, which differs from at least one artist’s conception of the Firehouse Arts Center plans that I saw, in which Division was to become a pedestrian street. (I hope that’s the case.)

Elsewhere up and down Main, there have been plenty of developments. DAYart Studio, which had been vacant for quite a while, will apparently become a clothing (?) store; home store Domus held a lengthy going-out-of-business sale and finally closed (now, that would be a wonderful site for a local grocery, which is what the building originally housed); Silver Palate closed somewhat abruptly, and a liquor license transfer notice appeared in the window promising a new restaurant, but disappeared shortly thereafter — I hope the deal is still on.  (I enjoyed Silver Palate on my two or three visits; their relaxed and casual Sunday buffet brunch was a nice alternative to the very elaborate spread at the Pleasanton Hotel.)  The former Century 21 Realty storefront remains vacant as well. A bit farther north, Oasis Grille has expanded into the full ground floor of the Coffee Roast building, with a wine bar, and finally seems to be catching on.

Site of the former Union Jack PubAcross the street, the vacant lot where the Union Jack Pub formerly stood has lain fallow for quite a while. A Pleasanton Weekly article in July 2007 said that a developer would be building a two-story “Monterey-mission style” restaurant designed by prominent local architect Charles Huff, but after the parcel was graded, no further work has appeared. This week, however, the chain link fence sported a colorful banner (from the Downtown Association? The Chamber of Commerce?) urging Pleasantonians to “Shop Local”.

Next door to the vacant lot, Cattelan’s Antiques gave up the ghost some months ago. Its building remains vacant, and would probably need significant remodeling for a new retail tenant.  Down the street a bit, Coffee Beans ‘n’ Things is papered over, but it is supposed to be the site of a restaurant or cafe operated by the owner of Baci.  While Coffee Beans was favored by a number of locals and occasionally hosted music and readings, I preferred Tully’s across the street — where I’m writing this right now — which, although a chain, is very comfortable and has a friendly staff. I don’t think it was Tully’s that killed Coffee Beans, but more likely its bizarre and unpredictable opening hours. (On summer Friday and Saturday evenings, the corner of Main and Angela attracts a crowd, but Coffee Beans was often dark.) A bright spot nearby, just off Main, is the new-ish 55 West Angela building, with wildly popular Amelia’s Deli-Bistro and a number of clothing and specialty retailers.

Which brings us to the issue of chains. I don’t believe that Pleasanton has an anti-chain store ordinance (correct me if I’m wrong) although city council members have often spoken against chains and big-box stores.  Since Pleasanton is lucky enough to have both a traditional Main Street and a number of shopping centers (an enclosed mall, and several large-scale open centers and strip malls), we get the best of both worlds. You can find almost every signficant retail and food-service chain represented in Pleasanton or neighboring Dublin. Stores open and close and shuffle around, but you can find pretty much anything you need.  Consequently, there’s less pressure to locate chain stores on Main Street. Other than the banks, there are relatively few chain outlets on Main.  I don’t propose remaking Main Street, but — in addition to the specialty food retailers I’ve mentioned — a hardware store, a home store like Pottery Barn, and an electronics or music retailer might not be a bad addition to downtown.

Having seen economic wreckage in less prosperous cities and towns elsewhere, including here in the Bay Area, Main Street (and Pleasanton as a whole) seems to be dong pretty well, considering. On the other hand, this is probably not the bottom of the market, and just from casual observation I’d guess that restaurant receipts on Main Street and elsewhere are down quite a bit. (One measurement is the ability to get a table without a reservation or wait at popular spots.)  We’ve clearly been fortunate so far, but I hope the current unsettled climate does not destroy the character of our Main Street.

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