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[whitespace] Willow Glen Shopping Center open for business

Willow Glen--Work is going on at the Willow Glen Shopping Center, and not just on the complex's remodeling project that began in August.

Stores remain open for business and are eagerly awaiting the arrival of a few newcomers, said Joe Kovalik, who, along with his father, is a managing partner of the shopping center and is overseeing the remodel.

Kovalik said that it's official: Hollywood Video and Burger King will move into the complex and should be open for business in early 2001. The entire project should be complete by April or May, he said.

Safeway will be expanded and is applying for a liquor license, Tina's Restaurant will add outdoor seating and a few new stores will be added to enhance the small-town atmosphere that Kovalik said he hopes to create in the center that he has owned with other family members since 1982.

"This will have a huge impact on the community," he said. "It's going to change the whole area, I think."

Most of the new stores will be chain companies, Kovalik said. The property owners are not renewing some of the current leases, such as the Willow Den Pub, which has already left, and the P.T. Liquor store, whose contract has been extended a few months until they can move out, Kovalik said.

"We really like to work with Mom and Pop tenants," Kovalik said. "But you don't see small family-owned businesses as far as video stores go. There comes a time when no one's willing to open a family-owned video store or family-owned coffee shop. It's nice to see national companies as excited to come in here as we are."

Kovalik said that they want to change the nature of the center and make the location more family-friendly to the nearby neighborhoods and the incoming developments on Communications Hill. He said that tenants have complained that loiterers and panhandlers have disrupted their businesses.

Kovalik said the existing stores are excited about the chain stores, too, because they will draw more people to the complex.

Roula Tsaganis, owner of Tina's Restaurant, said she hopes the new well-known tenants will increase the visibility of her own family-run independent business.

"We're hoping that it's going to help all of us here," she said. "Today (customers will) bring their child to Burger King, tomorrow they'll bring their family back for breakfast."

Tsaganis also said that she's looking forward to the changes that the remodel will make in the center's environment and safety, such as discouraging transients and skateboarders from hanging around.

"It needed to be remodeled a long time ago," she said.

Andy Benkert of San Jose Fly Shop agreed.

"It's going to make this a nicer center to come to, get it more in line with other centers," he said. "It's been here since the '60s, and architectural styles have changed a tad."

Tsaganis said she initiated the meetings Kovalik has held with the tenants to address business owners' concerns about the lack of parking for their customers during the construction and the appearance the work gives that their businesses are closed. Once fences went up around her restaurant, business slowed down until "Open for Business" signs were posted, she said.

"For the good of the shopping center, we need to have those kinds of meetings more often." she said.

Kovalik said that the stores are supportive of the changes on the strip, even though they come with higher rents. He said that he plans on holding monthly meetings with the business owners to keep them apprised of the remodel.

The changes have been in the works for the past few years, when San Jose's Office of Economic Development approached the owner partnership to update the look of the center with their support. Kovalik said that he and his partners had been thinking of the remodel themselves, and the city has helped the process.

Kovalik said, though, that they have had to accommodate the Department of Public Works' requirement to replace the sidewalks along Almaden Road and Curtner Avenue. They will also be adding between 10 and 12 palm trees along Almaden Road.

The color scheme will be changed, the awnings will be replaced and neon light towers will be added with the new name Willow Glen Plaza.
Kate Carter

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