I visited downtown Los Altos on a whim on a recent Wednesday night to fulfill my desire for frozen yogurt. It was so deserted that I expected to see tumbleweeds rolling by as I drove down Main Street toward Miyo.
Despite downtown’s many restaurants, I wondered why open parking spots outnumbered people by approximately 20 to 1. While this is a downtown that certainly needs revitalization, between Aldo Los Altos, LuLu’s, Opa, Sumika and many other eateries, business should be booming. Los Altos has a substantial variety of restaurants, and people should be competing for parking spots as they frequent them nightly.
During Los Altos City Council brainstorming sessions on boosting activity downtown, ideas included adding “current” and “with it” restaurants, a movie theater and a pedestrian mall. However, the variety of restaurants has yet to draw more nightlife to this ghost town. Even Zitune, a Michelin Guide-recommended restaurant, closed just a few years after its arrival.
Downtown Los Gatos is a frenzy of activity in the evenings – children eating tasty treats in Powell’s Sweet Shop, ladies night at J.Crew, drinks and sushi at the high-end Katsu Japanese restaurant. This is definitely a viable model for Los Altos, which shares a similar demographic. A successful restaurant and gathering spot like the Los Altos Grill – full to the brim each night – proves that we can draw people downtown.
Maybe the issue is retail shops that people would actually enjoy at night. It seems that many of downtown Los Altos’ retail stores close for the day when the sun is still high in the sky – or leave town altogether before we even learn their names. By contrast, in downtown Los Gatos, you can find people shopping at the high-end Kitsch Couture, Sur La Table or Apple Store until 8 p.m., and then grabbing a late dinner at one of the many thriving restaurants.
What would it take to transform our downtown into a vibrant, people-filled and economically favorable vision?
While a college class in growth management does not qualify me to solve the city’s problems, it is obvious to anyone with eyes that there is a problem with downtown that could be attributed to a number of factors. For many Los Altos residents, the downtown debate may not be a top-of-the-mind issue, but people will certainly fail to show support by forgoing downtown establishments when they choose the venues for their nighttime meals and activities.
The early-closing stores and sad, empty streets are not a very inviting scene.
Alyssa Jacobson is a Los Altos resident.