That Laurel Street Feel.
In the 26 years that I have lived in San Carlos, I have watched our downtown evolve from a sleepy collection of Mom & Pop stores that closed up promptly at 5:00, to a bustling center of eclectic shops and restaurants that pack in shoppers and diners from all over the peninsula. But throughout that gradual transformation, the downtown has always kept a “home-spun” feel to it. With the exception of the obligatory big-name coffee shops that proliferate every downtown, Laurel Street has always kept that vibe of “one-up” type of stores, many of which are indeed owned and operated by local families.
Like many residents of San Carlos, I simply assumed that the decidedly anti-chain feel of Laurel Street was the result of some sort of top-secret City mandate that prevented big, nationwide chain stores from setting up shop on Laurel Street. For as long as I can remember, there have always been rumors about name-brand stores snatching up the rare vacancies that cropped up along the north stretch of Laurel Street. Apple Store, anyone? How about the Restoration Hardware rumor? Yep, you’ve heard them too.
But they’ve never materialized.
I was quite surprised when I contacted my sources in City Hall a few months back while researching information about the Wheeler Plaza project to discover that there actually isn’t anything in the municipal code that prevents the big boys from grabbing a Laurel Street address. Quite to contrary, the City could really only dictate what type of function a particular location could be used for, but not necessarily who could open up there.
As it turns out, the people most responsible for maintaining the charm of downtown San Carlos are the landlords – the handful of owners of the buildings who rent the space to all of our favorite stores. For many years, they’ve simply opted to keep the feel of Laurel Street very much the same as it has always been, even throughout the rapid transformation of the last decade.
But that may now change.
Change on the Horizon.
As we have known for a few years, the landscape of Laurel Street is going to change…dramatically. Groundbreaking for the mammoth Wheeler Plaza project is just around the corner and that will completely transform the look and feel of the popular north stretch of Laurel.
But more recently, and much less publicized event took place that fostered a whole new round of rumors, and prompted one city leader to take action. The property at 652 Laurel Street, which has housed local favorites such as Plantation Coffee Roastery and Taqueria Mi Ranchito, has been sold to a developer and they’ve given the current tenants the boot. This has once again stirred up the rumor mill that chain stores would soon start creeping onto Laurel Street.
With very little formal power to review or limit which businesses could ultimately open up in the downtown area, Vice Mayor Cameron Johnson introduced an urgent measure to the City Council which would require chain stores to obtain a conditional use permit before opening up. This would give residents a vehicle to have their voices heard by community leaders before permission would be formally given for a business to open up. The ordinance would be in effect for the next 45 days, which buys the City time to implement permanent zoning measures. The ordinance was passed at the most recent City Council Meeting.
There are two very good articles written by Bill Silverfarb of the Daily Journal which discuss this issue in much greater detail. You can access them by clicking here and here.
Does this mean that there will be chain stores coming soon to San Carlos? Or should there be? Only time will tell — but at least now residents will have a say in that decision.
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