Palo Alto Weekly

Eating Out - June 4, 2010

Shop Talk

by Daryl Savage

RETAIL REBOUND? ... Yep. The picture is getting rosier and business is beginning to recover in downtown Palo Alto, according to Susan Barnes, Palo Alto's economic development manager. "Things are on the rebound. We're looking at getting back a couple of our anchor tenants," Barnes said. "We're also targeting a few areas where we're hoping to see vacancies get picked up." Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce CEO Paula Sandas agrees: "There's a renewed energy downtown. The storefronts are filling." Evidence includes the recent grand opening of Walgreens at the corner of University Avenue and Bryant Street; the second location of Garden Fresh, a Mountain View-based vegan restaurant at 460 Ramona St.; and Deborah's Palm, a nonprofit that provides support for women in times of crisis or challenges, at 555 Lytton Ave. Sandas said she is also excited about the versatility of new retail and office interest: "Last month alone we did five ribbon-cuttings for new businesses."

A SHOUT-OUT TO BOOKS INC. ... At a time when local bookstores are struggling for survival in the face of large chains and Internet sales, some local stores and regional chains are still doing well — and getting recognized for being there. One such is Books Inc., which moved from the Stanford Shopping Center to Town & Country Village in February 2008. Books Inc., which has 12 locations, has just been named "Small Business of the Year" by State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto. This marks the sixth consecutive year that Simitian chose a bookstore in his district to receive the award. "Books Inc. is the kind of business that leads by example. Not only are they providing a great service to Palo Alto ... they're showing how independent bookstores can both survive and thrive," Simitian said. Independent booksellers are more than just stores, he said. "They're community gathering places. They're repositories of ideas." Michael Tucker, a co-owner of Books Inc., said: "Our business is based on the belief that independent bookstores provide something unique to local communities. We're glad that Sen. Simitian feels the same way."

But another independent bookseller, Modernbook Gallery, closed May 1 at 494 University Ave. in Palo Alto. Its owners said the move was due to success, not competition. The swanky, minimalist bookstore/art gallery reopened two weeks ago in San Francisco at 49 Geary St. "We loved Palo Alto but we had this incredible opportunity to be in a space in San Francisco with world-class art galleries," said Mark Pinsukanjana, who co-owns Modernbook with Bryan Yedinak. Modernbook opened its doors about 10 years ago in Palo Alto.

SOUL FOOD SLOWDOWN ... It's another delay for Mac's by the Tracks, slated to be Palo Alto's only soul-food restaurant. Originally scheduled to start serving comfort foods such as deep-fried catfish, macaroni and cheese and greens earlier this year, Mac's looked like it would finally open last weekend at 109 California Ave. But slow down, Mary; not so fast. A major delay of a specialized exhaust-system created a setback for the grand opening. Mac's owner, Anthony McFadden, swears his restaurant will be open this summer.

Heard a rumor about your favorite store or business moving out, or in, down the block or across town? Daryl Savage will check it out. She can be e-mailed at shoptalk@paweekly.com.

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