Dave Peoples is a “glass half full” kind of person, and if you’re going to say his retirement from Garlic City Mercantile is another sign of a dying downtown Gilroy, you better watch your tongue. He and his wife Marianne are retiring at the end of September because they want to, and he sees promise in a renewed retail center in downtown Gilroy.
“I feel that the downtown reflects the community; it’s the pulse,” Peoples said. “The community is you, me and everyone. It’s a melting pot, and for years there was no place like the downtown. If you needed shoes, you had two or three places. If you needed prescriptions, you had four drugstores downtown.”
Peoples bristles at the idea of a dying downtown Gilroy. His retirement, he insists, is not a precursor of another boarded-up shop. Garlic City Embroidery Studio, run by Carol and Al Guitierrez, will remain open for business at 7550 Monterey St., and another retailer may take up the space vacated by Garlic City Mercantile.
“It used to be that retail would drive activities,” Peoples said. “People would shop, and then explore what else the downtown had. Now, people go out to eat, and then maybe they go to a retail store. Young people want new things, and I think that’s what you see downtown. It’s becoming more activity-oriented.”
Nearby, customers are on the way. With the completion of large-scale affordable apartment complexes, The Cannery and Alexander Station Apartments, along with new upscale downtown apartments like Allium Luxury Apartments at 7600 Monterey St., downtown Gilroy likely will see more people in the coming years.
“Density will be good for the downtown, if the downtown can produce the services and goods they need,” Peoples said. “We need a drugstore, a laundromat and a corner market. You can get some things in these stores, but if you need a nice steak sauce or a bottle of wine, you can’t find that right now.”
Peoples, however, recognizes a nationwide transformation of downtown USA. Retail is being replaced with restaurants, bars and clubs, whereas before, downtowns used to be the place to find everything a household would need.
“It’s an American thing, not just a Gilroy thing,” Peoples said. “I think that started to happen when we became a bedroom community for Silicon Valley.”
Garlic City Mercantile had changed shape and location since it opened in 1977, when it was the Nimble Thimble at 7490 Monterey St., a shop that specialized in retail fabric and quilts. From there they moved three times, becoming Garlic City Mercantile in 2008 when the store moved to its final location.
Dave Peoples was born and raised in Gilroy. So was Marianne. Save for a four-year stint in the Navy, work Peoples described as being “hush hush” kind of stuff, and a 20-year career at Standard Oil, which necessitated commuting to the Bay Area, the Peopleses have stayed close to home.
By Oct.1, Peoples said he will retire from active retail sales. He will continue to sell collectibles and garlic products locally at Collective Past across the street at 7495 Monterey St.
“That’s my fun, then, I won’t need to worry about my sales quota, or compare how my sales are doing from last year,” Peoples said. “I want to retire. I’m in good health. My wife is in good health, and there are things we want to do.”
Peoples also supports Gilroy downtown with his wallet. He loves to eat at Garlic City Café, the Milias and Old City Hall. He branches out to Mama Mia’s and Ninja Sushi, and every once in a while, heads up the road to downtown Morgan Hill. While he recognizes that online retailers like Amazon have taken a chunk out of small mom and pop shops, he doesn’t hold it against them either.
“I don’t refuse to go anywhere,” Peoples said. “I buy from Amazon, too, but I make sure to check if I can get it here first.”