Alameda in business: Park Street Plaza
Alameda in business: Park Street Plaza
The old Pillow Park Plaza furniture store has been transformed into a plaza stuffed with boutiques, art and fine wines. Photo by Michael Lano.
Hobbled by the recession, the former Pillow Park Plaza furniture store at 1419 Park Street is once again a busy, all-in-one shopper’s paradise, complete with period art deco neon lights that fit right in with the nearby Alameda Theatre & Cineplex. At well over 10,000 square feet, the collection of businesses at Park Street Plaza includes new boutiques, an art and cultural center, a florist, and a wine and spirits shop.
"We've always been about change, adapting to changing trends of the market and welcoming other businesses for everyone's benefit," said Debbie George, who co-owns the space with her husband, Frank.
George said the city was “really great” to the couple as they worked to transform their space; Park Street Plaza was one of the last recipients of the city’s façade grants, which have been used to beautify storefronts across the Island.
The Georges see their new venture as a “retirement job,” Debbie George said; other merchants now operating out of the plaza take care of things while the pair take time off to live life.
“We just got a new golden retriever puppy and if we want to take a few days off we can do that now,” George said.
But in 1972 Frank George was just getting started, setting up shop on Park Street as other businesses headed to Alameda South Shore Center. He and Debbie George, who operated a similar business, married and joined their efforts.
“It’s hard to believe we originally started decades ago here on Park, with a kind and friendly handshake $5,000 loan from Alameda First National Bank for what eventually became Pillow Park,” Debbie George said.
After gaining a reputation for making comfortable pillows with lots of fabric, Frank George shifted to selling furniture. He came to Park Street after renting spots at flea markets in San Jose and at the old Alameda drive-in movie theater, setting up shop in the space now occupied by Tomatina restaurant. The couple moved to their current location in 1996.
“Park Street really is worth fighting for,” George said.
The cornerstone of the new mall is the George-owned Bonne Vie Beer, Wine and Fine Cigars Store, complete with a giant Cigar Store Indian that looks straight out of an episode of Seinfeld. Bonne Vie also offers artisanal beers from all over the world, which have become one of the store’s most popular offerings, along with select rare spirits.
“Whenever anyone asks me to start carrying something here like a unique beer, (it) puts me into overdrive,” George said. “I’ll do my best to hunt it down and then let our customers know when we’ve begun selling it.”
The mall’s mix also includes specialty clothing stores like Lanvie, which now operates a “factory store” in its original Webster Street location and also has shops in Walnut Creek, Pleasanton and Roseville. Designer Lan Liu’s Park Street shop features dress to casual clothes, work and office clothing and accessories, necklaces, tailored wear, slacks, skirts, blouses, sweaters and more with a global flair.
It's also the new home of Aphrodite’s Closet, which relocated here after its original Park Street digs caught fire (that building is still not yet repaired).
The first establishment one sees upon entering is Gotham Harbor Coffee Company, along with owner Brian Hunter. Hunter welcomes everyone who comes in, as does the aroma of premium, locally-roasted coffees, which is prevalent even a block away. High schoolers at lunch break enjoy the energy boost and the hard-to-find imported snacks and treats Hunter stocks.
Hunter personally makes each cup whether it’s served hot or cold, with a myriad of mix-in choices “just as my family members did for many years at their store at San Francisco’s Cannery,” he said.
“I think Debbie and Frank have tried to recreate the best aspects of the Cannery of old, and Ghirardelli Square right here with the remodel,” Hunter said. “It’s fun and you can get your shopping done along with coffee and treats.”
With the loss of Lynn’s Flowers and others near Park Street, the busiest new store at the Plaza when I visited was its florist, Dandelion Flowers & Gifts. The shop can craft simple Mother’s Day, birthday and congratulatory flower arrangements wrapped in its signature brown tissue paper and bow; highly complex custom event displays; and “everything in between.” Dandelion also stocks unique jewelry and gifts.
Another great find for families is Artistic Home Studio and Boutique. Kids of all ages can learn glass fusing and also, how to make and design easy to intricate stained glass, mosaics, paintings. The “owners/creative muses” are Rachel Gingold and JaYing Wang, who’ve put together a large and efficient working art studio. Both times I visited, it was packed with kids and parents crafting, painting oil portraits and making crafts that looked professional enough to be put on sale.
The studio is taking signups for their tweens and teens week-long summer art camps; additional information is available on the studio’s website.
The plaza is also home to a gallery, Gary Francis Fine Art (more on that from The Alamedan’s art writer, Michael Singman-Aste, here).
The dog-friendly Park Street Plaza is open at 11 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday; closing hours vary. Information on events, sales and promotions is available to customers who sign up for the plaza’s mailing list.