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June 6-12, 2007

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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

In Praise of Meridian And Hamilton

By Gary Singh

SAN JOSE City Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio recently waxed poetic about his own District 6, howling praises about that constituency's three "viable business districts." He specifically pinpointed Lincoln Avenue, the Alameda and West San Carlos Street, the latter of which this author also recently went into raptures over. However, Silicon Alleys must admonish Mr. Oliverio for the slipshod fashion in which he brutally ignored the wondrous variety of overlooked commerce that bursts forth from the intersection of Meridian and Hamilton.

We begin with the Campbell Moose Lodge No. 1811, which is quite visible when driving down either Hamilton or Meridian. It sits right there, scrunched in between Bank of the West and Bally Fitness, with a gigantic brown sign with white capital letters that say "MOOSE." Many folks have cruised by that intersection wondering what exactly the hell that place is. I always thought it was a dive bar named Moose—which would have been something to brag about even more—until I actually walked up to the joint about 15 years ago and realized that it was indeed a fraternal order of some sort.

According to their website, "The Loyal Order of Moose is a fraternal and service organization founded in 1888, with nearly 1 million men in roughly 2000 Lodges, in all 50 states and four Canadian provinces, plus Great Britain and Bermuda." And they probably won't let you in the Antler Room unless you're a dues-paying member. Out in front, a white sign says that they have Bingo on Sundays at 6:30. It just doesn't get any better than that. But it's not just for men. There exists a "Women of the Moose" unit as well. Both are subsidiaries of Moose International Inc.

Across Meridian from the Moose Lodge sits one of the all–time institutions in San Jose: Gunter's Delicatessen. Sure, it's only been there since 1971, but the sheer amount of chow one gets at that place is downright staggering. Gunther himself, probably now in his mid–70s, still holds court in the kitchen. If you actually order a sandwich, they give you two pickles instead of one. Now that's old-school.

All one has to do then is amble north across Hamilton into what's called "Giant Plaza," for some strange reason. The sign has to be at least 40 years old. There one finds the Goodwill Store and a place right next door called Pine Dollar Store. Like any Goodwill franchise, there's always that unique–to–Goodwill aroma and the nauseating light rock music blasting from the stereo with a good deal of static mixed in. Other highlights of Giant Plaza include Vucko's Liquors and a brand spanking new breakfast and lunch spot called Cafe San Jose. Also in that same shopping center sits Dick's Bakery, another San Jose legend 60 years running, and it turns out they were on Bay Area Backroads just last weekend.

You see, these are the absolute gems of that neighborhood, and the particular milieu is indeed a viable business corner to destroy all corners, despite all the nearby hideous eyesores like Safeway, Starbucks, Burger King and RiteAid. And at the northeast corner of that intersection, one finds a beautifully bare and unadorned sign next to a cobbler shop that offers these words: Shoe Repair, Keys Made, Bootmaker. There is nowhere else in the South Bay, for whatever reason, where one can glimpse a sign that says that. Throw in a taqueria, a mobile/wireless/phone shop and a bizarre clean water outlet and the backdrop is complete.

Of course, one can float southward down Meridian to what used to be the main post office, but not without passing a few side streets that sport breathtaking suburban names like Cherry Grove and Willowhurst. Just segue down those streets and you'll see houses the architectures and landscapes of which will transplant you into a Brady Bunch episode—in a good way, of course. In any event, San Jose is a city of neighborhoods and the intersection of Meridian and Hamilton is one of many such rocking junctions. It must not be ignored.

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