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Downtown Openings


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BITER HAS SPENT many a year swaggering through the so-called Downtown Core of San Jose, and whenever an independent business bites the dust, we usually unleash a tirade of some sort. But believe it or not, there just might be some good news on this front. Several new downtown retail enterprises are either in the works or close to being finished.

We will soon see a place called CHIC CHATEAU move into the northeast corner of Third and San Fernando streets. The boutique establishment will offer elegant Renaissance furnishings, chandeliers, home accessories and apparel from Paris, L.A. and New York. A European-style tearoom will round out the establishment.

Of course, Chic Chateau won't cater to Pabst-guzzling dive-bar crowds, but it is a locally owned joint that is unique, not some Abercrombie & Fitch place. That's a good thing.

Furniture seems to be the trade of choice, as PUEBLO VIEJO IMPORTS recently opened a store downtown at 66 S. First St., hawking stylish furniture from Mexico. Right down the way, BLACK SEA GALLERY is also well on its way toward opening its furniture store in the old Woolworth's building.

"A trend that we've observed in other places is that, oftentimes, the first hard-goods retailers to enter a district will be on the furniture side," says Kelly Kline of the San Jose Redevelopment Agency. "They typically need more square footage, and therefore they have to get into the market earlier or they get priced out. They are often bellwether tenants from the perspective that you can almost count on others following them once they arrive. It's a common trend. It starts out with hard goods and then over time you get the softer goods."

So for now, furniture it is. But let's not count out the restaurants. For example, the chaps who own MISSION ALE HOUSE are in the process of converting the old Kleidon's building into a retro tiki bar called SMOKE, complete with custom-carved Polynesian sculptures and an outdoor patio. And the empty building next to the SAN JOSE INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ART is slotted to become a combo of a Mediterranean kebab factory and a Swedish cafe. THE MELTING POT (72 S. First St.) fondue restaurant, CAPER'S LOFT (90 S. Second St.) and UNIVERSITY CHICKEN (29 S. Third St.) are among the other eateries opening up soon.

"There are two dynamics at play," Kline explained. "One is that there's a significant increase in the number of people who are living in and near the downtown core. ... [This] is coupled with the other dynamic, which is more and more of our empty spaces are being filled. So there's greater continuity from a pedestrian point of view. And it's starting to feel synergistic. There's activity, there's excitement. We don't have all those gaps that feel empty and lonely and give people pause as they're walking down the street."

So empty buildings are filling up downtown. Cross your fingers—an independent funkiness might actually emerge. Let's just hope they don't bring in some god-awful Applebee's or something like that.

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From the February 23-March 1, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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