A few more weeks of construction and the old Nob Hill Shopping Center on West Main Avenue will turn from a dusty caterpillar into a colorful butterfly. It won’t be too soon for business owners.
“People see the construction and get scared off,” said Joe Meduri, who owns the center with other family members and operates it for them. “But, when it is finished, the new business should more than make up for the inconvenience.”
When the newest old shopping center in town is finished, visitors will find a bit of Tuscany at the foot of El Toro Mountain, instead of the tired old pink color.
“We are going to paint it gold, terra-cotta and olive green,” Meduri said, after a new coat of stucco is added.
At the moment, however, the fronts are torn off and chunks of the parking lot are fenced off, keeping cars and pedestrians safe from construction activity.
Le Bistro Restaurant does not serve Tuscan food, especially, though diners tend to line up for the pasta and other creative, non-Italian dishes. Owner Lucia Nevejans said she welcomes the paint and the new fronts, too.
“We’ll just be glad when it (the construction) is finished,” Nevejans said, “and it will be nice if people come by to see us again.”
She said business at her once-thriving restaurant has been slow since the work started.
“But I have one couple who come for dinner once a week and others have stayed loyal, too,” Nevejans said.
She wants people to know that, since Le Bistro faces directly onto West Main Avenue, people can park on the street and walk inside without contending with construction at all, though the parking lot is open.
“Le Bistro (the building’s exterior) will really improve about 180 degrees,” Meduri said. “The (exterior) will be more in line with the quality of the food.”
The center was built in 1963 with the help of Michael Bonfante, formerly of Nob Hill Foods and now the progenitor of Bonfante Gardens in Gilroy. When the center opened it showcased the first Nob Hill Foods in town and the public library as well.
Meduri said he tried to maintain the center as well as he could during the 16 years the family has owned it, but admits that it shows its age.
“We’re bringing it up to contemporary standards,” Meduri said.
A year ago he estimated the renovation would take between $500,000 and $600,000. This year, with rising construction and materials costs, he did not even want to speculate. The city gave him a triple façade grant of about $50,000 to help a bit. Façade grants are part of a program paid for with Redevelopment Agency funds that help business and property owners improve the public fronts of their shops.
No matter how much the renovation costs, he want to keep rents where they are.
“Tennant Station is raising its rents (since its complete renovation) and mom and pop stores will leave,” Meduri said. “We don’t plan to do that.”
What he would like to do is to draw a high-end specialty grocery to the 20,000-square-foot space, a move that would ensure plenty of business. The clamor in town for a Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Cosentino’s or Lunardi’s is reaching deafening proportions and the shopping center that lassos one will have it made.
“I want to bring the center back to where it used to be when Nob Hill Foods was there and things were booming,” Meduri said.
Access problems from Hale Avenue are made worse because the street is in the county and county officials have not been quick to improve it, Meduri said.
Working with the city’s planning department and the Architectural Review Board has not been easy either.
“It’s been a struggle dealing with them,” he said. “We were planning on starting (construction) in April and here it is November.”
However difficult the agencies are, Meduri is glad they exist.
“I’m glad they have an ARB,” he said. “They keep the architectural standards high. Lots of centers in San Jose and the South Bay area are terrible-looking.”
The planning department, called Community Development, is another story.
“The city really needs to get it together as far as fast tracking some of these projects,” he said. “It takes too long and, with the costs of wood, cement and steel rising so rapidly, it’s really a problem.”
So much that the $50,000 façade grant is pretty much a wash, he said. His architect designed and built a new project center in Gilroy in the time it took to get through Morgan Hill planning.
“The city could use a more efficient process between planning and the ARB,” Meduri said.”
In the meantime, My Pizza, Morgan Hill Bagels, the business center and liquor store are doing well, he said; others could be doing better. All are waiting for the dust to clear and the next chapter to begin.
Le Bistro of Morgan Hill is open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner Monday through Saturday. 207 W. Main Ave. at Hale Avenue. 782-2505.