Published March 17, 2009
Volume 17, Number 3

Downtown Pleasanton: ‘What Everyone Wants to Embrace’

It’s hard to pick a starting point when it comes to the virtues of downtown Pleasanton. With its historic character and inviting ambiance, bolstered by the ongoing efforts to make it an even more exciting and comfortable destination, visitors can choose from activities as diverse as wine strolls, Sunday morning cyclist road rides, and, starting next year, a medley of events at the Firehouse Arts Center.

“Where else would you see people dressing up their puppies in costumes?” asks Christine Salidivar, Executive Director of the Pleasanton Downtown Association (PDA), referring to the annual Pooch Parade that highlights the August 1st Wednesday Street Party celebrating the dog days of summer.

“It reminds me of a Norman Rockwell painting. We still have that small-town experience. It’s what sets us apart,” she says.

Downtown Pleasanton is now “more family-oriented than ever,” Salidivar continues. “It’s what everyone wants to embrace. You can walk down the street with your kids and the family dog, get an ice cream cone, smell the aroma of fresh-baked bread, sit outside and have a glass of wine at one of the many restaurants. You can find almost anything in our specialty businesses, and with the doctors, attorneys, veterinarians, CPAs, etc., almost all your needs can be met in the downtown area. You can learn how to knit, or cook, or attend a book-signing. There are all kinds of opportunities to meet new people, learn new skills, and have fun.”

The non-profit PDA is well known for producing a year-round series of events during which the city’s tree-lined Main Street plays the supporting role. Its broader mission, however, is maintaining the vitality and hometown character of the district. Staff and volunteer committees address all kinds of issues and projects, from design and beautification to economic vitality and parking. A revamped south entrance to downtown is one of the topics currently under discussion.

Aspiring to enliven downtown buildings with glimpses into Pleasanton’s history, the PDA’s mural program is also moving forward. The first mural, “Celebrate This Beautiful Valley—A View of the Valley Looking South, Back in Time,” dedicated in July 2007, stretches along the St. Mary’s Street side of Strizzi’s restaurant. Negotiations with property owners, currently underway, will determine both the location and design of the second, but Salidivar hopes to keep to the historical theme. “Murals are a huge attraction,” she comments, noting that some people plan tours all over the country to visit them. “Plus they are a way of maintaining our past,” she points out. “Schoolchildren come downtown to study our first mural, by local artist Gary Winter, which shows what Pleasanton might have looked like 100 years ago—the Fairgrounds with the horse track, fields of cows, the hopyards. It was a simpler time.”

In the promotional arena, Salidivar ranks last year’s launch of the Downtown Gift Card as a major accomplishment.  “We are just one in a handful of downtowns in the country to successfully implement a gift card program,” making the PDA something of an expert in the subject. Undoubtedly, one of the secrets to that success is the participation of almost 100 different businesses, which makes the card the perfect answer to virtually any gift quandary. “Whether you want dine out, go to the spa, even pay a visit to the psychiatrist, there are so many different ways to use the card. And because you can buy it online as well as locally, we have people from all over—New York, the Midwest—who buy cards for friends and relatives. And all the money goes back into the local economy,” Salidivar emphasizes.

The semi-annual Downtown Wine Stroll has proved to be an extremely popular event, usually attracting sell-out crowds of close to 1,000. Its unique format, with vintner-sponsored tastings inside individual businesses, allows attendees to boost their wine IQ while getting to know what local merchants have to offer. “It’s a wonderful time for attendees and fantastic for business,” Salidivar remarks. “People are always discovering cute new shops that they didn’t know were here.” Thanks to a strong partnership with the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association, she expects the next wine stroll, on July 16, to be bigger, with more people and more locations.

Representing a variety of architectural styles, downtown Pleasanton’s historic buildings are always a big draw. One of the stand-outs is the Museum on Main, constructed in 1914 as Pleasanton’s town hall. It became home to the museum in 1984. Now supported by the Amador-Livermore Valley Historical Society, the museum welcomes more than 12,000 visitors each year, as well as 5,000 Pleasanton schoolchildren who visit for an interpretive talk and tour. The museum offers a wealth of programs, from local and regional history exhibits and lectures to walking tours and a photo and document archive.

Another downtown highlight, and one of the city’s most recognizable sights, is the Pleasanton arch across Main Street. It was commissioned by the Women's Improvement Club in 1932 at a cost of $532, and was originally topped with police and fire horns. Today, it is one of the few original gateway signs remaining in California.           

For those fascinated by architecture’s place in history, a Downtown Walking Tour map has been created by the PDA, architect and local historian Charles Huff, and the Amador-Livermore Valley Historical Museum. Filled with photos and more than 60 history vignettes, it can be found online at: www.pleasantondowntown.net/pdfs/WalkingTourGuide.pdf.

The PDA also partners with the city and commercial real estate professionals to recruit a steady influx of new tenants, both retail and office, a key strategy in executing its economic vitality mission. Here, too, Salidivar reports several positive developments. Refurbishing of the old Koln Hardware building is “all but complete,” with anchor Comerica Bank moving in this spring. A March debut is scheduled for another building occupant, Yolatea, which will serve fun snacks like gelato, yogurt, and ice tea. 

“We have, like the rest of the nation, a few vacancies down here, but we also have new businesses coming in,” she says, mentioning that Sunol’s Little Valley Winery is opening a wine-tasting room downtown, also this spring. The tasting room is an exciting first, and, with negotiations going on for other spaces downtown, Salidivar anticipates other new business announcements to follow.  

Still, there is always room for more outreach, and she has a timely message for the community. “Now, more than ever, where things are purchased can make a difference. The next time you think about buying a book, or a gift, consider where your money will go, and support the local economy,” she advises. “Everyone is having a more challenging time, so it is up to us to make decisions that ensure our community will remain what we want it to be.”  

“I really want people to know that, in addition to your familiar downtown favorites, there is always something new and exciting,” she continues. “We offer a combination of things you can depend on and things you didn’t find before. And with the wealth of events plugged into the calendar,” she adds, “there is always a good reason to spend some time under the arch on Main Street.”

“Special events happen every day of the week in downtown, whether they are sponsored by the PDA or individual businesses,” observes Salidivar. To keep residents and visitors better informed, the PDA has a “What’s Up Downtown” calendar on its website, www.pleasantondowntown.net. Here are the highlights of the annual event cycle:

The Downtown Farmer's Market
Saturdays, year round
9 a.m.-1 p.m.           
The Pleasanton Farmer's Market is open every Saturday, rain or shine. Shoppers find farm-fresh produce, fresh-cut flowers, herbs, and specialty foods on Angela Street, between Main and First Streets. Afterward, many browse the shops and stop for lunch at one of 40 great downtown restaurants.

1st Wednesday Street Parties
1st Wednesday of the month, May-Sept
6-9 p.m.
Over the past 10 years, the monthly 1st Wednesday street parties have made downtown a regular destination for as many as 20,000 people, who come to shop, eat, meander among close to 200 vendor booths, and mingle in the beer garden. A large swath of Main Street closes to auto traffic during the party.  A community event and special entertainment are typically part of the repertoire, but the PDA is constantly adapting the formula so there is always something new or fresh to keep it fun. This year’s themes are:
•    May 6 - Cinco de Mayo Celebration with music by La Ventana
•    June 3 - Jump into Summer, with the Cocktail Monkeys
•    July 1 - Red, White & Blues, the Crisis
•    August 5 - Dog Days of Summer, featuring Houserockers
•    September 4 - Celebrate Pleasanton, featuring D-Lucca

Antique & Collectible Faires         
Sunday, May 24 and October 11
8 a.m.- 4 p.m.
Attend one of the largest outdoor antique fairs in California. This event is an antique lover’s dream, with a wide variety of antiques to entice you as your stroll through downtown Pleasanton.

Friday Concerts in the Park
Fridays, June 5-September 4
7-8:30 p.m.
Concerts take place in Wayside Park on the corner of First and Neal Streets. Enjoy live music ranging from blues, country, jazz, pop, swing, disco, R&B, Latin and rock.  Families and expert picnickers often stake out their spots with blankets hours before the concerts begin. Concerts include:
June 5 - The CoolTones, Swing/Big Band
June 12 - The Corvairs, 50s/60s Rock & Roll
June 19 - Hurricane, Blues & Rock
June 26 - The Crisis, Honky Tonk/Funk/Rock
July 3 - Burton & Co., Jazzy Blues
July 10 - Rock Explosion, Rock
July 17 - Kilimanjaro Jazz, Jazz and R&B
July 24 - La Ventana, Latin Rock & Salsa
July 31 - Houserockers, Rock ‘n’ Soul
August 7 - Cocktail Monkey, Motown & Contemporary Rock
August 14 - Finding Stella, Pop Rock
August 21 - Magic Moments, ‘50s Legends Review
August 28 - D-Lucca, Modern Jazz
September 4 - Public Eye, Dance/Top 40s

Summer Wine Stroll
Thursday, July 16
6-9 p.m.
Over 30 businesses throughout downtown Pleasanton are paired with Livermore Valley wines for visitors and shoppers to taste and experience. Advance tickets required.

Magical Holiday Evening
Friday, November 20
6-9 p.m.
Get a head start on the holidays and enjoy special hospitality and seasonal promotions visiting the wonderful shops and businesses downtown.

Hometown Holiday Celebration
Saturday, December 5
5:30-8:30 p.m.           
Main Street closes to vehicle traffic at 4 p.m. for the city-sponsored annual Holiday Parade. The official tree lighting takes place around 6:30, accompanied by a community sing-a-long and Santa’s arrival. Many retailers will remain open during the evening for holiday shopping.

The Pleasanton Downtown Association is a community of dedicated individuals and business owners. Its mission: to promote the economic vitality and hometown character of downtown. Through cooperative efforts, activities, and community events, the Association strives to make the downtown area an integral part of the city. Along with Executive Director Christine Salidivar, PDA staff includes Alisha Perdue, Event Coordinator, and Sue Post, Administrative Assistant.

All businesses in the downtown area are automatically general members of the PDA. In addition to having voting rights, they may also become Board members, committee chairpersons, and officers. Comprised of members, property owners, and city residents, PDA committees and sub-committees create a forum for maintaining cultural and economic vigor.

PDA officers are: President, Judy Wheeler-Ditter, Towne Center Books; President-Elect, Janet Yarbrough, CPA; Secretary, Bernie Billen, Valley Community Bank; Treasurer, Doug Linman, Performers Studio; and Past President, Brent Alverson, Zzippes of Pleasanton. Committee chairs are: Marketing, Alexis Gass, Clover Creek; DVC, Vera Revelli, Civic Center Station; and Design, Mike Carey, Investment Real Estate Co. General members who are interested in becoming involved with any of the PDA's many activities should contact the PDA office or any Board member.

The PDA offers an Associate Member program for businesses located outside downtown that wish to join and support the organization. Sandi Bohner, Little Valley Winery, is Associate Member Representative.

Associate Members are entitled to a number of benefits, including the opportunity to promote their businesses with a booth at the 1st Wednesday Street Parties. For information on becoming an Associate Member or to learn more about Downtown Pleasanton, call the PDA office at (925) 484-2199.or visit www.pleasantondowntown.net. A new business directory will be available later this spring.


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