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January 25-31, 2006

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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

Markets and Massages

By Gary Singh

WHEN I started this column, I promised everyone that I wouldn't focus on downtown San Jose every single time. But since the absurdities just keep rolling in, I simply must supply my 2 1/2 cents on some recent developments.

If you never visit downtown, the Albertsons at Seventh and Santa Clara streets is probably one of the reasons. The place is legendary for bums, transients, panhandlers, halfway-house folks and ubiquitous flocks of pigeons that desecrate the parking lot. In the remote chance that you can get out of the place in less than 20 minutes, you'll usually still have to claw your way through a few shopping cart-toting hobos. On weekends past midnight, the parking lot is a mecca for gangbangers and drug dealers. Longtime downtowners remember the dump from when it operated as a rundown Lucky's for years, and it was bad in those days. Basically, if you had a shirt on, then you were overdressed for the place. It's one of those stores that everyone complains about but still patronizes because there's no nearby alternative. Sure, over the years they cleaned it up somewhat and evacuated some of the bums, but the upgrades never really accomplished anything. And now it's finally closing.

As of last week, the opinions were already flying in. Most folks I know are saying things like, "Goodbye and good riddance," but many locals are shocked and grossed out at the whole affair. Those of low income, SJSU students and many seniors who live nearby have nowhere to shop now. Zanotto's is just too darn expensive for their bulk shopping. It may be hard for nondowntowners to comprehend, but the whole debacle is yet another example of the city's pathetic trend of looking outside to solve all its problems while ignoring what's already here—in this case, letting local services fall by the wayside while simultaneously shelling out tons of money to bring in, say, fancy-schmancy chain restaurants. Fortunately, a new group will soon propose to open another full-service grocery store in Albertsons' place.

By the time you read this, folks will already have ranted enough, so allow me now to abruptly shift gears and point out another community asset I have just discovered in the vicinity of the downtown Albertsons—an entity that probably no one knows about. It takes a few seconds to explain, so hear me out.

One day I was sick and tired of the clowns criticizing Metro's adult entertainment ads and I knew that Craigslist had severely affected the classifieds sections of daily newspapers, so I checked out the adult entertainment posts on Craigslist to scope out what may or may not be the competition. Amazingly, one post mentioned an exact location for a secret massage parlor in downtown San Jose. The exact title of the post was: "WOW ... these HOT ASIAN ladies offer the BEST Warm Oil Massage Period!!" I'm omitting the specific locale—go look it up if you want—but this is what the post said: "Our clean and professional building is located near San Jose Downtown ... near San Jose State University in a discrete [sic] location with secret parking near the back. You can be safe with us!" The post featured photos of topless Asian women, and a new version of the same post a few weeks later said, "Tips are always appreciated for the extra work."

I myself am not desperate enough to drop $100 for such things, but I'm definitely interested in any place involving "secret parking near the back," so I went and scoped out the building. You walk into it from the street and then navigate a long twisting hallway flanked by unmarked doors with room numbers above them. A few of the doors actually have signs on them and look like they might be legitimate businesses, but most of them are blank. The hallway empties out through the side of the building into the parking lot. Tucked away in the far corner of the lot, set back from the facade of the rest of the building sits a "beauty salon" that you would never even notice from the street. It's an ingenious location, actually. On the back of the building one finds the name of the beauty salon, along with the words, "full service," but painted over.

Now, of course, I can't verify this is indeed the place, but this adventure is just for the sake of comparison: downtown's only grocery store, just like its hospital, falls by the wayside while the Asian massage parlors live on. That definitely says something about downtown. I don't know what, but something.

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