Downtown San Jose block party kicks off the weekend early
The City Fish and Pastelaria Adega in San Jose are two of 50 downtown historic district businesses featured in Urban Vibrancy Institute’s block party planned for May 18, 2023. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    It may not be the weekend, but downtown San Jose is ready to party.

    A block party on Thursday night hosted by nonprofit Urban Vibrancy Institute aims to attract hundreds of residents to downtown San Jose, in the hopes these midweek events will keep the momentum going for this long-struggling area. The block party is part of a larger revitalization effort that will feature a rotating list of local businesses and vendors.

    “While it certainly is very quiet in the city streets, when you take a bird’s eye view… you see a landscape of 50 businesses that are in a one-block area,” Urban Vibrancy Institute Executive Director Eric Glader told San José Spotlight. “That to me screams vibrancy. We just need to now seed it with people to make that energy.”

    Thursday night’s block party will focus on highlighting businesses in downtown’s historic district, with future parties focusing on other parts of downtown. The festivities will kick off at 5:30 p.m., with live music from hometown artists, tabling from organizations like VTA and San Jose Downtown Association, as well as local vendors lining various avenues including Fountain Alley and Post Street.

    The businesses participating in Urban Vibrancy’s block party on May 18, 2023. Image courtesy of Urban Vibrancy.

    Glader said attendees are encouraged to meander the area and patronize the 50 surrounding local businesses in the district. The next block party is slated for June 22 and will be held in the SoFa district. The eventual goal is for them to occur monthly, he added.

    The block party is the latest attempt to tackle the area’s ongoing lack of foot traffic that has continued to slow post-pandemic, as businesses struggle to stay afloat. While downtown has hosted sporting events and other gatherings the last few years to boost tourism and generate more visitors, residents are often greeted by a near ghost town with stretches of empty storefronts that have remained vacant for years—a total of 73 sit unoccupied, according to the San Jose Downtown Association.

    The inaugural block party will succeed the latest Carabiner meeting, a series of gatherings for city officials, residents, businesses and stakeholders that focus on discussing new ways to revitalize downtown San Jose.

    Adolfo Gomez, owner of Oaxacan restaurant Mezcal, said the hope is the block party will showcase the diverse array of restaurants, bars and other venues in the city. Mezcal is one of the businesses featured at the block party, as well as other area eateries such as The City Fish and Pastelaria Adega.

    Gomez said he opened his restaurant in 2008, basing his decision on San Jose’s bustling foot traffic at the time from daily workers and the convention scene. Fast forward 15 years later, and both of those initial draws are now nearly nonexistent, he said. A 2022 Joint Venture Silicon Valley report reveals about 17.7% of Silicon Valley commercial offices remain vacant, and state lawmakers are looking to convert those once-filled spaces into housing.

    “We don’t have the conventions we had before. We don’t have the employees back to work,” Gomez told San José Spotlight. “Our goal is to show people what downtown has to offer, so we can start getting more residents in our front doors.”

    Gomez said leaders should also work to attract new businesses to San Jose and in turn support the newly-opened ones that need all the help they can get. Entrepreneurs considering a move to San Jose have pointed to the city’s high costs and slow permitting process as barriers to forming small businesses.

    In an effort to further prop up new and existing businesses, Glader said his organization hopes to gather 30-second videos for each business in order to form an online directory that people can use to find places to visit. The block parties are a way to create a sense of belonging and community that downtown could benefit from, he added.

    “People are able to listen to music, they’ll be able to walk around,” Glader said. “We hope they will visit and buy food, buy drinks and become familiar again with what is in their own backyard.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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