Downtowns, similar to cities, are subject to change. That's what makes them potentially exciting places to live, work and visit. But when cities and downtowns stagnate, become dull and lack energy, they begin to fail.
Downtown San Mateo has experienced these changes. Before the Hillsdale Shopping Center became the city's shopping mecca, downtown San Mateo was the place to buy clothes, shoes, sports equipment, furniture, groceries, stationary and books. It included department stores such as I. Magnin, Joseph Magnin, Livingston's, Levy Brothers, Roos Brothers, Judd Green and J.C. Penney. All of these stores, with the exception of J.C. Penney, are defunct. The one thing it was short on was good restaurants. The locals shopped downtown but went to San Francisco for fine dining.
Fast forward to today. San Mateo hosts 120 restaurants downtown. No need to head to the city for a good meal. But retail has taken a hit. The most viable today are Talbot's Toyland and Cyclery; Walgreens drug store and Draeger's emporium market. All but Talbot's is part of a chain. Noah's Bagels, Baskin-Robbins, Starbucks and Peet's Coffee and Tea are also popular chain destinations. The place which has lines outside is TPumps, the Asian tea house that is a favorite of the under-30 set. There are a few specialty stores which survive, but it's a challenge for those establishments not part of a larger business.
For many years, the downtown purists have fought against offices because they would be empty at night and create a dead atmosphere. Wanted are attractive storefronts so people have something to look at and potentially buy as they window shop. These goals are in the city's General Plan. The irony is that these same purists fought the movie theater saying it was too big, would create too much traffic and crime