In my last post I mentioned storefronts that have been converted to private residences, and subsequent uses of the windows for personal displays. One person commenting on this post has some good thoughts about how these storefronts could be put back into use as small grocery stores or other businesses. I wonder about this possibility myself, although (aside from any zoning issues) I think only certain businesses would be approved by the homeowners in the area. Most people do not want any store that promotes people hanging out on the corner. Some of the corner markets still in existence that do not sell alcohol still sometimes attract hordes of teenagers in the afternoons and early evenings (so much so that some have signs that say “Only 3 students in store at a time.” Any businesses emanating smells (such as hair and nail salons) would be an issue as well. I have seen some professional offices, such as small architecture firms and law offices, on neighborhoods streets. These are generally quiet and only open during the day, of course.
What I have often imagined when walking by these old storefronts is more neighborhood cafes. They provide a place for people to hold meetings, run into neighbors, and catch a bite to eat near their homes. From my observations on walks, there seems to be no shortage of interest in more cafes. The new ones that have opened since I moved here have immediately become popular spots. Caffe Trieste, for example, opened at the corner of San Pablo and Dwight in a small strip that includes a few vintage clothing and antique stores and other small boutiques. Right away it seemed to be packed with people, day and night — eating and drinking, talking, reading, knitting, and working. The coffee was likely an attraction in and of itself (the original Caffe Trieste in San Francisco’s North Beach is known for its authentic espresso), but more importantly a cafe was greatly welcomed in this southwest Berkeley area where there are liquor stores, fast food restaurants, auto repair shops, and not too many gathering spots. While I think more cafes could be opened successfully throughout Berkeley, most of the converted storefronts would probably not work for this use unless the cafes had very limited hours. Most of the storefronts are not on commercial strips like San Pablo, and so the noise would probably not be acceptable to neighbors. In addition to the question of what would work in these storefronts, I have wondered why certain cities (such as New York and San Francisco) can have businesses interspersed with housing in neighborhoods, and yet it doesn’t work in other places. It may have something to do with people’s perception of whether they live in an urban or a suburban area, and so therefore what they expect of the environment in which they live. Whether Berkeley is urban or suburban or both is not a topic I am ready to tackle at this point. I’ll leave that for another day, or perhaps not at all (I wonder it anyone really cares about discussions like this beyond academia).