HAYWARD -- Foothill Boulevard in downtown Hayward is beginning to show signs of new life after languishing for years.
The street running through the center of downtown in the 1940s and '50s was then called "The Golden Strip," and residents could shop at Capwell's, Joseph Magnin and Woolworths. In 1964, residents began taking their business to the other side of town when Southland Mall opened and Foothill began to struggle. But the boulevard is beginning to change.
As part of the Route 238 Corridor Improvement Project, it is being repaved, and sidewalks and streetlights have been installed, with landscaping coming later. Foothill will become one-way through much of downtown later this spring as part of a "loop" designed to ease traffic congestion.
Most of the new life is concentrated in the two blocks between B Street and City Center Drive. Buildings are getting face-lifts, with new straggered-height facades that emphasize the individual stores replacing drab storefronts. Several entrances are being brought closer to sidewalk pedestrian traffic.
Already, on the block between B and A streets, downtown visitors can find a wine and cheese shop with a sommelier, and a barbecue and jazz restaurant. Within months, those establishments will be joined by an edgy men's barber shop also selling clothing and artwork. Other existing businesses, such as Cyclepath, a bicycle shop, are spiffing up their storefronts. Geoff Harries, the owner of Buffalo Bill's, the popular brewpub and restaurant on B Street, wants to open one of the first craft distilleries in California that would sell distilled liquors directly to public. That will first require state legislators to change the law to allow small distilleries to bypass wholesalers.
Harries is going through the permit process to open the distillery on the west side of Foothill between A and B that for now will only sell to wholesalers. Behind it will be a restaurant, called Russell City.
The concept of craft distilleries selling directly to consumers has taken off in Washington state and Oregon, and Portland even has a distillery district, he said.
"Essentially it's just like craft brewing was 20 years ago," Harries said. "Buffalo Bill's was one of the first brewpubs in the country. Bill Owens, the founder, helped change laws to allow brewers to sell directly to the public."
Many of the changes along Foothill are the result of a partnership between the city and building owners. The facades are the city's last projects using redevelopment funds.
"Almost every block is undergoing a transformation," said Gloria Ortega, Hayward redevelopment project manager.
Ortega said the owners bore the majority of the cost, but the city provided a total of $1,108,000 in low-interest deferred loans, which property owners Raj Chabra and Richard Weinstein called crucial.
Chabra, who owns the building between A and B streets where Julian's BBQ Beer and Wine opened last year, credited Ortega with pulling the business owners together. "If one business does work on their building and the others don't, it doesn't have much effect. That just doesn't work," he said.
Julian's owner Keith Burks said he plans to be open six days a week starting this spring.
Next to Julian's is a breezeway that has been upgraded, with a stage and outdoor seating for both Julian's and a future restaurant.
A few doors down, Darren Guillaume, a certified sommelier, opened Doc's Wine & Cheese Revival in December. The store has daily tastings.
One of the more unusual shops is Massive, which will combine a barber shop, men's clothing and an art gallery. "There will be an urban feel to it," said owner Kevin Correa.
Massive will be next to Chalk It Up, a large billiards center currently downstairs. While it has a loyal following among locals, including Cal State East Bay students, many passers-by might not know it's there, Ortega said, so the pool hall is expanding its street-level entrance, and the downstairs has been upgraded.
"People can come down here to eat, catch a movie, shoot some pool, listen to some jazz and do some wine-tasting," Burks said.
On the other side of A Street, the Hayward Area Historical Society is renovating a 40,000-square-foot building between Russell Way and City Center Drive to turn it into an arts and culture center, said Myron Freedman, the society's executive director.
It will include a museum with three galleries, a cafe, and a library and research center. Upstairs will be an event center with seating for 150, a bridal room and patio that can be rented for weddings and other events. "We don't have a lot of venue space in downtown Hayward," Freedman said.
Elsewhere on the boulevard, Chef's Experience China Bistro has expanded, 2525 Vintage & Modern Resale Clothing opened last year and a Dollar Tree is opening in April.
"There's a definite renaissance in downtown Hayward," Burks said.