By Steve Levy
Services, Dining and Shopping Downtown in Palo AltoUploaded: Jul 16, 2014
I see three principal sets of activities where workers, residents and visitors spend money1) eating and drinking, 2) personal services and 3) retail shopping. I see four principal groups of customers for these activities1) daytime workers, 2) downtown residents, 3) visitors (including residents who live elsewhere in Palo Alto) and 3) people studying or working at Stanford.
And I see several competitive challenges that shape what goes on downtown.
One is the Stanford Shopping Center. A second is the revitalized Town and Country Shopping Center. A third is that both of these centers have central management and onsite parking. A fourth is that rents downtown are expensive. A fifth is that much "shopping" is now done online. Last week one day there were 8 packages left at our 17 unit condo and everyday there is a stack ordered by residents. Stores that sell books, CDs and movies are dealing with customers who no longer get these products at stores.
Most of our purchases in the downtown area outside of dining and items that are easily available at Whole Foods, TJs, the farmers market, Walgreens and CVS, are for services. Downtown has places for phone and computer services, financial services, for repairs of all kinds (for us, it includes glasses, shoes, clothes, jewelry and more), haircuts, dry cleaning, the UPS store, dentists and medical care. Yes we can do a little traditional shopping downtown but the shopping centers have a broader array of items and it seems not in the cards that these are needed to be duplicated downtown.
Downtown works for us.
I also see a lot of empty retail sites. I have no quarrel with zoning for ground store retail BUT I do not think zoning can guarantee that there will be takers.
The retail environment for downtown is changing. The growth in daytime customers comes mainly from workers and visitors. Residents who do not live downtown have many other options.
We, like many residents, remember places we enjoyed years ago but change is everywhere in the retail world. And the competition for small retail (not service) businesses in a high rent, worker rich daytime environment is the reality in Palo Alto.
I have heard all the complaints but if readers have constructive ideas that do not involve insulting other people please send them in. The council and planning commission are interested in hearing what could be done better that is realistic for downtown Palo Alto.