The Collegian

10/25/04 • Vol. 129, No. 27

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Vintage Fresno

Vintage Fresno

Fresno's Secrets

By Allison Bethurem

Take the outdoor cafes of New York City, mix them with the shopping and nightlife of San Francisco and add a big scoop of Hollywood theater.

Rapidly stir all three together, and out pours Fresno’s own Tower District.

As you drive along E. Olive Ave. in Fresno, you will eventually come across an area that looks completely out of place.

There are no Wal-Marts in sight, no Taco Bells to grab a bite and definitely no Abercrombies to pick up a miniskirt that is already owned by the majority of Fresno State females.

The twinkle of small white lights draped from one side of the street to the other frames the two-block-long culture strip.

Among these blocks rest small gift shops, one-of-a-kind restaurants, unique places to pick up new and used clothing and music, hair salons, furniture boutiques and even a health food store.

The area resembles a miniature Berkeley, Tanya Ciszewski, of Sanger, said.

She feels that the Tower District is the only place in the Valley where she can express herself without the feeling of being judged by others.

“Everyone here is very open-minded, it is less industrial and there is a whole lot more creativity,” said Ciszewski, who was taking her daughter, Lelia, a University High School student, shopping after school.

“It’s like an oasis; there are a lot of places in the Valley that I am scared to express myself at, but I feel like I can at the Tower District.”

The most well-known intersection of the Tower District is at Wishon and Olive avenues at the site of the Tower Theater.

The theater is an original art decotheater that hosts concerts and special film debuts.

The theater is lit up with strands of lights and on top of the theater’s tower is a three dimensional star.

Once you arrive, the outdoor foyer and the carpeted indoor lobby take you through a time machine to the ’30s and prepares you for the entertainment ahead.

Walking across the street from the Tower Theater will bring you back to 2004 and bring you into a unique clothing store.

Valentino’s is a retail store that mixes old and new in a creative way.

The new clothes they carry are not the trendiest clothes on the market, but they will definitely get you noticed.

The other side of the store is filled with used clothing. They have vintage prom dresses, skirts, blouses, handbags and shoes. One case in the store shines bright with original gold-and-silver sequined handbags and matching shoes that could have been spotted at the Tower Theatre in the’40s.

“I love it here at the Tower District,” said Sarah Valentino, an employee at Valentino’s and also the daughter of the owners. “It’s one of the best areas to hang out, it’s just really laid back.”

Valentino said two of the hottest spots with the best laid back atmosphere in the Tower District are Starbucks and the Review, two popular coffee shops.

Further down the street is an interesting store that has seven aluminum garbage cans filled to the top with clothes, displayed in front of the window.

Retro Rag is a favorite to many Tower District shoppers. It has affordable unique clothes straight out of a thrift store.

If you are one of those people who cannot stand going to a thrift store and digging for treasure, but who still wants vintage clothing, this is the place to go.

The store manager of Retro Rags, Brittney Stanley, feels that the Tower District offers a lot to its residents and, unlike the rest of Fresno, has its own culture and way of life.

“The Tower District is like a big family,” Stanley said. “People aren’t afraid to say hi, you don’t have to worry about the way you look or the way you talk. It shouldn’t even be considered a part of Fresno, it should be it’s own city.”

The restaurants spread throughout the Tower District offer a good mixture of foods, from Chinese, to Italian, to good old-fashioned American.

It doesn’t get any more American than Grandma’s Chicken Pie Shop.

The outside of the restaurant resembles a barn with has a rustic aluminum roof.

It looks like it should be placed in a movie taking place in the late ’50s.

All the chairs, countertops and booths are covered in green fabric or paint.

Sitting alone at the counter with his cup of coffee and newspaper is Mike Martinez. He is popular in this restaurant, everyone knows him by name, and the waitresses who constantly fill up his cup of coffee give him a warm, friendly smile.

“I’ve been coming here since 1963,” Martinez said.

“I was here when this restaurant used to be a hardware store, and the chicken pie shop was next door, where the parking lot is.”

Martinez, a long time employee of PG & E, reminisced for 30 minutes about the Tower District he once knew.

Tower District

Ryan Smith / The Collegian
Retro rag is one of the most popular stores in the Tower District, specializing in vintage clothing.

He explained how there used to be real exclusive men’s clothing stores scattered around, where he would find his best clothes.

He talked about the full service gas station that used to pump gas for you, and the Carnation Ice Cream shop that made its own ice cream.

“It’s sad how we have to pump our own gas now and there are no more mom and pop grocery stores anywhere,” Martinez said, smiling at the waitress refilling his coffee. “You used to be able to call the grocery stores, and they would know you. You would ask for them to send over a bottle of milk, a loaf of bread and a few steaks, and they’ll just put it on your tab. There’s no such thing as that anymore. Not at Costco.”

Whether the Tower District has changed for the better or the worse, it is a place called home for a lot of Fresno residents who want to live in a community of arts and entertainment.

The Tower District offers great nightlife.

Clubs such as the Avalon sponsor events throughout the year that are extremley popular.

The daytime in the Tower District is packed with workers on their lunch break trying to find a healthy alternative.

It is as easy as ever to get to the Tower District with the new Downtown-Tower express.

Renovated trolleys now carry passengers to and from downtown Fresno to the Tower District for a small fee.

Getting out of the office or out of class and coming to the Tower District is one way to relieve stress and forget about the deadlines or assignments piling up.