HAYWARD -- Back in the days before the mall, it was Foothill Boulevard that had it all.
"This was it," said Rudy Grasseschi, who has watched the main drag outside The Cobblers shop change during the 60 years he has been there. "We had Capwell's, I. Magnin, Leeds, C.H. Baker -- that was ladies' shoes -- Woolworths, Smith's, we had everything. They called it 'The Golden Strip.'"
Grasseschi said the corridor looked great back then, but tenants started to leave after Southland Mall opened in 1964, and the Golden Strip has been tarnishing ever since.
That's where those recently erected scaffolds come in: Foothill is undergoing a face-lift as part of a partnership between the city and property owners to rejuvenate the aesthetics of the area. It involves new paint, new facades with towers, better signs and changes in frontages so they look more staggered, emphasizing the individual stores.
Gloria Ortega of the city's redevelopment agency said that once the work is finished this spring, Foothill Boulevard won't look like it did back in its glory days.
"It will be better, in a different kind of way," she said. "Architects are taking the buildings and tweaking what's there for a more distinct image."
The total cost of renovations is $2.85 million, Ortega said, with the city providing more than $1.1 million in low-interest loans through its Retail Attraction Loan Program.
Richard Weinstein, who owns the long stretch of storefronts that includes The Cobblers, said it's an effective tool that has worked wonders in other cities such as Oakland.
"You get very direct results when you improve a building's looks," he said. "Everybody benefits -- it just has a reverberating effect on the surrounding neighborhood."
In addition to the buildings being redone as part of the city's program, the owner of Chef's Experience on the opposite side of Foothill -- already one of the area's main destinations -- is in the middle of extensive remodeling that is being funded in part through another city loan, Ortega said.
"It demonstrates that confidence has increased, and business owners are stepping up to the plate," she said.
The renovations come as the city is redoing the sidewalks, lamp posts, traffic signals and roadway as part of the Route 238 improvement project, which is designed to improve traffic flow through the area.
Some of the work has been taxing on merchants, with a disruption of street parking just before the holidays being a common complaint, but shopkeepers are generally hopeful and optimistic about the future of their commercial corridor.
Elie Goldstein, owner of Kraski's Nutrition, has been an avid fan of the facade program but also a vocal critic of the Route 238 improvements, which he fears won't encourage drivers -- about 50,000 vehicles a day, by Caltrans estimates -- to stop and shop as they zip by on Foothill.
"I'm hoping for the best for everyone," he said. "I'm hoping the city engineers knew better than me, that they were right and I was wrong."
Contact Eric Kurhi at 510-293-2473. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.