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.

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.]

MM May 02, 2012 at 05:13 PM
I have E-mailed the Red Hill Shopping Center management this letter in response to the recent and future changes to there center.... To whom it may concern... Dear Sir/Madam, As a resident of San Anselmo for the past 15 years, I am saddened and ashamed by the news that your shopping center will be and has been evicting local small businesses from your center in the name of profit and "beautification". A great majority of MY community shares this sentiment and as a result will most likely not want to shop at your center. I will be starting a pole in MY community to reflect our desire to keep businesses such as Red Hill Pet Center and Burritoville alive and well (as it is too late for Easy Street - shameful!). We as a community cherish our quaintness, close knit, non-corporate nature and value the concept what of small local businesses have to offer. I hope you will consider this information when deciding to renew leases and/or evict current tenants. I look forward to your response on this matter. Sincerely, Concerned Citizen
A May 02, 2012 at 07:01 PM
I hope some of the retail property owners in downtown San Anselmo (San Anselmo Avenue) will court these two local businesses and give them good deals on rent and make the downtown vibrant again. The Debbies Does Desserts building has been sitting empty forever...it could be such a great place for a restaurant for someone with a view of the creek and ducks...and there has got to be a place downtown for the redhill pet store as well. Elvis knows so much about taking care of certain pets, he is a valuable resource.
Jack Klausthauler May 02, 2012 at 10:17 PM
This is not a "special report" it is simply another personal account. Patch editor why don't you publish/write a piece about the actual improvements. and the state of red hill past, present, future. Enough pandering let's have some journalism please.
Elvis May 02, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Just want everyone to know The Red Hill Pet center is NOT going to close. We are going to relocate to the west-end village area of San Rafeal. (4th st and F st.) We appreciate the massive amount of concern for local businesses such as ours and hope the extra mile down the road from san anselmo will not deter our shoppers and supporters. We will continue to offer a full line of pet supplies and live fish and other small pets. Spread the word ! 40 yrs of history and still going strong, regardless of what the owners of shopping center think.
Carissa Stugard May 03, 2012 at 12:05 AM
Michele- As a San Anselmo resident and past employee of Easy Street I wanted to thank you for your support and standing with the small businesses of Red Hill. A frequent Easy Street Visitor did start an online petition in an effort to get a reaction out of arntz builders (who haven't responded to anyone). You can still sign it if you like at: http://www.change.org/petitions/save-the-easy-street-cafe. There are almost 1300 signatures for only being posted a week! Good luck to the few remaining small businesses in Red Hill Shopping Center. I will continue to support you, but will not at all be condoning a Pet Express and Chipotle Grill. So upsetting! Thank you!
juanita May 03, 2012 at 01:53 AM
my answer would be that there have been no actual improvements. traffic does not flow any smoother, well patronized, beloved small businesses have been and are being forced out. others that may want to remain there will be forced to make costly and ridiculous improvements to their spaces on their own dime. as for making the center "upscale," have you seen the paint job? between cvs and safeway there is a turquoise/brown striped and polka dotted awning, different stores trimmed in rusty orange, dark blue and bubble gum pink and white stripes! it looks like management went to a leftover paint sale and grabbed whatever they could on the cheap. then they put in all those lovely green, yellow and brown flower pots that are far too small in scale, and don't match anything. i have found myself patronizing the center less and less as there are few shops left that i care to go to, and perhaps, subconciously, in protest of the way tenants have been treated.
Carol X May 03, 2012 at 07:49 AM
I'm not that upset about Easy Street because I don't have kids and didn't grow up here. I got food poisoning at Burritoville once. And I have nothing against Red Hill Pet, but I never felt their prices were particularly good, and the customer service by teenagers often leaves something to be desired. But, you know, they CAN all set up shop elsewhere. Also, you guys could really use a proofreader. Just saying.
Common $ense May 03, 2012 at 01:16 PM
The cold hard facts are that Easy Street was not nearly as beloved as people make it out to be otherwise they would have had more customers - regardless of the construction at Red Hill. The writing was on the wall - literally: 1) the ratings on Yelp were mediocre - surprising for a place that has has been around for so long. 2) not everyone cared for the "aesthetic" i.e. pissed off customer letter on the wall - or the women only beyond this point signs leading into the kitchen or the biker stuff. 3) New joints like Sweetlife Bakery and other "corporate" competitors were eating Easy Street's breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Just saying - facts are facts - and I hope Easy Street and it's fans find a new location where they meet and keep on keeping on. The Creekside former Debbie Does Dessert spot sounds perfect. Why not focus on turning this whole sour lemon of a situation into sweet lemonade?
Common $ense May 03, 2012 at 01:24 PM
I don't get it - in the same day the article advocates to flood town officials with letters etc. to "save" Red Hill Pet - Elvis the owner writes in to say "spread the word" we have a new location? I realize things change - but this looks like sloppy journalism. This story should be pulled - or someone needs to add an editorial note - so people don't waste their time for a cause - that seems to be much more the invention of the author than the actual owner of the business.
Sierra Salin May 03, 2012 at 04:48 PM
Red Hill Pet center appears only to be moving because it is being forced out. I feel sorry for the other tenants left in the place, and aside from Burritoville, and a couple other long term and LOCAL businesses, I will be avoiding Red Hill Shopping Center. I will certainly never shop at the new chain and spiffed up consuming outlets, whatever they may be. And the owners should be obligated to share the community's expressions of outrage and plans to boycott any future business to any potential renters. Drive on Buy folks, nothing to see hear, consume along. Money is everything, nothing else matters, hey, where's the remote. Oops? The choice is ours, with what we choose and support with our shopping $.
Zack Ruskin May 03, 2012 at 11:14 PM
I wanted to write a disclaimer to any and all who may have felt my article was too opiniated for a journalistic Patch piece. I view the Scoop column as a place to both report and express my take on various business related concerns affecting the greater Ross Valley area. My article, one of several on the subject of Red Hill's recent renovations, was written from the perspective of displaced shopowners. Should the proprieters of the Red Hill Shopping complex wish to do an interview with me, I welcome the opportunity to tell thier side in a fair and unbiased manner. Thanks to everyone who read and shared their views on this article. (Please excuse any typos - writing from an iPhone!)
anne May 04, 2012 at 12:40 AM
boy, did YOU get up on the wrong side of the bed; such sour grapes, and you have missed the point entirely....sorry that I missed the opportunity to poison you myself.
Common $ense May 04, 2012 at 04:46 AM
Zach, I mean this in the nicest way - but you also have an obligation to report the basic facts. You made it sound like Elvis wanted people to protest - when in the same day he wrote in to tell everyone to come to his fabulous new store down the street in San Rafael. That doesn't sound like telling the story "from the perspective of displaced shop owners" that sounds like just lazy reporting, op/ed, or storytelling because you didn't check with your source that he had already lined up a new location. Unless he mislead you - your pieces doesn't live up to Patch's "comprehensive and trusted" ideals of it's mission statement: "We’re a community-specific news and information platform dedicated to providing comprehensive and trusted local coverage for individual towns and communities.
Anonymous May 08, 2012 at 01:37 PM
This is an opinion piece. Also, as I understand it Easy Street Cafe had not paid its rent for 10 months and still owed back rent from years ago it had failed to pay off. How long are the owners of Red Hill supposed to support this failing business model? Burritoville is dirty and the food is not good. Things evolve, better options become available, and people move on. Get over it. I do agree the paint job is horrible.
Anonymous May 26, 2012 at 07:32 AM
I'm not that upset about your comment because I don't know you so obviously I should have no interest in you and you didn't really contribute in a meaningful way. Oh, sorry, was that irrelevant? Just saying.
Arvid P. Sloan May 26, 2012 at 03:11 PM
I found easy street to be greasy street and all the dishes tastes the same.
Arvid P. Sloan May 26, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Im sure Sierra is a big spender.
Sierra Salin May 26, 2012 at 07:46 PM
Is that supposed to be a put down or a dismissal Arvid? Drive on buy and consume along into oblivion and enjoy the ride, eh? Why bother to vote with your shopping $, when one can just be an indiscriminate consumer, and support all manner of nonsense, with no responsibility to community, or environments? Suit yourself, and enjoy the future we are creating.
Arvid P. Sloan May 26, 2012 at 09:17 PM
I just think your sanctimonious pompousities need a pithy reply.
Sierra Salin May 26, 2012 at 10:23 PM
Whoo Hoo!


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