"Destination Palo Alto is an initiative of the Palo Alto City Council to encourage
visitorship to the city. The effort involves a host of partners, including Stanford
University, the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, Palo Alto Downtown Association
and other business districts such an (sic) Stanford Shopping Center and California
Avenue Merchant Association. "
— from the City of Palo Alto website
City officials want us to “shop Palo Alto.” They have launched a campaign to encourage people to come to Palo Alto to shop here. As Mayor Judy Kleinberg said, they don’t want too many people that would crowd our streets, but they do want people. Their reasoning: If people buy things in Palo Alto, the city will get part of the sales tax dollars, and that will enrich our city coffers.
But as loyal a resident as I want to be, if I am interested in not splurging all my hard-earned dollars, I find shopping in Palo Alto a bit difficult.
Several weeks ago I needed a new digital camera. My old one refused to click. So I went to Best Buy at the new Charleston Plaza shopping center in Mountain View and purchased a nice camera at a considerable discount. I checked with Fry’s first, but they didn’t have the model I wanted, and the better price was at Best Buy.
Two weeks ago I needed new outdoor lights for the front of my house. I went to Orchard Supply in Mountain View and to Home Depot in East Palo Alto and purchased three lovely lights for $69 each at Home Depot. Had I shopped in downtown Palo Alto or at the Stanford Shopping Center, I would have paid $160 apiece for similar-looking lanterns.
This past weekend I needed a new pair of slacks. I drove to the Eileen Fisher outlet store in San Leandro and bought two pairs at 50 percent off. On my way back, I stopped at the big Safeway store in Menlo Park because I wanted their freshly made bread, and a birthday cake for one of my grandsons. The Midtown Safeway store does not have its own bakery. A couple of weeks ago the Midtown store did not have any wild rice or brown rice, I guess because it did not have enough shelf space. The larger Menlo Park store had both.
For years Palo Alto residents living near shopping centers have fought putting in decent-sized grocery stores in Palo Alto, claiming they would bring in more traffic. So we have 20,000-square-foot stores with limited space. Albertson’s at Alma Plaza wanted to expand but was told it could not. The typical grocery stores in other towns are 50,000 to 60,000 square feet.
And for years our city council members have said they don’t want any “big box” stores in Palo Alto. These kind of discount stores do not befit the image of our community, some council members say.
So what has happened as a result? Like the Great Wall of China, we are surrounded by big box stores that rest just outside our borders — in Mountain View and East Palo Alto. It’s not like we can’t see these stores or that passersby separate city boundaries – the Ikea store along Highway 101 is a big blue box. It may be in another city, but it certainly is a dominant visual element that casts a big shadow over Palo Alto. Ikea is always crowded; East Palo Alto gets all of its sales tax revenues. If it were on our side of the highway, Palo Alto would be getting all the revenues.
Mountain View has Costco, which it welcomed with open arms, and it has brought that city a lot of sales tax dollars. Now that Charleston Plaza has opened (on Charleston Road in Mountain View, near Orchard Supply Hardware), the big box center there has several chain stores, and it will soon expand.
Palo Alto officials are set in their ways. Some council members still proclaim they will never ever allow big box stores in Palo Alto. We could have put them on our borders, but we chose not to do so.
And yet Palo Alto officials are now telling us to “shop Palo Alto.” I sense a disconnect.