HAYWARD -- While downtown has seen its share of shops closing in the past few months, recent developments at key locations as well as a city-sponsored plan for a Foothill Boulevard face-lift have generated excitement among shopkeepers.
Two large buildings at the Foothill gateway -- the former Mervyns office and Kumbala restaurant buildings -- are spoken for by new owners. The Mervyns building was sold at auction last month for $5.7 million to an undisclosed buyer that is finalizing the deal, while the Hayward Area Historical Society has completed its purchase of Kumbala and is refurbishing the space to turn it into a museum and cultural center, hoping for an opening next spring.
A Japanese buffet is poised to move into the showcase second-floor space in the Cinema Place complex.
Meanwhile, some of the smaller storefronts have disappeared.
"I do think that it's a natural transition that is occurring," said Gloria Ortega, the city's redevelopment project manager.
She said some of the vacancies downtown, such as the Rod Rack on B Street, were due to owners retiring. Others such as the Yogurt Sugar Shack at Foothill and B just never took off.
Steve Worley is closing his Worley's Medical Supplies on B Street after two years because there wasn't enough business to keep his niche-market shop afloat.
"It's medical supplies, and maybe that doesn't work downtown," he said. "I was facing an uphill battle. I think other businesses will do well, though. Restaurants and bars. I imagine downtown might eventually become a nightspot."
B Street's new nightspot, the Me Restaurant and Lounge, was poised to open this weekend but owners said they were unsure whether they would pull it off. If not, expect the Me to open within days.
"We're going to start slow, with the entertainment part first," said owner Monica Thompkins. "Then we'll start offering dining after that."
Food downtown has been a popular addition, because "food never goes out of style," said Ortega.
Montero's Market on Foothill has been doing brisk business with its taqueria and Mexican supermarket, the Main Street Diner recently moved into the Green Shutter Hotel and Something Sweet, a confection shop a few doors down from the Cinemark movie theater, is due to open later this month.
Elie Goldstein, owner of Foothill institution Kraski's Nutrition, said he's optimistic about what he sees going on. He recently moved his shop a few doors down to take advantage of access to the rear parking lot, and the improvements to the interior have made his customers happy -- which, in turn, makes him "really, really stoked."
Goldstein is also a big fan of facade improvements slated to begin on the two-block stretch of Foothill from City Center Drive to B Street.
"The elevation changes (to the rooflines) are going to give each business its own personality," he said. "I think it's going to be dynamite for the city."
Goldstein is less thrilled with the downtown one-way loop of streets due to begin construction this month. He called it a "one-way noose" that has the potential to choke businesses because traffic will be encouraged to speed through the area.
"It's going to put a lot of stress on businesses here," he said. "But I hope the City Council is right about it, and I'm wrong."