Downtown merchants hopeful despite vacancies

Despite a number of vacant storefronts and the possibility that holiday hit movies won’t open downtown, merchants in the city’s retail core are optimistic about the holiday shopping season.

This will be the second Christmas since On Broadway, the retail-cinema destination hailed as the catalyst for downtown’s revival, opened in July 2006 between Middlefield Road and Jefferson Street. While business is picking up, empty spaces remain — and very few winter events are planned to draw locals downtown, said Alpio Barbara, president of the Downtown Business Group.

Cathy Oyster, owner of Young’s Ice Cream & Candy Bar on Broadway, lauded Redwood City’s summertime events, which lured crowds with concerts and movies in the newly minted Courthouse Plaza near the On Broadway site.

“The special events have slowed down because the weather isn’t quite as friendly,” said Downtown Development Manager Dan Zack. “Luckily, after Thanksgiving the holiday movie season picks up.”

Many merchants are keeping a close eye on those films, especially after many of this summer’s blockbusters premiered at the Century 12, Redwood City’s 25-year-old movie theater on East Bayshore Road that some say is competing with the On Broadway site.

This week, “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” will debut at the Century 12,while “Enchanted” opens at the Century 20 downtown.

This winter, some of downtown’s vacant storefronts will feature entries in a Christmas-tree-decorating contest. Plans to display art in those spaces were scrapped when the city learned that some of those spaces could soon be leased to retailers, Zack said.

Reef Corporation recently assumed responsibility for leasing those sites, some of which have been vacant since the shopping center first opened, City Planner Blake Lyon said.

“There’s excitement over tenants taking over some of those spaces, but nobody’s at liberty to talk about it yet,” Barbara said.

There are plenty of reasons for locals to head downtown, including exotic restaurants such as Red Lantern and Mandaloun, Barbara said. Redwood City’s community event, Hometown Holidays, is expected to attract families hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus on Dec. 1.

“Business has been good, but we’re anxious to see how well-visited the Hometown Holidays are,” Oyster said.

Barbara said many merchants are optimistic about the season.

“This time of year, we’re all going to be busy. Downtown is a nice place to come, and people are working on bringing more businesses,” Barbara said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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