By Gary Singh
IN CASE YOU weren't there, the urban-blight exploration junkie played his greatest hits on Auzerais Avenue, Stockton Avenue, 24th Street and in the parking lot of the Pink Elephant Center. The junkie had recently been in recovery, but after reading the wonderful book Touring Historic Willow Glen: Ten Walking Loops, he immediately relapsed and needed to kill the pain at all costs.
His journey through ignored Willow Glen began at 831 Malone Road, a hideous, rundown, boarded-up former hardware store and flooring company. The junkie looked through the windows and eyed the decades-old fixtures and rickety displays. You see, if one peeks at the original 1927 map of Willow Glen, Malone Road forms the southern border. Formerly known simply as "The Willows," the area incorporated as its own city in 1927 solely to stop the railroad from coming through. Thus began a long heritage of Willow Glen being identified with unapologetic NIMBYism—which only became worse when it got its own ZIP code 40 years ago. But since the dead hardware store still exists after 20 years of nonoperation, maybe the NIMBYs aren't so invincible after all.
Right across the street in Arnone's strip mall sits the PT Market & Liquor store, offering a gracious, affable and forthcoming environment. Unlike other liquor stores in the area, PT is not crammed to the gills with shelving and feels much airier than one would expect. There's even a Chinese Happy Buddha statue right there to greet you, and the young Chinese girl behind the counter tells you to rub its tummy for good luck—advice usually heeded by locals gobbling up throngs of lottery tickets.
After leaving the PT Market, the junkie made his way westward down Malone all the way to Lincoln, a corner housing the aptly named Lincoln Avenue Liquors. One can see what's left of an ancient neon sign directing visitors where to park. Unfortunately, this place has been getting flak from neighbors for what seems like decades now. One episode went down a few years back when the store began displaying X-rated cigarette lighters in glass cases, in full view of any adventurous minor who might be intrigued by such things. Residents brought the hammer down and coerced the owner to remove the lighters even though no one had actually purchased any of them.
At one time, this particular stretch of Lincoln Avenue was actually interesting, with a used bookstore, a used record store and a killer baseball card shop called Mike's Coliseum. Alas, no more.
From there, the junkie proceeded north all the way up into the heart of the neighborhood, the celebrated corner of Lincoln and Willow streets, also the site of Willow Glen Liquors. This is where many folks used to buy cheap wrestling tickets for bouts at the San Jose Civic, circa 1983. For eight bucks, kids could go watch the Magnificent Don Muraco (the bad guy) beat the crap out of Bob Backlund (the good guy), while our dads got embarrassingly plastered in the audience. Ah, the good ol' days.
If certain developers get their way, this classic liquor shop will probably bite the dust before too long, but the establishment is quintessential Willow Glen. You can tell because it carries brands of rotgut malt liquor that contain ginseng and amino acids.
Finally, the binge finished a few blocks up the road at one of the all-time distinguished landmarks of Willow Glen: Mr. T's Liquor Locker. The old-school neon sign is one of the most revered anywhere in the South Bay. Reviewer Martin "the butcher" B on Yelp.com gave it four stars: "I've talked to old timers who shoulder-tapped for drinks back in the early '60s. The original Mr. T is long gone but the Middle Eastern guy who owns it now doesn't seem to mind when I call him Mr. T."
He's actually Indian, not Middle Eastern, which proves one last thing: that reviewers on Yelp just cannot be trusted for accurate information.