Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fourth Street, San Rafael

Downtown San Rafael has the honor of being the largest main street retail location in Marin County. Fourth Street is the commercial and retail heart of the city and contains an eclectic mix of retail stores, eateries and services, together with civic, cultural and entertainment uses. The retail profile of the downtown area is diverse and constantly changing. Fourth Street provides the start-up retailer with a decent amount of pedestrian traffic at rents that are reasonable by Marin standards. Some retailers get the right recipe and survive, while others fail. The downside to Fourth Street is that it can be a bit sleazy, mostly at the eastern end near the freeway and the bus station. Fast food restaurants and Hispanic convenience stores cluster around this end of the street. Think seedy bars, tattoo artists and “massage” parlors, clustered along Fourth and the adjacent side streets and on the upper levels above the stores. There is plenty of (metered) car parking, both on-street and in a couple of garage structures on the south side.
At "A" street is Courthouse Square, where two large office buildings are set back from the road behind a grassy square. Next to the square is San Rafael Town Center, which includes a 5-storey apartment and office development that was built around two years ago. It also has restaurants on the street level set around an outdoor area called the City Plaza. This area seems to be the busiest part of the strip, although there are still a few vacant stores on either side of the street. Further west the vibe changes. There are restaurants, some with outside seating, a few boutiques, antiques and home furnishing stores. It’s almost genteel. Many shoppers on Fourth Street are local residents and workers. Others visitors come from elsewhere in Marin to shop at specific well-known stores, such as Scandinavian Designs or the Bike Shop. I’m guessing that there are quite a few browsers as well. If you haven’t been there for a while, I would recommend a visit. There are many independent stores that you won’t find elsewhere in Marin. I didn’t have enough time on my visit to go in all the stores, so I’ll be heading back soon. This time I’ll schedule my visit around lunchtime to sample a meal at one of the restaurants.

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