Why San Jose’s “Bulb Guy” may soon become the “Sock Guy”

For years, Rich Santoro gained famed as “The Bulb Guy,” opening the backyard bulb garden in his San Jose home to the public so people could take in the view of thousands of colorful flowers. He never charged admission but eventually used the annual weeklong viewing to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Santoro sunsetted the tradition after 2021 — but his mind never stops thinking of ideas or ways to raise money for St. Jude’s. When he and I caught up with each other recently, he shared his newest idea: novelty socks that play sound at the push of a button.

As Santoro tells it, he was wearing Santa socks a couple of years ago when a co-worker at Central Concrete walked by and started humming “Jingle Bells.” He went out and bought a Christmas card that played the song, ripped out the sound device and put it in the socks, which he christened “Jingle Socks.” To his surprise when he checked with a patent lawyer, nobody had come up with the idea before — or at least nobody had patented it.

Santoro — who now has a patent pending on the socks — showed me his prototype for a football-themed pair that play the call of “The Catch” from 1982. When I asked him if he’d heard from the 49ers’ legal department yet, he shared that he had talked to someone from the team already — and they were at least open to the idea of selling the socks to Levi’s Stadium fans. It probably didn’t hurt his pitch when he let the team know that he plans to donate all profits to St. Jude’s, which he supports in memory of his son, Boom, who died of a childhood cancer.

His plans don’t stop with football socks, either. He can envision baseball socks for every team in the Major Leagues; hockey socks that say “He shoots, he scores”; and soccer socks that play a “Gooooooooal!” message. Not a bad idea with the World Cup coming to the Bay Area in 2026. And before you dismiss the Bulb Guy’s socks, remember that Silicon Valley is the place where Gary Dahl invented the Pet Rock — and sold more than a million of ’em.

LOOK WHO’S RUNNING: There had been an expectation that the race to replace termed-out San Jose City Councilmember Dev Davis in District 6 next year would include Pierluigi Oliverio, who held the seat before Davis did. But he posted on Facebook this week he wouldn’t seek a return to City Hall as he’s the primary caregiver for his elderly mom.

There’s still going to be a “throwback” candidate, though, as Willow Glen businessman Michael Mulcahy announced Friday he was joining the race to replace Davis. Now, it may not be entirely fair to call Mulcahy a throwback since he hasn’t previously run for the seat, but he did run unsuccessfully for San Jose mayor back in 2006.

The managing partner for SDS NexGen Partners, Mulcahy is well known in San Jose and has deep business roots in Willow Glen — including partnering with restaurateur Jim Stump on the Table restaurant and Lamella Tavern on Lincoln Ave. — but he’ll have his work cut out for him, jumping in fairly late on a race that already includes candidates Olivia Navarro, Angelo Pasciuti and Alex Shoor.

GROWING INTO A NEW ROLE: Cayce Hill is stepping down as executive director of Veggielution, the nonprofit urban farm and food program, to take on a newly created job as Santa Clara County’s Food Systems Manager. Since taking over at Veggielution in 2015, Hill raised the nonprofit’s profile, building partnerships and expanding its reach beyond growing vegetables to helping relieve both food insecurity and economic instability for people in East San Jose.

“I’m excited and cautiously optimistic that it will be a role that opens the door for some significant local food system change,” said Hill, whose role at Veggielution will be filled on an interim basis by Policy Director Emily Schwing. A farewell celebration will take place during Veggielution’s regular First Saturday on the Farm event Dec. 2 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

SAN JOSE, CA – JUNE 30: Cayce Hill, executive director of Veggielution speaks during a ceremony at SoFA Pocket Park in San Jose, Calif., on June 30, 2021. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group) 

BANKING ON SUPPORT: Community Bank of the Bay had a ribbon-cutting Wednesday afternoon for its new San Jose office on The Alameda, and it drew a surprisingly large crowd that included past and present elected officials, political candidates and nonprofit and business leaders. Even San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan had to laugh a bit at the scene. “I have never seen a bank ribbon cutting look like a campaign kickoff,” he said. “You’ve got 100 people in a parking lot here, should we start knocking on some doors?”

Credit the big turnout to Community Bank of the Bay’s director of community engagement, former San Jose City Councilmember Johnny Khamis, who still has an impressive contact list. Also impressive is the artwork on display at the bank. There are four abstract paintings by mixed-media artist Belinda Lima, who has a studio nearby at the Alameda Artworks, and Khamis says the bank plans to display other local artists in the future.

Mixed-media artist Belinda Lima stands in front of one of her paintings on display at the new Community Bank of the Bay branch on The Alameda in San Jose on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023. (Sal Pizarro/Bay Area News Group) 

VETERANS DAY THANKS: Dan McCranie, owner of Ladera Grill in Morgan Hill, never served in the military, so he figures the least he can do is to offer a free meal to those who did for Veterans Day. He treated vets to lunch on Friday, and they could order anything off the fine dining restaurant’s menu — even if it was just a burger (Bourbon Burger, $25) or a salad (ahi tuna and coconut prawn salad, $30).

Friday’s lunch crowd included a group of veterans who are regulars: Ken May, who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force; Navy pilot Jim Leslie; Mike Withrow, who was drafted in 1968 but enlisted in officer candidate school instead and served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; U.S. Marine veteran Frances Nance; and Navy vet Tom Stewart.

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