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June 28, 2005



Byron's good store but kind of stuck in a time warp, similar to the men's fashion store that closed in downtown San Mateo.

Downtown Burlingame sure is a major problem. How are they ever going to fix that slum?


Well, I too miss some of the mom-and-pop shops and certainly don't enjoy an all chain shopping experience. It's important though to consider that many mom-and-pops aren't shutting due to some forces of evil, but rather because they don't stay current. I've wondered for years how Byrons actually held on -- dated displays, old interior.

This November's election is going to be important to the future of our city, particularly with respect to growth. The existing city council members up for election and the hamber of commerce have failed to define any plan to attract businesses to Burlingame and we're seeing the impact of that with departing businesses and many vacant storefronts. A city council with visionary leaders could take very specific actions to jumpstart growth in the city.

It's the passing of a generation or two, really. Mr. Byron held on to that store as long as he could, probably couldn't even imagine having to retire in this manner, and he did have a following. Change is a constant, yet not always positive. Our city is taking more or less a laissez-faire attitude towards business, and as a result, not much is happening. It's very tough being the little guy. It takes clever, motivated businesspeople, like the owners of Towles, or Sams, to try out something new, and it is also risky for them. When I go to Hillsdale mall, which is seldom, I cannot help but notice that the crowds are nearly gone. The stores are pretty deserted. Mall shopping seems to be on the outs, (perhaps with the exception of Stanford which is outdoors and almost like a little community.) People seem to prefer being outdoors when possible, in a less gentrified environment. I think the mom and pops, some indeed outdated, still provide the interest and flavor that is lacking in the malls and makes it pleasant to shop in older downtowns like ours. We only have a handful of them left, and these are nice, unusual shops. They aren't just space-takers, they are stores with a following, and when they go, a chunk of clients go with them. If we eventually end up with only corporate stores in this town, which is entirely possible, then very little will set us apart from a mall, probably just a handful of restaurants and who knows for how long. There should be a place for all sorts of businesses in a downtown; I'm thinking Mill Valley, Los Gatos, etc. Other cities manage to set the bar very high, and people are still banging on their doors to come in. There's lots to learn from other places. We don't need to reinvent the wheel.

In this respect it's interesting to contrast Broadway to Burlingame Ave. Broadway manages (at least so far) to retain a great variety of more Mom Pop type businesses with a resulting variety and uniqueness now missing on Burlingame Ave.

If you look at the minutes of the Planning Commission meeting a couple of weeks ago the difference is stark: Broadway businesses have come together and agreed on a vision for what the area should be, and are petitioning the commmission as a group to make changes consistent with that vision. Meanwhile, Burlingame Ave has a petition to replace Sweet Treats and Nelson's Coffee (two local unique Mom Pop businesses) with a somewhat upscale restaurant which is a copy of an existing one in San Francisco (and by my count the third new somewhat upscale restaurant on that block). The only thing the businesses of Burlingame Ave can agree on is that they want their $250 back.

Of course, my last comment is an exaggeration there were (and, I assume, still are) many Burlingame Ave business owners who put a lot of effort into an attempt to pull their peers together in a cooperative effort to improve the area. I don't mean to reopen the whole DBID can of worms (especially if it risks turning this thread into another why-I-don't-like-Joe? diatribe).

The point is that there is a big difference, at least in the eyes of an outside observer, in the way these two districts are evolving under the same city government, so there must be something else at play.

Who owns the buildings on Broadway? Is it similar to Burlingame Ave. area, with just a few people owning nearly every building or complex, or is it several varied individuals? I think problems happen when one owner owns a bunch of contiguous properties, because it easily leads to walls being torn out, and 3 or 4 businesses becoming one single one (probably chain). Once this expensive process has begun, it isn't so easy to reverse. The rents have already popped up then, and subdivision, or reverting back to an old footprint is costly and cumbersome. This is why the council should have put limits, not on chains, but on total square footage allowed in new proposed stores or restaurants. It was discussed, and killed off promptly. But the result of inaction has been more and more spaces being combined to create huge spaces, that consequently will only logically house a large chain or restaurant. I'll bet the total number of businesses in the downtown area has actually decreased a fair amount in the last decade. The business license people could probably verify this. What does that spell for that part of town? BOREDOM.


I always find these Broadway vs. Burlingame Ave. debates amusing. I appreciate that certain people on this site prefer Broadway -- that's fine. But to imply that there is something fundamentally wrong with Burlingame Ave. based on that individual preference is absurd. A simple comparison of the foot traffic on Broadway vs. Burlingame Ave. is pretty telling as to what most people prefer.

True so far, JL, but looking down the line, people will need something more enduring. The malls used to be full, too. The attraction of Burlingame Avenue, I believe, is still in the few remaining independents. They are the glue holding disparate pieces together. It isn't that I hate chains. I shop there, too. But it is a much more enjoyable experience to have some unusual stores and items tucked in there as well. Imagine the upper block (where Morning Glory is) devoid of those few imaginative stores, replaced either with more empties, or chains. Eventually the chains get monotonous. People like unique items, I think. By the way, I am in no way saying that I prefer Broadway to Burlingame Avenue, I have no preference. But there is a lot to be learned from their histories, and their patterns.


Why worry about bigger, fancier stores on Burlingame Ave? Smaller stores still have areas on the side streets and Howard and Chapin Aves to grow onto.

Independents require local people to invest their life savings (usually) into the area. A limited pool to draw from vs. the entire globe. A mix is what the city needs for the future.

More bloggers need to open up businesses and spend less time at council meetings.

I agree with the healthy mix comment, no problem there, but why do the small stores need to be on the side streets. Actually, had anyone really thought it through, the chains should have been on the side streets and the indies on the Avenue, but it's late for that.

I'm curious why you have an issue with some of these bloggers paying attention and attending Council meetings? A lot happens at Council meetings, and the most interesting stuff is probably not visible from the camera. The 3D perspective is quite interesting.


I don't know about the paying attention, but behavior at council meetings in Burlingame has become a problem in the last few years. The snoring (or snorting), razzing, hissing, outbursts etc. Never used to happen and it is entirely unproductive.

Did Jenn drop a letter from her name or is this a new Jen?


Jen, I don't mean to single you out but you said something very important. It isn't that I hate chains. I shop there, too.? Like so many people you talk about the charm of the mom and pop stores, but you admit that you give money to the chains. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. I do most of my shopping (aside from grocery, usually) in San Francisco. I catch the BART train in Millbrae and I explore The City. There I find all kinds fun places where I'm happy to spend my money. Burlingame Avenue is dreadful today. But while I would like to see more independent shops on The Ave again, I'm obviously in the minority. As long as people keep buying crap from the chains, they will continue to devour small businesses. I bet a Walmart would thrive in this town!

You are absolutely right, Sean. It is a very difficult balance, and right now the chains are winning and have been for awhile. The problem with just relying on the mom and pops though is, that they do not, and cannot provide everything. I'm still looking for a place that sells undergarments for men and women, and also basic hardware. I go to Wisnoms which is the most wonderful store around. We have an oversupply of womens' clothing shops, too. If I could buy everything, or nearly everything at the indies, I would. I am happy to spend more money there, just to avoid having to travel elsewhere.I think the malls thrived because people had to go to them to fill in the gaps missing from the goods at the indes., plus everything was in one place. Now the mall has come to us, so to speak. But I 100% agree with your assessment, and Walmart could find fans here, though not in me. PS for Heather. Don't know how the "n" got dropped off my name but it is still the same me! Agreed that bad behaviour on both sides of the podium needs to stop.


Maybe they should put a Wal-Mart where the drive-ins used to be.

I'm not sure if that would be a good idea.

Pit bull

Jen or Jenn...why don't you run for council? you seem to have all the time in the world know all the answer...what a joke!

Pit bull

and Cathy...i don't have any suggestions...why don't you respond to Barbara!

'Seems like you have a problem with residents having various opinions about how the city is run and possibly, how they can be improved. Sad.


The large chains bring in big rents and taxes but damage the unique image of a small town. An unrestrained grown will bring in short term money but will fail in the long run and Burlingame Ave. will be overrun by corporate america. The large chains will help bring the public to downtown Burlingame where they will also spend their money at our smaller mom and pop stores. This approach of planned complementary and substitute store will offer downtown a mix of shopping and bring in the necessary tax revenue to keep the city going. Too much of any one thing (large or small) is going to limit the success of Burlingame. Burlingame is a first class destination and many people WANT to be here. If Burlingame doesn't act soon, other surrounding cities will deveolped downtown areas (Bay Meadows plan) and will take away business that should be in Burlingame. I still mourn the loss of La Pinata and wish that it would return, but I also realize that larger chain stores will bring business to Burlingame and enable other smaller stores to survive. Be carefull..... large developers looming with campaign war chests to elect a "favorable" City Council that will allow the developers to do as they please.


My wife and I have looked into opening a store on Burlingame Ave. The rent, deposit, etc were out of sight. We felt the landlord was attempting to eliminate the individual business owner, because the chain stores are willing to pay the big bucks.


I doubt that the landlords are intentionally trying to eliminate small business owners. The rental market is what the rental market is. Do you remember the office market in the late 90's it was out of sight and had a correction.

I doubt the landlords care if they rent to an individual or a corporation as long as they pay what the market demands.


KRN, if Burlingame Ave gets overrun by corporate America? it's the fault of the residents. If people didn't shop at these places they would cease to exist. You say that [t]he large chains will help bring the public to downtown Burlingame ? which I find to be a very sad (but probably true) social commentary. It's the big chains that keep me from wanting to be in downtown Burlingame. If it were not for a couple of small shops that I enjoy, I would never be on The Ave anymore. Clearly, the majority of people want Burlingame Avenue to become an outdoor strip-mall; they may say otherwise, but they continue to feed the beast with their cash.


So what you are saying is it is not the landlords who will determine the future of downtown Burlingame it is the shoppers and their spending habits.

Sean, I'm wondering if in fact, they are really feeding the beast. I don't know if it is a fact or fiction, but awhile back, it was said that several of the chains do not make profits in Burlingame. However, having their logo and storefront for all to see, and the "status" if you can say that, of having a Burlingame store, still made it worthwhile to keep the places running. The comparison was made with running a magazine or newspaper ad,, which generally do cost thousands, and the cost of the rental on the place would be comparable to an ad campaign. As I said, I have no idea if that is urban myth, or not, but it is an interesting thought. People in Sausalito have long said that the tourist come and buy ice-cream cones, and just look at everything else.


I contend that Downtown Burlingame is not like a mall at all. Sure it has a mix of chains and independents-but unlike a mall it has accountants, attorneys, insurance brokers, real estate agents, architects, interior designers, graphic designers and many other services that you can not take advantage of in a mall. The mix is delicatley balanced. That balance can easily become imbalanced and it is up to council to dictate how growth occurs. And council represents the people. The downtown core should not be entirely market driven. If it is then landlords will charge $8.00 a square foot, as some are currently doing, and that will only attract a certain segment of the market. It could very well "kill the goose that laid the golden egg" as one city councilwoman is fond of saying.


Russ, you throw around that goose comment a lot but you and your buddies seem to be the only ones seeking goose death.

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