A Neighborhood Loses its Soul
There is an awkward stretch of about two blocks in West Menlo on the Alameda where commercialism invades an otherwise totally residential neighborhood. It is home to the Almanac newspaper and the Dutch Goose, among other establishments. Beginning almost six years ago, a subtle feeling of permanent change began sifting into the atmosphere, with the contraction of two long time establishments and the closing of a corner ice cream shop, all within a stone’s throw of one another.
Westside Hardware, which closed in 1998, was replaced by Blockbuster Video. Double Rainbow ice cream shop closed in ’99, and less than a year later Starbucks Coffee moved in. McQuarrie’s Pharmacy, a family-run business for 45 years, closed in 1998. A real estate office has been built on McQuarrie’s lot.
It was pleasing to work in a neighborhood that provided the services these three stores did. You could buy charcoal at the hardware store, fill your prescription at the pharmacy and cool off with a double scoop of ice cream, all within a hundred yards or so of one another. These stores doubled as gathering places, where neighbors and staff commingled while doing business.
Big business has invaded, and much of the soul of the ‘hood has evaporated. This is not an excuse to bash big corporate operations, though that is exactly what Blockbuster and Starbucks opened themselves up to when they moved in. How long will the Plantation coffee shop be able to hold off the deep-pocketed Starbucks? Was another Blockbuster necessary, when a short trip down Valparaiso to the El Camino would take you to an even bigger Blockbuster? And, to be honest, in this area and in this era, is there a bigger symbol of greed than the business of selling real estate?
I can walk outside and be surrounded by the changes this little neighborhood has endured in a relatively short time. Just to the northwest is a new, tastefully designed, beautifully landscaped, two-story building that appears to have filled only about half of its offices, and those seem to be venture capitalist firms. Next to Blockbuster, side by side, are another mortgage firm and another real estate office.
The new real estate office on the McQuarries lot is poised for completion and, though not an architectural eyesore by any means, its newness and its juxtaposition between the Goose and a wood-shingled three-shop mini strip mall makes it look out of place. The odor of money permeates the air.
Sure, some stalwarts remain to give the neighborhood a, well, neighborly feel. The aforementioned Goose, Luttickens deli, the plucky Plantation, these cornerstones are more than merely places to get a bite to eat, they lend a historical flavor to the surroundings.
Of course, there are people who look at these changes as a gentrification of the neighborhood. If, indeed, the subtractions and additions have resulted in an upgrade, it has been at the expense of much of the neighborhood’s charm.