.Finding the Hidden Poetry at Campbell Plaza

Finding magic on a mundane commercial corner

A suburban wasteland symphony of commerce, Campbell Plaza offers a poetic experience for all.

I begin with a masterpiece: Luigi’s Pizza & Pasta. We’re talking old school, 37 years running, and some of the customers look like they’ve been here for all 37. No one is dressed up. And rightly so.

“Cash is cheaper,” the register guy tells me, as I hand him a 20-spot, which more than covers the spaghetti and meatballs. It comes with a righteous slab of garlic bread. You order at the register, grab your utensils from a separate area, and then snag a table. The food arrives moments later.

Hanging over the utensils, I see a chalkboard. It says: “Keep phone speaker off, THK U.” Italian tri-colors are painted on the walls. Mini red-and-white Italian-style curtains cover the windows. Swinging doors lead to an old-school banquet room. This is Luigi’s. I don’t even remember what decade I first came here.

However, I do remember sneaking a half-pint of Yukon Jack into the Plaza Theaters during high school. That probably happened more than a few times. Now it’s called CineLux Plaza Theatre. Yet another place ruined because they fixed it up.

Campbell Plaza is odd in a beautiful way. It first opened in 1963. Nowadays, there are two smoke shops, four beauty salons, a quilt repository and a dance studio. Out in the parking lot, a stand-alone building, right where the Fotomat was 40 years ago, has been a drive-through coffee place for a long time. Thankfully, one can also walk up to order a fine double espresso.

Everywhere along the main strip, the faux-granite garbage cans haven’t changed in decades, but during my visit, the metal covers are off and leaning against the can. Someone had recently rifled through all the trash.

Inside the Safeway is where the real fun begins. Like many Safeways, the numbered aisles are also titled after local nearby streets, although most people won’t even notice. The signs hanging from the ceiling have the aisle number and a street name. Since this is Campbell, the aisles are Budd, Rincon, San Tomas, et cetera.

If you get bored enough, this is pure poetry. For example, the rice pilaf and the sliced beets are on Rincon Ave. The dill weed and the Hefty bags are on San Tomas Expressway. You’ll find diapers and crackers on Civic Center Drive. The canned chili is on Highway 17, while North 2nd and Budd are the frozen food aisles. I’m laughing out loud in the Safeway aisle as I write this stuff down. People are staring at me.

One could literally play this game all night, which only confirms I wouldn’t last ten minutes as a Safeway employee. I’d mess with the customers too much. If someone asked me, “Where’s the wheat germ?” I’d then say, “It’s over there on Winchester, but it used to be called Santa Clara-Los Gatos Road.”

Following Safeway, a few doors down, nothing remotely as entertaining seems to unfold inside the Dollar Tree, a bland, dismal place if ever there was one. The $1.25 bottles of black-market Palmolive selling like crazy seem like the only poetic material I can find. So, at that point, I leave.

Fortunately, then comes another masterpiece: Little Lou’s BBQ. Americana at its purest. Slabs of meat, fried chicken or potato salad on every plate. Rolls of paper towels at every single table. Tall cans of PBR in the bar area. Baseball and blues ephemera covering the walls, floor to ceiling. Shaving commercials on every television. And of course, senior couples having more fun dancing to “Long Train Running” than anyone half their age.

As if that were not enough, in the hallway, on the wall, I see encased in glass a Metro story about Frank Stallone’s epic landmark appearance in 2014. Man. Little Lou’s, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it.

I’m not being sarcastic. I know at least a dozen incredible musicians that regularly gig at Little Lou’s, a raging scene, even if it feels like Branson, Missouri, on certain nights.

Yes, there is much more to Campbell Plaza, of course. Off the Hook Sports Bar. Ricos Tacos. Fine Fretted String Instruments. In the end, my soul becomes more poetic than before.

Gary Singh
Gary Singhhttps://www.garysingh.info/
Gary Singh’s byline has appeared over 1500 times, including newspaper columns, travel essays, art and music criticism, profiles, business journalism, lifestyle articles, poetry and short fiction. He is the author of The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy (2015, The History Press) and was recently a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. An anthology of his Metro columns, Silicon Alleys, was published in 2020.


  1. Can’t beat old school don’t need any pretense r fancy tile n marble 2 b cool just good food vibe n music fun that’s the rule?????

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