April 13, 2024
The crowds that packed the Rock N Roll Half-Marathon and the Little Italy Street Festival clearly weren't among the poll respondents who said they rarely had a reason to come to downtown San Jose.

You may have read the story over the weekend about struggling downtowns, based on a poll conducted by the Bay Area News Group and Joint Venture Silicon Valley. Seventy-nine percent of the poll respondents said they rarely or never visit downtown San Jose, with 76 percent saying the primary reason was they didn’t “have a reason to visit.”

Let me offer a few suggestions. This past weekend, for example, more than 11,000 people ventured downtown to participate in the Rock N Roll Half-Marathon and its related races, a few thousand were taking in the Little Italy Festival and 49ers fans were at San Pedro Square to watch Sunday’s big victory. That’s not to mention the people who went to San Jose Symphony’s season-opening weekend performance, saw “Bald Sisters” at San Jose Stage or “Toxic” at City Lights or caught the last couple of Broadway San Jose performances of “Hadestown” at the Center for the Performing Arts.

A casual peek inside both the old-school Original Joe’s and newcomer Rollati on Saturday night revealed tables of diners. Just ask the people across the street from Rollati walking through the hoops of the illuminated “Sonic Runway” display at San Jose City Hall.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 13: People walk through “Sonic Runway” in downtown San Jose, Calif., on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022. The installation will be here through 2027. A team created the installation led by artists Rob Jensen and Warren Trezevant and designer Stockhausen, it has 25 arches, stretching 432 feet. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

Vanessa Collier performs at the Sobrato Organization Main Stage during the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest at the Plaza de Cesar Chavez in San Jose, Calif., on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

Sal Pizarro/Bay Area News Group

Filmmakers and VIPs walk the red carpet at the California Theatre on the first day of the Cinequest film festival in downtown San Jose on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023. (Sal Pizarro/Bay Area News Group)

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – JULY 21: People dance during CityDance San Jose’s Bollywood night at the Circle of the Palms in downtown San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, July 21, 2022. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 31: People look at San Jose car clubs celebrating the city’s decades old ban on cruising being lifted at San Jose City Hall in San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)

Crowds fill South First Street during the SubZERO festival in downtown San
Jose on Friday, June 1, 2018. (Sal Pizarro/Bay Area News Group)

As temperatures in downtown reached 99 degrees, families gathered at the Plaza de Cesar Chavez fountains to stay cool in San Jose, California on Sunday, July 16, 2017.(Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group)

Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group archives

Pasquale Esposito entertains at the Little Italy San Jose Street Festival on North Almaden Boulevard in 2017. The event returns this weekend. . (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group archives)

People gather at Fountain Alley for the Urban Vibrancy Institute’s Block Party in downtown San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, May 18, 2023. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

The band Sweet HayaH performs on Post Street for the Urban Vibrancy Institute’s Block Party in downtown San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, May 18, 2023. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)



Sure, you might have favorite dining spots or wine bars at Santana Row or in Campbell, Los Gatos or Willow Glen. Fair enough. But there’s also San Jose Jazz’s Summer Fest and Winter Fest, Cinequest, the Rotary Fourth of July fireworks show, Christmas in the Park, Music in the Park and South First Fridays. Most of the Viva CalleSJ events run through downtown, there’s a big run just about every other month, and there’s also a hockey team called the San Jose Sharks who play at SAP Center, a venue filled some 200 nights a year with sporting events, concerts, monster truck rallies and WWE shows.

Now, it’s true that most of downtown San Jose is a ghost town during the day, with a small percentage of workers returning to offices after COVID-19 — but it’s a much different story at night, especially on weekends. More retail would give people an incentive to visit regularly, too.  And yes, one bad encounter downtown with somebody screaming — or doing worse — on a street corner is going to leave a lasting negative impression, as would seeing trash on the streets or boarded up windows. Notably, though, few people in the poll pointed to those as reasons they stay away.

So maybe San Jose’s bigger problem is one of perception and reputation. If a quiet night with Netflix is more your cup of tea, there’s nothing wrong with having that preference. But it doesn’t mean downtown is dead.

HOMETOWN HERO: Sports journalist Marc J. Spears, the senior NBA writer for ESPN’s Black-led media platform Andscape, was honored Saturday with the William Randolph Hearst Award from San Jose State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the Hammer Theatre Center.

Spears — who graduated from Silver Creek High School and San Jose State — was treated to a nine-minute video compiled by retired SJSU radio/TV Professor Bob Rucker with congratulations from a diverse group of people including Warriors Coach Steve Kerr, jazz musician Branford Marsalis, retired Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy and his mom, Carolyn Spears.

Spears, who was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this summer, got very emotional talking about the treatment he received after — as a member of the men’s basketball team and a writer for the Spartan Daily at San Jose State — he wrote an article about the lack of Black coaches in college basketball. But the university has been very good to him since those days, he said, and growing up in San Jose helped expand his worldview.

“I very much appreciate the city of San Jose for showing me what a diverse world is. Most people don’t get that opportunity,” said Spears, who described the people of various ethnicities who lived on his street in San Jose. “San Jose is the foundation, San Jose State is the foundation for everything I do now.”

CLOSING TIME: The South Bay is going to be a little less fun this fall. Downtown Campbell arcade bar LvL Up closed its doors Saturday, though it isn’t selling its fantastic array of pinball machines and old-school arcade games in hopes that the space’s next operator embraces the concept.

And S27 Ales owners Lucas and Kathy Szymanowski announced on Facebook that they’ll also be closing down their craft beer operation in San Jose after nearly four years. No big villain to blame here, they said in the post, just the unfortunate combo of rising prices and slumping sales. A final day hasn’t been determined yet, so the couple says fans should check their Facebook and Instagram pages for updates and stop by for a last pint or two.