P80930Immediately after the Loma Prieta Earthquake, nothing was open for business downtown on North Santa Cruz Avenue south of Bean Avenue. As buildings were inspected for safety and cleaned up, sections of cyclone fence that had kept everyone out were slowly and systematically moved out so that businesses on the east side could open for business. The same slow process was repeated on the west side, moving south from the corner at Bean Avenue, but did not get very far. The old Los Gatos Cinema, as well as the several other building between it and the seemingly destroyed old La Canada Building on the southern corner of the block, were too badly damaged for the fence to be removed.
Right there next door to the Cinema where the fence stopped moving, Gilley’s Coffee Shoppe happened to be one of the fortunate businesses that was able to open for business again, and serve breakfast and lunch to those so diligently reconstructing downtown. It had always been there, longer than anyone can remember. Older people knew it as the ‘Sweet Shoppe’, a soda fountain that was very popular with those who cruised North Santa Cruz Avenue. It was the last of the first business that that moved into the old Cannery Building when it was converted to retail stores. Gilley converted it to more of a coffee shoppe and named it after himself in the 1970s. While everything in Los Gatos changed around it, Gilley’s remained about the same. Everyone knows Gilley’s.
I had not gone there more than a few times prior to the Loma Prieta Earthquake. I was away at school for the second half of the 1980s, and just did not go downtown much while in high school or earlier. I stopped by on the way to work early one autumn morning in 1990 because it was the only restaurant that was open in the recovering downtown neighborhood It instantly became my place to go for breakfast, and sometimes for lunch. It was nothing fancy, but it was what I wanted.
For the past twenty eight years, Gilley’s was where many of my work days started. I used their tables to sketch out irrigation systems and small sections of landscapes. I met clients there rather than at my home office. Back when I was able to write about local gardening events in my gardening column, I conducted interviews there. Readers sometimes brought me pieces of plants for identification, or for diagnoses of a disease. When Gilley’s sold and was prettied up a slight bit in the early 1990s, I procured small potted bromeliads, and later, cut flowers for the tables. Before permanent succulent were installed into the big pots flanking the door, I cycled flowering annuals for a little bit of color out front. A whole lot of horticulture went on at Gilley’s.
Sadly, nothing is permanent. Los Gatos is always changing, just like it has always done. By the time you read this, after 3:00 on September 30, 2018, Gilley’s will have closed for the last time.

13 thoughts on “Gilley’s

  1. I was in Berkeley during the Loma Prieta quake. Longest 15 seconds of my life. As for the café, it is sad sometimes how much things change. Hopefully something good will be in its place.

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  2. When I read “Gilleys,” my first thought was of Mickey Gilley and his club, just up the road from me. It closed a few years ago, but the Urban Cowboy legend lives, and there are a lot of us who remember it as one of the best dance halls in Texas.

    But your Gilleys? It sounds like some other places around here, especially the Dutch Kettle, which was the first to open on Galveston’s seawall after Hurricane Ike. A lot of people were fed, coffeed, and supported there, too. Now, it’s gone — fallen to developers. Things change, but it still makes me sad, sometimes.

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    1. Sadly, there is not much about downtown that is familiar. Some of the old building look familiar, but none of the businesses are. With the exception of the old hardware store and post office, there is nothing downtown that I have any use for.

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  3. Always saddening to see such a long standing place close. At their peak, when crowded with customers, these places seem like they’ll go on forever. There is one small unassuming spot in Brantford, Kingswood’s Restaurant that has been going for more than 60 years, probably far longer. It has gone through several owners but other than the occasional cleanup it looks essentially the same as always. I cannot think of another similar small restaurant/coffee shop that has been going half that long around here. Thanks Tony. A very nice but sad and poignant story.

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  4. It is sad that the good family restaurants up and down the coast are closing. There’s a newsletter from Santa barbara that lists openings and closings — I think there have to be 25-30 that have closed during just the past year!

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  5. Central Pa has been bitten by the wine vineyards and distillery and spirits saloons. Odd to me as there is such concrete evidence now that alcohol should be avoided or certainly limited. But I look closer and realize they are decent venues; they offer soothing music and interesting foods besides their expensive entrepreneur-brand alcohols. My peers reached drinking age in the late 60’s and 70’s and attended festivals or nightclubs where music blared and everyone drank way too much cheap alcohol. So yes, this is different today, but maybe better.

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    1. Change happens everywhere. I know that it is not all bad. However, no matter how ‘good’ the change is, I can not help but think of those who are getting the unpleasant consequences of it. Many years ago, Proposition 13 put a limit on property tax for those who purchased their home prior to 1976. Prior to that, some people had to sell their home to pay their property tax. It was not their fault, but the ridiculously increasing property values also increased tax liability. Families who had been here for generations were forced out by those moving in and competing for homes. It ruined our idyllic lifestyles. When I go the Puget Sound area, I notice the same sort of thing. The region is so crowded with people from here and San Diego who are so pleased with the ‘gentrification’ and the development that provides everything that they moved there to get away from. There is no concern for the native people who are being forced out, or must live in a densely urban environment because so many outsiders wanted to come there.


  6. In central Pa, values creep up very slowly. My 88-year-old mother ended up in her small home on 3/4 acre lot in a pocket of sudden McMansion development. I was able to appeal her recent tax appraisal to bring it down from $220,000 to $180,000, even though homes around her appraise at $400,000 – $700,000. And our appraisals can be appealed prior to every September 1st. But we still have many small towns and rural areas with 3 bedroom homes less than $100,000. Here our urban cities have such high property taxes, it’s actually cheaper to move out to older suburbs. None of us will ever be able to afford to “flip” our homes for east or west coast homes. But I sympathize! I can imagine how devastating it would be to have had that life and be pushed out from it.

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    1. When I hear about what happened to Detroit, and how it had done so well for so long, only to be left behind when the automotive industry moved to other Countries, it does not sound like such a bad thing to me. Of course, I am not in Detroit. I think of what it would be like if the electronics industry left the Santa Clara Valley, and homes in the remaining ghost towns would be affordable again. I know it sounds silly, but it would not be much worse that how things are now.


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