About “Redevelopment”

It was pointed out to me recently that some people are confused by the title of this blog.

Since 1956 San José had a redevelopment agency (RDA), which served as an important component of the affordable housing development landscape in California.

In 2012, San José’s RDA and others throughout the state became casualties of budget-cutting. Now, they are no more. Besides serving in the drive for urban renewal, funding affordable housing, I believe San José’s RDA also was tasked with reviving downtown business areas such as San José’s Japantown.

The redevelopment agency is dead. Nothing we can do about it.

This doesn’t need to stop redevelopment. Low-income people still need affordable housing. Unique areas of the city still need encouragement achieving their potential. But now we can’t simply tap a government fund to make this happen. That makes it more complex, sometimes frustratingly so, but it doesn’t make it less important or more worthwhile.


Empire Seven Studios

As many of you in the San Jose Japantown area know, Juan Carlos Araujo and Jennifer Ahn have built a unique local art gallery on the fringes of Japantown called Empire Seven Studios – so called because they are at the intersection of Empire Street and Seventh Street.

Their murals have enlivened the walls of Japantown for many years. We wouldn’t be the same without them: Santo Market’s mural inspired by Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa? The “Shanghai” building’s looming irezumi dragon?

The building they have occupied and used for a gallery for ten years, is a former meat processing plant; it’s flanked by a motorcycle shop and a tire shop. Very funky and hard-scrabble corner of the city.

Yet it looks like their landlords have sold the property to a developer, to be built up into another apartment or condominium complex. For more information on this, check http://www.sjpermits.org for PDC16-028.

The good news is that they have an opportunity to acquire one of the old buildings on the 500 block of Sixth Street, an area that is in sore need of revitalizing.

They are looking for a little help. For those who truly love Japantown and want know how they can help, here is the way. Please watch Juan and Jennifer’s video on this page:


Curtains for Empire Seven?

Looking at the City of San Jose Online Permits page, we see that a development is being planned for the area where Empire Seven studios and E.T. Tires are located.

City of San Jose Online Permits
535 N 7th Street

Planned Development Zoning from Heavy Industrial (HI) to R-M(PD) zoning district to allow for the construction of up to 92 multi-family attached units on 1.25 gross acre site.

What could this portend for the future?

Dick’s Market

This is a little removed physically from Japantown per se, but it’s very interesting, and potentially very valuable to local residents.

New plans floated for old-school San Jose motel

This is located on 4th Street, between 880 to the north and Barrett Middle school to the south.

This deserves some research, but the motel renovation may be contingent on the market next door being brought out of mothballs.

If it does become some sort of grocery again, it would bring the surrounding neighborhood out of “Food Desert” status.

It’s also next door to the long-empty Dick’s Market, more recently open as Truong Hung market.




Does anyone remember Bini’s? I am afraid it had closed its doors long before I visitied Japantown.

Looks like it was a great place. I wish I’d visited. They were at 337 East Taylor Street, I think, then closed. Very close to where @YC is today.

According to this site:

Has it at 655 N 6th, and it’s post 1997, so maybe Bini’s migrated to that location. So am asking, Japantown historians, did Bini’s start in 1932 at 337 E Taylor, then move to 655 N Sixth?

Then did it finally close at that location in 2001?

The Ethiopian restaurant Rehoboth is closed. They were at 655 N 6th St. was this really  the old Bini’s Bar & Grille?

Anyway, I have some inside information. We can start to see a new brick-and-mortar BBQ restaurant opening there around April:

Perhaps we can see this as a reincarnation of the old Bini’s.

A modest parking proposal

In the world of retail marketing, it is often said that one sign of an attractive and successful business is the lack of enough parking for all of your customers. In other words, such a parking problem can be called a “good problem”.

There are others, however, who say “nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded”!

Let’s just say it out loud: Japantown San Jose has parking problems. Nearby residents complain about “overflow”: retail customers searching for available parking and parking in residential neighborhoods. On many weekend nights, the available parking is filled to capacity – although the businesses are ready to see more customers.

We see in the near future, the debut of Wenzhou Noodle House and soon the development of the Heinlenville (“Corp yard”) property. Will sufficient parking be provided by these developments? The crystal ball says “no” – we must not count on it.

When the Heinlenville development finally starts, that lot won’t be usable for parking as it is now – adding to the parking misery.

This is going to take some fancy thinking. Are you up to it?

One thing that San Jose’s Japantown does have is space – here and there, mostly in small amounts. One property, for instance, is north of Taylor, across from Santo grocery. In years past, there was a parking lot on Seventh, south of Jackson; its fate is uncertain at this point. There’s an empty lot and an vacant house next to Happi House, and there are more. These are too small, however, for our purposes.

Many years ago, the site of the Akiyama Wellness Center on 110 E. Jackson Street was occupied by the Boys and Girls Club. Do you remember? Kids used to play softball on a diamond in the field behind the building.

The lot is still there. It’s used occasionally to handle overflow parking during local Japantown’s frequent matsuri (street festivals). It’s not paved, so cars have to drive on the grass. This property is apparently owned by the city at this point, and the city probably receives no revenue from it.

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Okay, this is place where I finally get to my point.

Even as a paved, open-air parking lot (as opposed to the enclosed parking garages in San Francisco’s Japantown or downtown Mountain View), this would relieve parking pressure wonderfully for San Jose’s Japantown. Here are a couple of points:

  • If (on one hand) there was a lot of parking provided with the Heinlenville development, visitors would tend to stay at that end of Japantown – and established businesses at the other end of town might be neglected. Instead, parking at this lot, visitors would be encouraged to walk the street from parking to the new development on Seventh Street, visiting each unique business on the way.
  • Visitors to downtown San Jose could park here and ride VTA’s Light Rail to their downtown destinations. When they come back for their car, perhaps they will see a part of San Jose that they had neglected previously. (Strange but true: Many Silicon Valley residents don’t know that San Jose has a Japantown at all!)


A tour around Heinlenville

I spend enough time gazing at the empty expanse that we once called “The Corp Yard” and wondering what will come of it.

Today, let’s look at the variety of businesses that circle Heinlenville. They have all been struggling on the frontier – so to speak – and yearn to become part of a bona fide cityscape.

First of all, once weeds infested a triangular patch of land on the far edge of an Jose’s Japantown. Now, the complex known as Mio seeks tenants: http://www.liveatmio.com/

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Just across the street, John at @YC (At Your Convenience) waters his plants and prepares for another evening in San Jose’s Japantown.

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Next, on Taylor Street, we have a case of old and new. Taylor Automotive has been on the corner of 7th and Taylor for longer than anyone can remember. The East Taylor Barbershop opened just last year.

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Santo market is our last stop on Taylor before we head south. Who can resist marveling at its wall mural (painted by the artists of Empire Seven Studios), recalling Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa?
Fuji Towers stands gracefully on the corner, rubbing shoulders with a new development that will support even more seniors.

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This block of Seventh Street sometimes seems a hopeless wasteland, and it’s fun to find encouraging signs of life and growth here. The Rehoboth Ethiopian Restaurant is closed, but the interior appears to be set up to be a mainstream lunch counter. What’s going on here?

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Wait! There’s hope! For between Rehoboth and the Prayer Garden Church is a food truck, with this URL on the side: http://www.hbutlersbbq.com. Stay tuned for more info!

Meanwhile, work on building the new Wenzhou Noodle House is proceeding at a furious pace.
We are more than halfway around the square, and I just want to share a couple more new gems with you.

Zonkey has been with us for only four months now, but their cool pop-culture toys and collectibles adds a hip flavor to our tour.

And finally, we know that the former Blockbuster Video store in the Miraido building has been vacant for – well, remember video tapes? Now we have a business that will make you forget video rental chains.

Union Bank was once known as The Bank of Tokyo and they have a long history with the Japanese-American community. I think they will be a good fit.