Members of a brand new grass-roots organization, appropriately named , are encouraging residents to convene downtown and mingle with fellow Gilroyans and businesses in an attempt to revitalize the heart of the Garlic City.
“There’s a lot of talk about what to do with downtown but not as much action,” said Gary Walton, one of RRDG’s founding members. “We need people to come out and support the businesses that are downtown.”
The genesis of RRDG was a conversation. Walton and two friends, Gilroyans John Russell and Annie Palmer, meet for coffee on Saturdays and found that their talks would often be spent trying to answer one reoccurring question: How can we get people to hang out and spend money in the heart of the city?
One day, Palmer suggested the idea of getting together downtown "just to have fun” to fellow riders on the train to San Jose, and RRDG took form soon after with its first inaugural meet-up converging on April 14.
Fifty-three people, including some from Salinas and San Jose, turned out to mingle at Garlic City Billiards.
“This was strictly social,” Walton explained. “Our goals were to go to a business, spend $20, meet three new people and have fun. If 10 times the people who came to play pool did that, then downtown would be 10 times better.”
While the meet-up was intended to be an informal gathering and no brainstorming on how to better downtown took place, Walton said that he asked attendees what they do for a living upon signing in to get a sense of what skills community members have that RRDG can utilize down the road.
"There are a lot of skills out there in the community that [RRDG] needs," he said. "We'd like to tap into the specific talents that people may have. The more minds we have on the table, the more unique and different events we can come up with."
In a post-gathering meeting, Walton, Russell and Palmer discussed ideas like creating a RRDG logo, staring a blog on their website, attending Downtown Business Association meetings to introduce the group and putting up signs on the businesses that are being "mobbed" by RRDG participants.
Walton said he wants to rebuild Gilroy’s “social capital,” which he calls the commitment by the community to be involved with their city.
While he recognizes city government has made efforts to rejuvenate downtown, Walton said RRDG aims to inspire residents to take responsibility for and support the businesses in their backyards.
“Cities are good at the hardware part of the equation,” he said. “They can put in brick sidewalks and old fashioned street lamps, but when it comes to the software part of executing, what it takes to make revitalization happen, they don’t get that.”
Working with the city council, the DBA or other groups in an effort to make downtown better is something RRDG is open to exploring, Walton said.
"We want to not only to be a resource for businesses but to also build a peer pool for other events that the DBA, or Gilroy Foundation might be holding," he said.
James Suner, president and CEO of The James Group, said he heard about April 14’s festivities through the DBA’s mailing list.
“Rebuilding downtown is a group effort,” he said. “We need to see more people doing this. Once people are spending money, meeting people and getting to know the businesses downtown, it will make a huge economic impact.”
Larry Mickartz, owner of , also attended the April 14 meeting and says he's 100 percent behind the group's goal of developing concrete ways to revitalize downtown.
“It was a blast,” he said of the evening. “I’m absolutely in favor of doing that again and getting this thing going.”
Because many Gilroyans have their own ideas of how to improve downtown—Suner said he’d like businesses to be open later, while Mickartz prefers a wider variety of stores and restaurants—RRDG plans to open up the conversation.
“It’s not just about patronizing a restaurant or business,” Walton said. “It’s about trying to showcase the community. Downtowns are about people. We really want to be a cross section of the community.”
For now, RRDG is focused on building its website—which just added a section in Spanish—engaging different sectors of the community via social media and planning its next gathering, which Walton said is slated to happen in the near future.
Walton said that and are among several businesses that have approached RRDG about hosting future gatherings.
Community members and business owners can contact RRDG at firstname.lastname@example.org. Future events will be posted on RRDG’s website. Anyone, Gilroy resident or not, is welcome to attend.