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Not too long ago, the East Bay's main streets and downtowns did a brisk retail business. Local five-and-dimes, hardware stores and dress shops provided a reliable source of everything from birthday cards to bolts.
This, of course, preceded the development of mega-malls.
Between 1954 and 1980, four malls exceeding 1 million square feet each were built in Concord, Pleasanton, Hayward and Richmond, siphoning thousands of shoppers from the region's main street merchants. Today, Alameda and Contra Costa counties boast about 10 million square feet of mall space -- space that feeds city budgets with millions of dollars in much-needed sales tax revenues.
The decline of the main street shopping district is easy to explain. Sentimentality and town pride couldn't hold a candle to free parking, abundant advertising, evening hours, choice variety and video arcades. By the 1980s, tumbleweeds rolled down these main …