Is it time for local merchants to step up their game? BY JIM WOOD
Marin’s historic downtowns
are facing enormous
pressures in order to survive,
let alone prosper.
“Eight customers and this place is full,” owner
Ray Martin says. “And they come from all over,
Novato, Petaluma, even San Francisco.”
Have you enjoyed M. H. Bread and Butter?
While a few San Anselmo eateries have recently
closed, this bakery/cafe is thriving. Located
on the edge of downtown, it serves breakfast,
— for our central districts to succeed. At the
same time, many merchants will need to step
up their game as they compete for customers
with box stores, Amazon and the malls. That’s
my point of view. What’s yours?
DOWN TOWNS ARE M YS TERIOUS collaborations, especially here in Marin. Sometimes they thrive, other times they barely sur- vive. Their only planning is city
zoning; rarely does one entity own an entire
downtown; and most downtowns have long
histories. Novato’s Grant Avenue, one of Marin’s
youngest downtowns, is 90 years old.
By my count, there are nine downtowns in
the county. Alphabetically, they are Fairfax,
Larkspur, Mill Valley, Novato, Point Reyes
Station, San Anselmo, San Rafael, Sausalito and
Tiburon. Most of them have a city hall, library,
fire station and/or police department nearby, if
not directly in the central area. Marin’s beloved
city and town centers are also home to banks,
cafes, bars, movie theaters and restaurants.
Another commonality: due to big-box retailers (Costco, Best Buy, Staples), the internet
(Amazon — need I say more?) and many nearby
established shopping centers ( Town Center,
Vintage Oaks, The Village at Corte Madera,
Marin Country Mart), Marin’s historic downtowns are facing enormous pressures in order to
survive, let alone prosper.
You’d think with its homelessness problem,
San Rafael’s Fourth Street would be the last
place to invest money. But Paul Goldstone, a
Berkeley-based real estate investor, doesn’t
agree. He just paid “well into the millions” for
a decades-old 40,000-square-foot building in
the heart of that city, where he plans to create
a San Rafael Market Hall. “It will be similar
to Rockridge’s Market Hall, Oxbow in Napa
or the San Francisco Ferry Building,” he tells
me with confident optimism. “There’ll be food
and cooking vendors of all sorts, along with
inside and outside dining.”
Regarding the homeless issue: “Once
an environment is clean, well-lighted and
successful, those problems, over time, will
disappear,” says Goldstone, who owns build-
ings throughout the Bay Area and has already
begun construction in San Rafael.
A success of a different size is in downtown
Fairfax where Scoop, operating from a seven-
foot wide storefront, sells organic ice cream.
The vie ws and opinions expressed in this article are
those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the
policy or position of Marin Magazine and its staff.