23 Aug 2014
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Scoop Special Report: The Cost of Red Hill's Facelift

A look at the players and victims behind the major renovations at Red Hill Shopping Center.

Scoop Special Report: The Cost of Red Hill's Facelift

Last Tuesday, I took my ten-month-old nephew to .

The plan had come together after I'd heard from my editor that Easy Street, a San Anselmo haven for lazy breakfasts and big families, would be shutting its doors for good on Sunday. The walls were pasted with blow-ups of a letter written by the cafe's owners to their patrons and the community.

The note read, in part:

I am a father of 5 kids and grandfather of 4. I still live in my old condo in the canal and I will still continue to dream [of having] a place that people like me with kids can come and have a healthy meal while their kids joyfully [play] in the play area. Again, thank you so much for all the years of patronage and sharing with me the joy of raising your kids and seeing your kids raising their kids. My heart is broken for my wonderful, great employees who have stuck by me for so many years.

The letter begins with a detailed account of Easy Street's eviction, based around ten months of contested back rent. Read it in full here.

Easy Street Cafe has watched me grow-up as well. Its kind staff and talented chefs indulged my orders of cheeseburgers and hot chocolates when I was 8, and continued in this tradition when I graduated to coffee and eggs over easy.

My nephew ate his first pancake there last week, and sure enough, was given a small, baby-friendly toy to take home with him. It was bittersweet to know he'll never remember his only visit there, but at least I will. 

I wish the story stopped with Easy Street, but more businesses in the Red Hill community remain in danger of closing. , owned by the same people who own Easy Street, will face stiff comptetion if a proposed plan for a Chipotle franchise is installed. Another business at risk is the . 

Elvis Johnson has owned the pet center since 1998. Before him, two other owners ran the store going back 25 years. Now Johnson faces a similar fate to Easy Street. He has learned his lease, due to expire at the end of June, will not be renewed. In addition, a Pet Food Express is slated to move in at Red Hill.

"We could easily co-exist," Johnson laments, "because our customer service and prices blow the competition out of the water. But we are not being given a chance to compete."

Johnson has written letters encouraging Red Hill's management to negotiate a new lease, but he has received no response. 

"Even my phone calls aren't returned," he adds. 

Aside from the obvious hardship of losing his business, Johnson also worries for the young people he employs in a part-time capacity. He knows the value of after-school jobs, and many kids have had their first jobs at Red Hill Pet Center. So what can upset community members due to help?

"If anyone wants to help us, they should voice their concerns with the town council and planning department. They can also write letters to the Red Hill Shopping Center."

You can learn more over at the Red Hill Pet Center's website.

The right answers aren't easily given in a complex situation such as what is happening at Red Hill. Certainly there many balls in play, but is the cost getting too high? How many long-time local, independent businesses will San Anselmo be willing to lose in the name of aesthetics and profit? 

[Editor's Note: Calls and e-mails to Redhill Shopping Center management have not been returned.]

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