City Beat

City Beat: Plan raises hope along Del Paso Boulevard

Michael Chaves is up on the Boulevard, just trying to hang on.

Chaves opened a coffee shop called Son of a Bean on Del Paso Boulevard about 10 months ago. He’s trying so hard to make it past one year. But he needs a little help because some days he might only get six or seven customers.

If only someone would do something with all those empty lots across the street.

“It’s hard to look out my window and all I see is dry land,” Chaves was saying last week.

Suddenly, it’s a little easier to imagine a different view.

The city owns the land across from Chaves’ shop. It owns a few more parcels in the area, a few blocks south of Arden Way. And it wants to sell all of it to a developer named Domus, which is talking about putting up lofts and shops. It would be one of the biggest investments in the area in years.

This is a big moment. For better or worse, Del Paso Boulevard is the heart of North Sac. It gets overlooked a lot when people talk about the city’s great corridors. That’s probably because the Boulevard is perceived to be isolated from the rest of the city and full of crime and blight.

But like Oak Park, it’s a place where the perceptions of outsiders don’t always fit with what you see on the ground.

That’s why the local businesses hired Andrea Lepore, one of the creative minds behind midtown’s Hot Italian restaurant, to help brand the Boulevard. Her idea: make it a design district, a haven for artists and the creative class. And that’s who Domus will likely target for its project.

Art is the soul of the Boulevard. There are many galleries in the neighborhood and a local food and art fair draws hundreds to the street every month.

Chaves tries to tap into that. The walls of his coffee shop are covered in works by local artists. There are colorful paintings and a collection of photographs taken in Mexico with someone’s iPhone. The view outside the window isn’t as pleasant.

“Can you imagine people sitting on the sidewalk outside those condos, eating and talking?” he asked.

George Karyszyn is ready, too. He’s owned a funky little joint on the Boulevard called the Uptown Cafe for 17 years. He serves up Thanksgiving-style lunches on Wednesdays and will sell you a pound of pork with a side of eggs for seven bucks.

Karyszyn’s a New Yorker who doesn’t seem to want to live anywhere but the Boulevard. He’s there 11 hours a day, six days a week. Someone tried to convince him to set up shop in Roseville, but that wasn’t going to work. Too boring.

But it’s clear he’s frustrated. His cafe is on the same side of the street as Chaves’, and he shares that view of the vacant blocks. “I think we’re getting left behind,” he said.

Those lots are more than just dry, empty pieces of land.

They’re a blank canvas.

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