Local, alternative perspective. Insightful stories for the Santa Clara Valley.



Up and down Lincoln Avenue, in  downtown Willow Glen, there are bold new posters that advertise this neighborhood’s Farmer’s Market:

The Willow Glen Farmer’s Market is Here!

The problem, however, is that most of the people are not. They’re elsewhere.


Willow Glen Farmer’s Market, advertised by kiosk at Lincoln Avenue.

Last year, the Willow Glen Business Association (aka WGBA and “Downtown Willow Glen” online) installed new kiosks on the avenue, which is to provide directions to avenue businesses, as well as to advertise neighborhood events.  Using these devices, WGBA has currently inserted extra-large posters for this year’s Farmer’s Market, all of them displayed prominently across the length of the downtown Willow Glen retail strip.  There is even a large banner streaming adjacent to the Garden Theater, which is where the market is regularly featured during its summer span.  The  marquee — of that old theater — announces that the Farmer’s Market season has arrived.   Fliers are posted in shops.   There’s also been hanging banners on the coney island street lamps, dotting the sidewalks, parking areas and so on.   So, certainly, the message is out… but, all the same, people remain rather apathetic to it all.

In fact, sparing no expense, the Business Association promotes the Farmer’s Market on its own website, which is additional to that of the organizer and operator of the Farmer’s Market itself: South Bay Farmer’s Market.

None of these things come cheaply.  It seems questionable if the Farmer’s Market has made its return on such investment.

That organizer claims that “For over 21 years we have proudly served the community of Los Gatos and for 16 of those years the community of Willow Glen.”   At that, too, its return of appreciation from the community seems to be diminishing.

At the start of this year, WGBA had Chef Umberto Pala, of Vin Santo Restaurant, kick-off the opening of the Farmer’s Market.  The chef’s eatery is just down the street, closer to Minnesota Avenue.  He gladly participated; but, once showing there, that ended that.   Neighborhood chefs and restaurants have not been very engaged, beyond Chef Pala’s appearance at the start of summer.  What is more, this is not the kind of market where Chefs are eager to network, unlike many neighborhoods of major cities.  Willow Glen may be a top rated neighborhood in one of the nation’s top populated cities; but, it doesn’t have a market that compare to others.  As a native-born Italian, Chef Pala recognizes the significance of Farmer’s Markets in Italy and most of Europe, if not some American cities.  Like many, he’d like to see a more significant — and serious — marketplace, which includes fresh, local ingredients and an inspiring environment.

At their website, South Bay Farmer’s Market, the operating company of the Willow Glen and Los Gatos markets, acknowledges that “Both [its] markets are located in the downtown of both communities.” However, despite having such a prime venue, it has continued to have poor turn-out, lowered performance and expectations.

Walk into the Willow Glen Farmer’s Market, if you will, and there’s fewer friends to be found, less hordes of people, less passion, less… everything.  It’s wide open space and unobstructed blacktop that’s baking in the sun.  What vendors don’t sell here is perishable and quickly becomes waste.  It’s an upsetting dilemma for farmers that wake and work before sun break, so as to traverse from what’s often outside the county.  When they arrive here, they see little appreciation and profit.   They typically hold back their grumpiness, but upon chit-chat, they admit that its harsh.  So, they continue to hold back, in more ways than one, putting less out.  Then, less becomes bare tables, if not eventually pulling-out altogether.

Overall,  its seemingly not that fantastic; which is, even though the neighborhood has done it’s all to both promote and accommodate the  operator.

Indeed, The Willow Glen’s Farmers’s Market use to be at the opposite end of Lincoln Avenue — at the cross of  Minnesota Avenue — and within the campus of Willow Glen Elementary School.  But, when the school renovated and erected its new building; then, it was decided that the neighborhood’s Farmer’s Market should move elsewhere.

The Mulcahy family had since purchased the Garden Theater building; whereas, they offered its expansive back parking lot as the market’s new home.  Ever since, the Willow Glen Farmer’s Market has been just off the driveway from both Lincoln Avenue and Willow Street, which is at the opposite end of the downtown retail strip.

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Year after year, WGBA and the Mulcahy family have poured-in their support of the local Farmer’s Market, which is both in terms of its idea and financial promotions.  Nevertheless, this market has yet to garner a following like that of nearby downtown Campbell.  In fact, many Willow Glen residents betray their own neighborhood and quietly sneak into the crowd at the other town’s venue.  It’s in Campbell that Willow Glen residents often say and hear,  “strange meeting you here!” Fellows from across the border meet to eat, realizing the patterns of culture that have allowed them to do just that; which is not just for the sustenance of today, but a heritage of centuries.  People go where the trade is best, even if it means going to China… literally or figuratively.

When that happens and neighborhood residents get the chance to chat about it, they often hint at their dissatisfaction with Willow Glen’s long-established market, which seems to be pale in comparison  to that of a nearby city that’s just across the creek.

“What’s up with the Willow Glen Farmer’s Market?”

Add to San Jose’s injuries is that many of its residents will also buy at Campbell’s Whole Foods on Hamilton Avenue and Trader Joe’s at Bascom Avenue (in the Pruneyard center); which again, is addition to its Farmer’s market at downtown.   That’s rather than these Willow Glen residents — or even those from Campbell — shopping at Safeway, which is also at Hamilton Avenue, but, at the opposite side, in San Jose.  So, it’s not just tax revenue that is going into this other city, but the culture of good food and eating.  Willow Glen misses out on all this and more, year after year.  At that, Willow Glen, and the City of San Jose, has yet to get its act together.

Take a look at downtown Campbell, which proudly and agreeably shuts-down its downtown avenue to automobile traffic, just for a day at their Farmer’s Market.  But, that’s not shutting out hundreds of hungry and passionate consumers: all of them walking by foot, pushing baby strollers, walking dogs and riding bicycles!  Without seeing obstacles, they come every week.  They come on the set days.  They loyally visit, hour after hour.  More…. they do so throughout the year, every year!  That’s rain or shine!

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Campbell’s Farmer’s Market is organized and operated by Urban Village Farmers Market Association.  That company has 9 farmers’s markets altogether, also including that of nearby Cambrian Park, which is in San Jose at the border of the south Willow Glen Planning area.  The Cambrian Park market is located at Camden Ave & Union Avenue, in the old Cambrian Park Shopping Center.  The Cambrian market is sponsored by Cambrian Park Plaza Merchants Association, it’s not offered all-year-round and its shopping center has recently been announced for redevelopment plans.   But, Urban Village also offers “all year” Farmer’s Markets at Palo Alto’s California Avenue Farmer’s Market (at El Camino); Oakland’s Montclair Village (La Salle Ave. at Moraga Ave.), Temescal (Claremont Ave.) and Old Oakland (Ninth Street between Broadway and Clay); Santa Clara (at Jackson Street at Homestead Rd); Sunnyvale (at downtown Sunnyvale at Murphy Avenue and Washington).   So, in of that, there’s many “all year” markets, of which the city of Oakland has three.

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Even another company, The California Farmers’ Markets Association, operates all year Farmer’s Markets, including the “Blossom Hill Sunday Farmers’ Market at Ohlone-Chynoweth VTA LightRail Station.”  This company has eleven altogether in the Bay Area.

Compare that to Willow Glen, where the Farmer’s Market is not only hidden from the street; but, where “street-calming” —aside from “road-sharing” — remains a constant battle.   Indeed, once, the Willow Glen neighborhood allowed its Farmers Market to creep out to select areas at the curb of the street.  Lately, however, that’s become forbidden.   So, although its neighborhood market is central, its kept relatively barricaded at a back lot.

The Willow Glen Farmer’s Market is kept out-of-the-way….  from what namely “traffic.”  As such, compared to Campbell, the Farmers Market is not embedded into the street-scape and/or its way of life.  That connection doesn’t quite “click” the same way as it does in Campbell; but, talking to a clique of people who make things happen in Willow Glen, it’s as if this is not even a realization.  Its more of an inconvenience.

In Willow Glen, traffic and road-rage are the norm and solutions are the problem; that’s even if it’s a detriment to community and business culture.  For example, long unresolved is an often broken-down alert signal at the cross-walk; which is aside from visibility issues, pedestrian related accidents and the need to slow automobile speeds.

Despite that, it’s somehow thought to be “charming,” if not clever, to encourage people to wave red caution flags, just to safely cross the street.  It’s actually become a spectacle and celebrated routine, by many residents.  All that, while the city and neighborhood committees ignore the real problem at the cross walk, which, after all, is practically right at the front of the Garden Theater and the Farmers Market.  This is supposed to be one of the more central and visible places in the downtown Willow Glen area.   But, its become a mockery, because the lack of address to genuine public safety and road issues.

Where else in San Jose — aside from any other city — is it normal for residents to wave a red flag, just in need to cross the street?  For example, in  Los Gatos, locals have traditionally expected, by custom,  that automobiles will pause and allow pedestrians to cross.   There’s no flag waving, yelling, screeching or drama.  Cars in Los Gatos gracefully drive the avenue and courteously stop without thought.  Its intuitive.  Likewise, at Cambell, it’s a similar scenario.  Once again, Campbell closes the avenue to traffic during Farmers Market; whereas, its residents don’t complain about it either.  Similar orientations occur in many more “Main Street” type settings of various neighborhoods.  But, not in Willow Glen.

Ironically, in usual American parlance, a red flag indicates (both explicitly and implicitly in various contexts) “a warning of danger or a problem.”  But, here, in Willow Glen, its become an advertising campaign for a local realtor and her brand.   The red flags are actually branded — scripted and advertised — with the realtor’s business name, even though this is public space, a public safety area and this should all be managed by the city, as well as over-sighted by WGBA and its committees.

Unfortunately, friends and associates in the business and political culture of Willow Glen’s retail district continue to look the other way, allowing this opportunity to be exploited.  It’s not just an exception, but exceptional.

Similarly, ever more outstanding, are the replacement of flags at those coney island street lamps, many of which now read “Charming,” therein, too, conveying that same branding.  Once again… it’s overlooked.

Long forgotten are the people who have been stricken by automobiles, right here in the cross-walk.  Not one, two, or three… but, more.  Compassion and care?  …There has been death and life-changing experience; but, still it’s ignored and the situation is exploited for both vanity and politics.

By all accounts, it would seem that the short of Willow Glen’s tuff-turf is from Willow Street to about a block inwards at the Garden Theater; while Campbell gives its full breadth, spilling its bounty from its open doors, its sidewalks and out onto the streets.   The contrast is undeniable.   Meanwhile, vacant commercial space is for lease on the opposite side of the Lincoln Avenue towards Minnesota Avenue.  Despite much fanfare and investment at the so-called “center,” things like the farmer’s market struggle to get a real foothold.  Blight continues at the opposite direction of Lincoln and Willow Street; that’s not towards Minnesota and Almaden Expressway; but, towards Midtown.  This is also the entrance point of real crime, homelessness, gangs, structural fire and more… all of that has been made to seem moot and marginal.  That’s even though there’s two schools at opposite ends of the Avenue, far off the “center.”

While Willow Glen and San Jose has yet to manage its “marketplace,” aside from these other influencing concerns, its Campbell that is overflowing with bounty.  And the bounty of autumn harvest and Thanksgiving to come?  It’s not here… yet.  By then, Willow Glen’s Farmer’s Market will close (November 22nd).  Much like a season turns an old leaf, so comes change.  But, that’s only seeing it underfoot.


Bountiful: Campbell Farmer’s Market



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