One of my favorite shops in downtown Los Gatos is Black Cat Hats, which features all kinds of accessories in addition to hats for men and women. The folks there are friendly and knowledgeable and take a personal interest in helping customers to find just the right item they want or need.
Yesterday I paid a visit to Aileen Larson, a co-owner of and buyer for Black Cat Hats, and got to browse the tempting inventory and ask her a few questions about her experience and working in the shop.
A little history
The business was established in 2007 by Janet Dashiell, whom Aileen met in 2008 at an exercise class at the JCC in Los Gatos. In 2014, Aileen stepped in as a co-owner with Janet. Janet now does the books and buys inventory with Aileen, but is mostly behind-the-scenes. Aileen is the warm proprietor you meet while browsing the offerings: jewelry, scarves, some clothing, handbags, umbrellas, but most of all, chapeaus of every kind for both men and women. There are Stetson hats for men, newsboy caps, knit hats, wide brimmed sun hats, pill box hats, and millinery of all types.
There are also some great employees, with low turnover, who seem to be like family to Aileen.
Prior to Black Cat Hats, Aileen had 30+ years in retail sales, including women’s clothing and makeup. That background has helped her to be comfortable working in close proximity to customers and to develop an eye for what will work well for each one.
Hats are important and sell well year round, whether for health reasons (keeping warm or keeping out of the sun), to cover the head when hair’s been lost due to cancer or other medical issues, and just for fun. Interestingly, the biggest season for the shop is Christmas and second is the Kentucky Derby. The latter surprised me, but Aileen explained that there are many themed parties and events around it, so people come in to snag the perfect apparel items.
Future trends anticipated include more items for outdoors recreation, such as hiking.
Fun & challenges
I asked Aileen about the things she enjoys most about Black Cat Hat, and the biggest challenges she faces.
“I am always excited about going to work every day. I love working with the customers, getting the right look and fit for them.” She does get a lot of repeat customers, but also tourists, so it’s a nice mix of people coming through the doors.
There are two main challenges. First, as with many stores or shops, there’s a risk that people will come in, try on the merchandise, and then go home to buy the same item online. Aileen called that the showroom challenge. (It’s a little similar in real estate when we show people homes, and at the last minute a different Realtor steps in to write the contract – truly frustrating.)
Second, sometimes people aren’t used to wearing hats, and initially they feel a little silly. In the worst cases, people get the giggles or put down others trying on hats or other merchandise. That can set a bad tone for the store, of course. Aileen tries to transform the mindset so that people find hats and accessories that do look good on them, and that in turn helps them to feel comfortable and better about themselves.
The atmosphere at Black Cat Hats is attractive but also homey and caring, which makes it a pleasant place to shop. If you have the opportunity to visit North Santa Cruz Avenue, do stop by Black Cat Hats and check out the wares.
Black Cat Hats
(Near the intersection of N Santa Cruz and Bean, across from We Olive)
59 N Santa Cruz Ave, Los Gatos, CA 95030
Related Reading on downtown LG businesses:
The Los Gatos Spring Wine Walk will take place on Saturday, April 21st 2018 from 1:30 to 5:30pm. Stroll through downtown Los Gatos and enjoy wine tasting, free music, shopping, and the ambiance of our Gem City. Sponsored by the Los Gatos Chamber of Commerce, this popular event is $45 in advance (available to the first 300 ticket purchases) and $50 general admission online, plus processing fee. If there are tickets remaining they will go up for sale on the day of the event for $55 at the door, so get your tickets today!
For more details and info on how to register, please see the Los Gatos Chamber’s website. Cheers!
A charming Los Gatos neighborhood with diverse architecture in the central part of town, if not quite downtown, is the San Benito Avenue area. This neighborhood sits on a gentle hill, a bit of a ridge, and many of the homes in this section of town enjoy lovely views due to the mild elevation. Here, a small road named Creffield Heights starts at San Benito Avenue and slides back into the hill, where the far point of the road stetches into Monte Sereno before looping back into Los Gatos.
The pluses for this neighborhood are huge: proximity to downtown Los Gatos, proximity to Oak Meadow Park and Vasona Lake County Park, the scenic vistas of the hills, the diverse architecture, the well-maintained homes, the highly regarded Los Gatos schools, and much more.
The negatives are few and far between. In some areas, especially some of the streets running between San Benito and North Santa Cruz Avenue, roads are narrow and overcrowded with cars. In some areas, residents may only park on one side of the street. Another issue is the hill itself. Often with hillside properties and neighborhoods, water running off the hill, or under it until it finds level ground, can cause home owners tremendous headaches. See “What To Consider When Buying a Hillside Home in Silicon Valley”
I’ve been curious about the inviting little pocket of homes for over 20 years – who could resist the signs on stucco which announce the street and neighborhood name with so much dignity? When I checked the county records, I found just 11 parcels on this street (and some are flag lots). Of those, 2 are vacant but one looks so small as to be close to unbuildable – is it used as an easement for one of the flag lots? Things like that do happen. Three of the parcels are in the city of Monte Sereno. So it’s kind of a funny pocket! Even so, that area has a little more altitude, so I bet the views are delightful
Terrain for the San Benito Avenue area
Below please find a terrain map with the very approximate neighborhood boundaries marked. The bright green marker is for the appx middle of Creffield Heights, and the pale green one is where the impressive “Creffield Heights” signs may be seen (photos below in slideshow).
Photographs of the Creffield Heights and San Benito Avenue neighborhood
Please enjoy some photos I took recently, mostly on San Benito Avenue in Los Gatos
Real estate prices & homes for sale in the San Benito area
This area has so much diversity that it would be very difficult to give an estimate of what it would take to buy a home in this area. Houses vary in age (from historic to only 30 or so years old), size, grandeur, condition, view, and lot size. Many smaller homes on smaller lots will sell for between $1.4 and $2 million. Large homes on large lots, perhaps will views, will sell for considerably more. This month (October 2016) a younger home on a large lot sold for nearly $3 million. That said, this is a “low turnover” area! Only a eight houses have sold in this area so far in 2016.
Below please find homes for sale by map for this area, and a list of available homes through the link. Continue reading
The Los Gatos Fall Wine Walk takes place this weekend, Saturday Sept 19th, from 1:30 to 5:30pm in the downtown. Tickets are $50 in advance ($55 at the event, but it appears to usually sell out). Loads of info on the Los Gatos Chamber of Commerce’s website – check before going to see if tickets are still available:
The Los Gatos Farmers’ Market is a community treasure and gathering point for the townsfolk. Every Sunday, Los Gatans gather downtown at the Town Plaza Park area for a little shopping, casual munching and entertainment. The outdoors market iss full of organic produce, plants and cut flowers, ready made food, include delicious crepes, and often music or other entertainment. While many Santa Clara County Farmers’ Markets are seasonal or subject to weather conditions, this one is open year round, every Sunday, from 8am to 1pm (though some booths begin to break down around 12:30 or so)
The Los Gatos Farmers’ Market is located in Downtown Los Gatos at the Town Park Plaza on Main Street & N. Santa Cruz Avenue (Montabello Way & Broadway). Pets are not allowed in the market, which wraps around the park on the paved roadway, but may be in the park itself.
Over the years, I’ve taken a number of photos of this local gathering spot. Some are current images and others are 5-10 years old.
The very first subdivision or planned neighborhood in Los Gatos was along Broadway and nearby (Clifton Avenue, Browadway Extension and Wood Road). There had already been quite a few houses built at that time in Los Gatos, but none were planned areas per se. John Lyndon was the developer and he bought the land and created 48 parcels which were sold in 1881 – a good six years before the far larger Almond Grove district was created and 6 years before the town was incorporated, too. A few homes in this area may already have been present, though, and seem to predate the 1881 date.
No doubt, Mr. Lyndon’s real estate buying decision was at least partially influenced by the location of his Lyndon Hotel, a whose bar was a popular hangout for the likes of John Steinbeck and Charlie Chaplain, which was located at the corner of Santa Cruz Avenue and Broadway, and now is the Lyndon Plaza (since sadly the hotel was torn down in the 1960s).
What was once a fairly quiet end of town is today mostly in the heart of it. The area closest to the post office enjoys a wide road (if desperately in need of repair), a good variety of Victorian and mostly older, historic homes, and is very uniformly well kept. Because it is either “in town” or “close to town”, the road is lined with cars most days – perhaps also because these houses of course pre-dated garages.
Where is the Broadway Historic District in Los Gatos?
The Town of Los Gatos has a Historic Districts Map – have a look:
Broadway neighborhood of Los Gatos real estate information
Hope you enjoy this photo slide show, designed to give you a small “taste” of Los Gatos! These images I have either taken myself or paid my photographer to shoot for me. Please do not use without permission.
While there are many neighborhoods with homes which qualify as historic, such as Glenridge, just five of these areas have the historic district designation: Almond Grove, University or Edelen, Fairview Plaza, the Broadway area, and Downtown.
The Town of Los Gatos has a wealth of information on the districts designated as historic and what qualifies them as such. For more information, have a look:
The Town of Los Gatos is home to many lovely neighborhoods with historic homes (Broadway Area Historic District, Fairview Plaza and others), but perhaps none is so quaint or popular as the Almond Grove. (See video drive through this neighborhood near the bottom of this article.)
Location, location, location: the Almond Grove’s got it
The location itself could be very compelling alone as the Almond Grove neighborhood is as much “in town” as “walk to town” with so many activities and opportunities happening along North Santa Cruz Avenue, Main Street and University Avenue – all a stone’s throw away. Quite vibrant, downtown Los Gatos enjoys an inordinate amount of restaurants, shops, coffee houses, bars, places to dine , taste wine, stroll or take in a film. It’s also home to free musical concerts in the summer, a parade in December, a gorgeous new public library, a Farmer’s Market every weekend and many other events year round. Finally, the Almond Grove is set near two parks, Bachman Park and the Los Gatos Town Plaza, so there’s a good amount of open space nearby too. There’s something for everyone!
Traditionally designed neighborhood with good community results
The allure of the Almond Grove is more than convenience, though. There’s an old time friendliness that seems to come with the big, welcoming front porches on so many of the older houses. Dwellings are also set closer together than one might find in suburbia, too. Rather than live so much in the privacy of the backyard, there’s an invitation implicit with this combination of close neighbors and a front porch that seems to underscore that residents are part of the neighborhood community and a bit less secluded.
The Almond Grove displays that sense of community from October to January especially, when it steps out as the best decorated corner of Los Gatos with a huge percentage of participation in the effort. Halloween is a great example. People’s enthusiasm is evident in by the beginning of October as props come out for the spookiest day of the year. Sometimes even in September, “Land of the Giant” sized spiders begin to appear, life-sized ghosts start to swing from porches and trees, the normally tidy and trim picket fences become smudged with spider webs, and every manner of Halloween decor drapes the district. On Halloween night, the Almond Grove district becomes positively overrun with enthusiastic kids from all over Los Gatos. I’ve been told that some homes get as many as 1,000 trick or treaters on Halloween night there. Continue reading
December 09, 2011
Silicon Valley holiday shoppers will be happy to know that the time-limited parking lots in downtown Los Gatos are enjoying extended times (4 hours rather than 3) and valet parking to make the excursion even more fun. The normal schedule returns on January 2, 2012. (The lots without time limits will remain that way too.)
According to the Los Gatos Chamber of Commerce, to make use of the free valet parking,
Enter the valet lot at Elm Street between N. Santa Cruz Avenue and University Avenue and don’t worry about how long you park (as long as you make arrangements for your keys if you plan to stay past 9 PM when the valets go off duty).
These will both make it more enjoyable to shop, browse, and dine in downtown Los Gatos. Hope to see you there – Happy Holidays!