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Empty storefronts an eyesore

Original post made on Oct 3, 2008

Watching the efforts this week to rescue the country's beleaguered financial system, I sensed a similar need on a much smaller--but still important--scale here in Pleasanton. Walking and driving down Main Street and through the Rosewood Pavilion near Interstate 580 and Santa Rita Road, I've been troubled by the growing number of empty storefronts and papered-over windows of retail businesses that are closed. Silver Palate restaurant at 680 Main St. is one of the most recent, with Cattelan's Antique Market across the street at 719 Main St. now empty for several months and no prospective tenant in sight. Thanks to Alexis Gass of Clover Creek, the dreary darkened windows at Cattelan's have been decorated with colorful items that can be purchased at Clover Creek. Next door at 725 Main, nothing's happened to the fenced-off dirt lot where the Union Jack Pub stood before the old building was demolished. At the time, contractor Mike O'Callaghan had a deal with a Cuban restaurant, but that fell through and he's waiting for the out-of-town family that owns the property to agree on another tenant before he can start building.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, September 26, 2008, 12:00 AM

Comments (31)

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Posted by Dawn Wolfe
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2008 at 7:40 pm

Your September 26 column is especially concerning because it highlights the at risk of our quaint downtown main street. Our high rent district needs to be controlled by blocking both big box and the mass market retailers. Incentives and tax breaks to current business owners and property owners along with blocking the mass merchants could preserve the unique flavor of our downtown merchants. I would hope that as a community we can protect what is unique about our downtown and continue to support an entrepreneurial spirit.

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Posted by MainStreetDiva
a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Oct 3, 2008 at 8:09 pm

Over the last few years, the Livermore downtown has really taken off, while ours seems to be fading away...

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Posted by Business Owner
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Oct 3, 2008 at 9:48 pm

Fading away? I am a Main Steet Business owner. Main Street can only be what it is because it is only one street. There is a very interesting push/pull on Main Street because most Pleasanton folks love the small town feel. I have been open since 1999 and I'll tell you first hand that retail traffic downtown during that entire time has been OK at best, but is never "brisk".

Restaurant business has been very good for a time, but feedback from Restaurant owners has told me that those businesses have been suffering for more than a year now. The interesting comments are always from folks that think that business on Main Street is assured simply because you are on Main Street, that is not at all the case.

It seems in fact that being a business on Main Street can actually on many weekends throughout the year be more of a curse . As many as 20 weekends per year (and it seems to grow each year), our Main Street is essentially closed for one reason or another ie... parades, fairs, festivals etc...... Unfortunately while those events are nice for the vendors that line up on the middle of Main Street you'd be surprised that most retail shops are actually ignored (except to use our bathrooms). On top of that regular customers won't/don't come downtown, because there is no parking to be found due to the events.

I have lived in Pleasanton since 1988 and LOVE our downtown, but I must admit as a business owner it would sure be nice to have a couple of "anchor business" that people would come to specifically shop at. It would also be better for business if the PDA, or whomever is responsible would set some limits on how many times Main Street is closed for virtually the entire weekend.

Building owners for the most part are happy because the rents are high and the inventory of available property is still relatively low, even given our current economy. I've simply had to find ways to succeed without much walk in retail traffic. The City of Pleasanton, dosen't really seem to have a plan, or is very interested in changing anything other than to try to keep it like it is (sound familiar)?

If downtown is to change, there needs to be a plan for it to change and everyone working toward that plan. As of today, the only "plan" for Downtown is to keep it like it is.

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Oct 3, 2008 at 10:52 pm

I imagine the restaurants are feeling the pinch from the economic downturn. That being said, there's a perception that for the prices Main Street restaurants charge, one would expect some better quality service and food. In most cases, the restaurants there are lacking in this!

What is an anchor business these days? Anchor businesses used to be the mom 'n' pop grocery and general stores of old. Those tend to be economically unfeasible these days due to the large chain grocery stores, which is too bad. Local businesses serving such "staples" tend to be more green. Think "Transit Oriented Development" and you'll understand why. How can we bring these back? People have to make a conscious choice to shop at them and they need to be able to keep their prices competitive. Difficult problem to solve.

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Posted by Downtown
a resident of Fairlands Elementary School
on Oct 4, 2008 at 9:50 am

I'll really be interested to see if all of the Med-Spas survive. You would think that stuff like botox and restilyn shots might go down a bit on the priority list. There must be a half dozen of these places on Main Street alone.

Hmmm. now that I think of it, downtown is primarily restaurants, Med Spas and Banks, None of which are retail types of shopping.

Another data point. I don't believe that other than through the use permit process that the city has any say whatsover whom the building owners can rent to as tenants? They can suggest all they want, but whoever is willing to pay the rents being asked for end up being the tennant. Banks not relying on Mortgage business are doing very well, and botox and restilyn are huge business (with huge profit). Maybe it make perfect sense who can afford the downtown rents being charged.

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Posted by shopper not browser
a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Oct 4, 2008 at 10:03 am

Stacey: you are absolutely 100% right on it -- "People have to make a conscious choice to shop at them". I have lived, and shopped, in Pleasanton for many years. You will find many competitively priced items in those stores, but if the shoppers just browse and then head to WalMart how are the downtown merchants to stay in business? The people in this town like HAVING a beautiful downtown, they just refuse to SUPPORT it. That means putting your money where your mouth is, not just browsing the stores, using their bathrooms, and then looking for the same items cheaper online.

The constant closing of Main Street is just an anoyance to me, I walk everywhere. But you can sure see the difference in the shops. All of the foot traffic is at the booths, only those looking for air conditioning or a bathroom are in the shops. During parades people put out chairs, coolers, etc, blocking the entire sidewalk and even the doors to the shops. No wonder store owners are opposed to closing Main Street.

It is sad to see so many people closing but it is what happens when the local population does not support (that means spend money) the shops. Our lifestyle does not require fancy men's clothing yet I bought more than a few things at Bennie's store. I was a constant purchaser at Domus, for everything from gifts to greeting cards. The Hawaiian store was my source for all things from the islands. Could I buy it cheaper at the ABC store? Of course! After spending well over a thousand dollars for the airfare to get there.

It won't be long until the Pleasanton goes back to being the sleazy little bar town that it once was if the residents of this town do not support their merchants. I guess you will get what you pay for.

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Posted by Rob
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Oct 6, 2008 at 3:49 pm

Recently my wife and I went to Livermore to walk their downtown. Was blown away. My wife commented that she thought lots of the people there were from P town. Have lived here since 84 and seems like this city council knows only how to vote against something and say yes to one more bank. Its easy to blame it on Walmart (I know people who can only afford to get certain things there and I am glad they have that option). I blame it more on the lack of stores that would attract buyers. My 3 daughters were raised in P town and now post grad school, the only store downtown where they will spend their money is the book store and Domus when it was there. They prefer the walking mall in Walnut Creek and trust me,much to my dismay, they do spend money there and not in the big anchor stores there Dresses, business clothes from Banana Republic, purses, linen and gifts all from that walking mall seem to be worth the drive to all of them. I must admit, it does have great atmosphere.

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Posted by walnut creek shopper
a resident of Castlewood Heights
on Oct 7, 2008 at 11:29 am

Interesting comments about Walnut Creek, I agree. The single-minded merchants who rant about keeping "big box" stores out of downtown should note how it works for Walnut Creek or even Los Gatos. When I want a selection of places to shop I always go to Walnut Creek. A shame, since Pleasanton has much more charm. Why can't some larger stores take over the space at Domus or Cattelan's? There is certainly enough space, guess the merchants just want to keep pressure on destination stores to stay away. Too bad, those store draw shoppers. Banks and botox, that will be the final epitaph for downtown Pleasanton.

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Posted by Rae
a resident of Mohr Park
on Oct 7, 2008 at 12:36 pm

Just a thought . . . Maybe, instead of spending so much money, time and effort on local politics, the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce should actively work with its members, the Downtown Association, and downtown building owner's to reduce rents to an affordable level. If they didn't have to cover an exorbitant overhead, more diverse, interesting businesses might be drawn to (or have stayed in) Pleasanton, be able to charge reasonable prices, and attract downtown shoppers. Frankly, with all the banks and restaurants, it's just not that interesting anymore to walkabout and shop downtown. Lately, the only time it is interesting is when something is going on that brings in a selection of eclectic booths and requires the closure of Main St.

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Posted by walnut creek shopper
a resident of Castlewood Heights
on Oct 7, 2008 at 12:42 pm

Good idea about reducing rents. Many buildings are owned by the same people and some of those not only charge exhorbitant rents, they also take a percentage of the gross sales. Talk about greedy. It might also help if the planning commission, or whoever is in charge of regulating the look of things downtown, was less of a hindrance to the store owners. In fact, if we just got rid of the planning commission completely that might solve many of our town problems (see post regarding cell phone towers for more on that). It is well known in this town that you build it first and ask forgiveness later. If the planners were not so impossible to work with people might actually work together for a better town altogether, not just the downtown.

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Posted by Heather Farms Park fan
a resident of Highland Oaks
on Oct 8, 2008 at 2:19 pm

Walnut Creek and Danville have better walking trails downtown and better parks near downtown (Heather Farms, for instance in Walnut Creek) that draw visitors downtown. I'd keep the Planning Commission and get rid of our Parks Commission for its failure to create a Pleasanton pedestrian friendly downtown like Walnut Creek and Danville.

The Walnut Creek stores downtown, those "destination stores" are those typically found in places like Stoneridge Mall. Walnut Creek does not have a downtown and a mall. Pleasanton has a downtown and a mall. Pleasanton is a small town and you can't put the same chain stores in a mall located within the city limits as well as have a downtown with those same chain stores.

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Posted by Michael
a resident of Downtown
on Oct 8, 2008 at 4:29 pm

The City of Livermore hired consultants to come up with a vision of downtown to make it distinctive. Narrowing the street and creating diagonal parking has really helped better the parking situation, along with the two fountains near the flagpole, with the trellises up and down the street framing the scenery. Families are attracted downtown in Livermore because the kids can wade in the fountain. Businesses work with citizens to create a better place. The downtown is not closed down multiple times per year due to events. When it is closed, I don't think it is First Street, but a different street.

The public in Livermore elected a slow-growth city council who said they wanted to fight to revitalize downtown and were not at all supportive of sprawl developments (Pardee Homes Livermore Trails in North Livermore and others) and the slow growth city council led by Kamena put forth a true vision to revitalize Livermore's downtown. They have executed this vision well. They had one council member who was one of the pro-uncontrolled growth people, but she was removed from office. Livermore's elected leaders focused on the core of downtown and created a Livermore downtown plan as their blueprint. Here it is on the Livermore web site Web Link .

On the other hand, in Pleasanton, the public elected a city council who said they wanted to create sprawl developments on the blank land on the outskirts of town (Staples, Oak Grove) or big box developments on the blank land near the outskirts of town (Home Depot) and during the past four years while Livermore downtown has jumped ahead, Pleasanton has fallen behind in its competitiveness in the downtown. The business community (Chamber, not the PDA) seems to relish in fighting with citizens rather than working with them so rather than being allies, they don't work together. The Chamber does not actually support local businesses (i.e., they favored and pushed for the 2nd Home Depot rather than supporting family owned businesses such as Richerts who were against it), the public shops in other towns rather than support local businesses, thus the local businesses are left on their own.

On top of that, Pleasanton has tried to do too many things at one time and hasn't executed any of them well. After 5 minutes of looking around on the Pleasanton web site, there is something there about downtown but nothing has been done for the last six years ---Web Link

So the fault lies not with the government, but with the public (us) in electing these people into office in the first place.

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Posted by Whut
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Oct 8, 2008 at 4:53 pm


Your diatribe is soo filled with half truths and inaccuracies, it is difficult to take seriously. Pleasanton has done at least some things very well in my 20 plus years living here. Livermore has been trying forever to be like Pleasanton. There are good qualities to both towns. I don't believe it is a competition. You do have the option to move to Livermore though if you like everything there soo much more.

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Oct 8, 2008 at 6:15 pm

Agreed. Since when is 51 homes, an ice rink, and a senior living facility considered "sprawl"?

Pleasanton did hire consultants to make downtown more like it is today. They narrowed Main Street and widened the sidewalks, installed planters, etc.. Stop trying to pretend that your comparison is valid.

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Posted by Canditates
a resident of Foothill High School
on Oct 8, 2008 at 6:48 pm

I would also like to mention under "sprawl" that our Mayoral candidate Mr. Brozosky Lives on the very TOP of a ridgeline off of Vineyard Ave. His home is not screened in any way shape or form to "hide it from view". Seems to be ultimately hypocrytical to get yourself a home on a hill, then try to deny others a similar opportunity. I don't begrudge Steve for wanting to live "with a view", but lets cut the "mega mansion" hype over these 51 homesites.

IMHO it will be some time for the overall economy to improve for anyone to pay the price they'll likely need to in order to purchase one of those lots. That's not even talking about building with the requirments already set forth. I would bet the houses in Oak Grove end up averaging 5,000 to 6,000 Sq. Ft. not the 12,000 plus that the vocal minority continues to claim.

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Posted by banish the banks
a resident of Birdland
on Oct 8, 2008 at 8:16 pm

I want to see more vitality downtown in Pleasanton with actual businesses that you can buy something of value. I say banish the banks off Main Street and onto side streets. Along with that, banish the service oriented businesses like the realtors and such to the side streets.

I also would like to see actual parks with walking, yes walking, trails in EBRPD and no more truck roads in EBRPD. 85% of the trails in EBRPD are actually truck roads, and they aren't managing them very well, and there is no way I am going to support the WW tax, in spite of getting glossy literature in the form of an EBRPD book my mailbox which must have cost at least $20 to print.

Web Link

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Posted by Vitality
a resident of Country Fair
on Oct 9, 2008 at 8:43 am

The turnover of businesses has not been that high of a percentage of the overall businesses downtown. Koln Hardware while wonderful and historic, ultimately failed because we the residents of Pleasanton didn't shop there.

Ask any of the restaurant owners on Main Street and they'll tell you business is down drastically, meaning people aren't eating out as much.

If your looking for Main Street to become Walnut Creek or similar, your trying to put a square peg in a round hole. Main Streets identity is pretty much defined as Restaurant's, Banks, Med Spa's and a few specialty retailers. One of the larger retail spaces on Main Street is The Wine Steward, and other than the holiday season, you can walk in at almost any hour with the store mostly empty, able to get great 1 on 1 service. It was similar most of the time at Domus.

Unless there is a drastic new plan to expand downtown beyond Main Street to several blocks around Main, it is what it is. There would need to be a plan (with funding), to accomplish this and I simply don't see it as important enough for any momentum to get behind such a plan.

I just don't think Pleasanton residents think about shopping downtown. It is the first place though that you take visiting guests to show them how "cool" Main Street is.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Kottinger Ranch
on Oct 13, 2008 at 10:00 pm

I can see by reading all the posts that the downtown vitality is an issue. I moved to Pleasanton over a year ago and I hate to see closures there. I agree with many postings that downtown can not survive on restaurants, med spas, and banks. I couldn't believe they have another bank going in! What idiot thought this was a good idea? Yes - banks and realtors should be shuttled to the side streets. As for restaurants, I can't believe there isn't a decent Indian one (no I'm not Indian but I love the food). We need a little more variety in the restaurants. AND we need at least one more decent coffee house as Tully's is NOT that great (slow service and quality issues). I also agree that there needs to be some limits on street closures. However, if we had more variety of shops, people would enter them even if the street was closed. Someone needs to do a study of the area demographics and figure out which shops would draw people in to actually purchase (not just window shop). If we figure this out and "sprinkle" a few of these stores into downtown, then mix it up with unique window shopping stuff, we might help boost the area.

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Posted by Vitality
a resident of Country Fair
on Oct 14, 2008 at 12:45 pm


There was as recently as a year ago an Indian Restaurant on Main. It was opened by the same family that runs the very successful Sansar on 1st Street in Livermore.

For some reason it never gained any momentum on Main Street and was sold to new owners who kept it the same. It has since gone out of buinsess and was replaced by a Chinese place I think.

To address your other point The "idiot" who thought of adding the additional bank was the building owner himself (sorry his name escapes me). Turns out a bank is the only business in this economy willing to pay $4.00 plus per square foot for the space on Main Street.

Most buildings on Main Street are owned by long time Pleasanton residents. I don't think the City has the power to tell them who they can or can't rent their space to. The only thing the City could do would be to develop a retail only ordinance, but the building owners are seemingly strong enough and have enough justification to not have this occur.

The is absolutely NO PLAN from the City, to come up with a roadmap or plan for the downtown from a "big picture" perspective. They simply continue to let free enterprise run its course. It would seem to be beyond their control, unless the City went in and purchased a bulk of the buildings.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Kottinger Ranch
on Oct 14, 2008 at 2:22 pm

Dear Vitality - thanks for the history and information...I think it's a shame the Indian restaurant went out of business. I also think it's a shame the building owners have all the say about how downtown looks. I guess the only thing to do is sit around and wait for people to slowly stop coming to downtown before the owners get together and come up with a consolidated, smart plan.

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Posted by patron of Main St
a resident of Downtown
on Oct 15, 2008 at 8:04 am

So many ideas but so much inacuracy. Just to comment on a few things:
The city and the PDA do not control who rents what space. The owners do because the merchants and owners have resisted any ordinance requiring "first floor Main St retail". It works in Los Gatos, it would work here. Our buildings are primarily owned by a few longtime residents. The old boy's network if you will. They set the rents, they call the shots.
What "idiot" rented to a bank at $4.00 per square foot? Bud Cornett, the person who bought the Koln's building, kicked out the hardware store and remained closed for 3 plus years. That store did not fail due to lack of support, the lease was cancelled with only minimal notice. The hardware store owner did not even have time to sell all of his merchandise.
Another coffee shop? We had one at the other end of Main Street. Closed for lack of business.
Banish the banks says they want to see "actual businesses that you can buy something of value". We had everything from a kid's clothing store to a toy store to cookware shops, a candy store, numerous clothing stores, maternity store, bridal shop, lingerie store, second hand stores, doggie stores, flower shop, bike shops, art galleries, jewelry stores, photo studio, book store, antique store, home furnishing/accessories stores, Hawaiian store, and an outdoor fountain store. What more do you want ?!? Many of these stores are still hanging on, barely. Do you shop there? What should Pleasanton add that might spark your interest? How about some ideas not just a litany of "how the downtown has failed me"?
People are afraid of "big box" stores without reason. First, there is no building large enough for a WalMart or Costco on Main Street. Many of the national stores in Walnut Creek or Los Gatos would draw people to Pleasanton. Until the building owners decide to seek these tenants or the town develops a retail only ordinance for Main Street we can all sit back and watch our street disintegrate. Or we can open our wallets and spend a little money here, maybe we can save some of the merchants.

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Posted by Save our Downtown
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2008 at 9:00 am

I always try to give my business to downtown but it makes me uncomfortable that the Chamber, which is comprised or local businesses, endorses candidates.
Businesses should remain neutral publicly.

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Posted by Wine Country
a resident of Pleasanton Middle School
on Oct 15, 2008 at 9:26 am

I always read comments from people wanting destination shopping downtown. Of all of the variety listed by patron above, he/she fails to mention one of the "jewels" of downtown in The Wine Steward. The store opened in 1999 (with a beautiful restoration of the old Roxy Theater), and has an unbelievable selection of wines from Livermore, California, and around the world with no peer from a competive standpoint that offers the level of service they do. Yet they seem to exist almost unnoticed. I realize its easy to pick up a bottle of wine at Safeway or BevMo, but if you ask a question and know anything about wine yourself you are most likely to get a blank stare. In addition the prices are very competitive. For anyone who hasn't had the pleasure I'd like to recommend you take a trip in and meet Jim, Steve, Kent and the rest of the rest of the gang. I can almost guarantee you will then make the effort to shop there often.

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Posted by patron of Main St
a resident of Downtown
on Oct 15, 2008 at 9:29 am

I could not agree more with Save our Downtown about Chamber endorsements. Particularly when I disagree with their recommendations! FYI, most small businesses are not chamber members as the chamber has little, if anything, of value to offer them. They promote the large businesses doing nothing for the small ones.

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Posted by Chamber
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Oct 15, 2008 at 9:35 am

Save our Downtown,

The reason the Chamber endorses candidates is to try to have administration that is supportive and helpful to business. Its amazing when you talk to candidates how little they really know about how businesses are really doing, nor do they understand the challenges. Most comments on this particular topic are in regard to the city doing something to improve downtown. Yet the city is not in a position to understand the real challenges that businesses are facing. I have owned a downtown business for 9 years now, and not once has any member of the city council, mayor, or planning commision ever tried to contact me for feedback.

Patron posted above that merchants and owners have resisted a retail only ordinace. I can guarantee you the merchants do not resist this at all. The building owners seem to be the only interface the city is interested in hearing from. As I've said, no one from the city (other than the PDA), has ever asked for business owner feedback directly.

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Posted by Please be acurate
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Oct 15, 2008 at 9:40 am

The Chamber endorsements come from its BAC/PAC Business Action Committee, Political Action Committee. Members include President Otis Nostrand (owner of The Hopyard), Vic Maletesta (owner of Vics All Star Kitchen, and Joe Sasek (owner of The Wine Steward), so your comment about small business not being represented in clearly inaccurate.

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Oct 15, 2008 at 9:57 am

It would be cool if the old Roxy were converted back into a movie theater, a cozy specialized one that showed old cult and classic prints and served wine and maybe small plates (over 21 only but could have special teen nights sans alcohol). I went to a similar theater in Portland once. It was neat.

The problem with most restaurants downtown is their poor service and/or food for the prices. If I'm going to pay $20 for a plate I'd like at least the food to not be bland and the waiter to offer to take our order for drinks instead of us having to pull teeth. It was embarrassing because we had a friend visiting from the East Coast. The next night we ended up making steak from Trader Joe's and redeemed ourselves.

I don't know much about the coffee shop downtown that went out of business but I never understood why, if it was supposed to be a "bistro", there was not bistro service.

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Posted by downtown diner
a resident of Castlewood
on Oct 15, 2008 at 10:09 am

The coffee shop that went out of business was Coffee Roasters, at the other end of Main Street. Tully's is for harley riders, they can have it.

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Oct 15, 2008 at 10:42 am

I'm referring to Coffee Beans n Things (I think that was the name). It was across the street from Tully's.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Kottinger Ranch
on Oct 15, 2008 at 7:18 pm

Yeah - it was Coffee Beans...I went there a lot (cause I hated Tully's). I hate to say this but if they had a Starbucks I'd be there everyday. One poster went through a litany of stores that have been downtown that no one shopped in. Then the poster asked what shops would people actually shop in. Good question, here's my response:
-Whole Foods (impractical because of it's size - but hey! I'd go there).
-Thrift Store - I haven't seen the second hand store refered to above
-"Green Products" specialty store
-Indian restaurant
-Vegetarian restaurant
-any gathering place which would stay open until 11 pm for reading, coffee, folk musicians, etc. It would be nice to foster a sense of community at night also.

I have to admit I like sitting outside during the day to people-watch and read but the loud Harley's are SO annoying.

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Posted by Another Gatetree Resident
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Oct 18, 2008 at 5:43 am

Well, it appears storefronts AND banks will be empty according to the story printed by the Pleasanton Weekly this week. Check out the Web Link.

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