Pleasanton Weekly

Column - December 2, 2011

Experience Pleasanton

by Jeb Bing

A task force, several committees, the Pleasanton Downtown Association and the city's Economic Development Director Pamela Ott have been meeting regularly over the past few months to find ways to make Pleasanton a stronger shopper and entertainment destination. Retailers downtown and in several neighborhood centers off Hopyard and Santa Rita roads and Sunol Boulevard are holding their own as the business community slowly eases its way out of a recession, but the crowds of shoppers aren't filling the streets as they're doing in Walnut Creek or in the Stoneridge Shopping Center. Night life, though better than it's been in several years, is still limited to only a few long-popular destinations on or near north Main Street. Those who go to Livermore or other nearby cities complain that too many Pleasanton restaurants, bars and even Tully's at Main and Angela streets close by 10 p.m. when the good times are just starting in other locations.

The Downtown Hospitality Guidelines Task Force held its Meeting #2 last night to review a voluminous packet of suggestions and list of locations that should make any city proud. It shows that we now have 33 bars and restaurants that serve wine or stronger drinks, including Barone's, Redcoats British Pub and Restaurant, Main Street Brewery, Blue Agave and the newly-opened Handles Gastropub, to name just five. Many on the list, such as Vic's All Star Kitchen and Dean's Cafe close at 3 p.m. A few others stay open for the supper crowd but are dark not long after. Walk out of a performance at the Firehouse Arts Center at 10 p.m. and you might find a yogurt to enjoy after the show, but little else.

This is the night life problem that the Hospitality Guidelines committee wants to solve without turning downtown Pleasanton into a center of rowdy drinkers that older residents remember. It's a committee of heavy hitters formed by the City Council and co-chaired by Councilmen Matt Sullivan and Jerry Thorne. Members include representatives of the Planning Commission, city staff, the PDA and neighborhoods near downtown that would be most affected by any loosening of permit restrictions on noise and late-night dancing and drinking. These meetings are open to the public and the Guidelines task force agenda and minutes are posted on the city's Website.

As for boosting retail sales downtown, the PDA, its Downtown Vitality Committee and the Economic Vitality Committee are working with consultants to promote Pleasanton more aggressively, Early bird specials and pajama-dressed shoppers and store owners have already added to pre-Christmas sales with more to come. But it's after Christmas and in all of 2012 when the "fever pitch" is needed to keep Pleasanton retailers ahead of the competitive pack. Jay Galvin, managing director of digi-Assist, Ltd., and a member of the EVC, suggests putting a billboard or two along Hwy 101 on the Peninsula with the words: "Experience Pleasanton." He'd do the same at the Oakland Airport and along El Charro Road when Livermore's Paragon Outlet Center opens next fall.

Galvin points to the quaint, yet highly profitable, retail centers in Carmel and Solvang, two destinations that draw shoppers from the Bay Area, including Pleasanton. Although our downtown may never have that same nostalgic pull, we have a far better unhurried shopping and dining atmosphere than the crowded hectic pace of Walnut Creek. Galvin points out that in some cities, smaller merchants coordinate coupon campaigns where shoppers and diners can redeem certificates worth $20 or more for every $200 they spend. Why not do the same here?

The EVC, which represents all business activity in Pleasanton, is working on "brand statements" to enhance Pleasanton's image as "an extraordinary place to experience." Its strategy is aimed at encouraging residents to patronize local businesses, with a five-member subcommittee developing concepts for an area-wide campaign in the coming year. To begin, the subcommittee plans to create an online microsite to promote the benefits of shopping locally as well as provide a connection to a number of local shopping campaigns. An early draft of a promotional message states: "We are Pleasanton and we are an extraordinary place for shopping. We are home to a regional mall with over 165 stores and restaurants, as well as a vibrant downtown with independent retailers and unique items. We offer convenient commuter shopping along our interstate corridors, and our neighborhood shops are located throughout our residential district. Wherever you live or work, local shopping is just a short drive, walk or bicycle ride away."

Sure seems like a place worth "experiencing."

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