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March 09, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Shop Talk: JJ&F To Expand in College Terrace Shop Talk: JJ&F To Expand in College Terrace (March 09, 2005)

by Daryl Savage

THE LITTLE GROCER THAT COULD . . . Like "The Little Engine That Could," JJ&F is not just chugging along, it's bursting with can-do spirit. Big time.

The family-owned College Terrace neighborhood store is poised to more than double its size, from the current 8,000 square feet to 20,000 -- making it about the same size as Mollie Stone's and Piazza's.

But JJ&F wants to do it carefully and thoughtfully.

"We don't want to lose that neighborhood feeling. The neighborhood is what's built us," owner John Garcia said. Garcia's father and two uncles built JJ&F in 1948 at its present site, 520 College Avenue, combining their initials to form the name. Neighbors organized a birthday party for the store's anniversary of its opening.

The construction project will take the entire block, and will include a two-level underground parking garage. The vacant-since-January Mike's Bikes building at El Camino and College Avenue -- once a Cal-Fed Bank branch, then Wheelsmith, then Mike's (now Michael's Bicycles across the street) -- will be leveled to make room for the expanded JJ&F.

"We might have a little café, maybe a pharmacy, but we're still in the beginning. There's nothing definite," Garcia said. The store plans to stay open during construction: "We're told they can build around us," he said.

Given city approvals, expect construction to begin in about a year, at the earliest, and to take at least a year.

BIG SCOOP FOR SF GIANTS . . . The Midtown community lost one of its own last Friday -- Baskin & Robbins owner Chuck Osborn. Not to a terrible fate, but to the San Francisco Giants.

Osborn, who was the hands-on, well-liked owner of the ice cream shop at 2615 Middlefield Rd. for seven years, has decided to start his fourth career. This time, he's fulfilling a childhood dream and will work part-time for the Giants organization in its in Guest Services department. He'll be helping baseball fans find their seats at SBC Park.

"It's quite a switch from scooping ice cream," Osborn said, who began training for his latest job last Thursday.

Meanwhile, new owners Jim Wang and his mom, Serena Wang, took over the shop last week.

"We're not changing a thing. We'll still have Tuesday-night dollar night, even though someone stole our banner," Jim Wang said, referring to the 8-foot-long banner that hung outside the shop's entrance that advertised dollar-scoop nights.

"They stole it the same day we moved in," Wang said. Not to worry, Wang has already ordered a replacement banner. The mother-son-team owns a total of 12 other Baskin and Robbins franchises, so their combined experience should translate into a smooth transition from Osborn to the Wang's.

The Wang's have a tried-and-true business plan: "I'm thinking about lowering the prices. The prices are so high that ice cream is not a treat anymore. We have little kids coming in here with a $2 gift certificate and that won't buy them a regular scoop of ice cream. They have to go back out to the car and ask their parents for more money," he said.

DIDDAMS OR DIDN'T 'EMS? . . . It was a classic case of "he said, she said" until Steve Diddams walked into his landlord's office last Thursday and signed an extension for another five years on his party store in downtown Palo Alto.

Said Diddams: "We're happy to stay here. We have the loveliest customers and a delightful community of other merchants."

It was down-to-the-wire when Diddams signed. His current lease for Diddams Party & Toy store ends March 31. Despite Diddams assertion (Shop Talk, Feb. 16) that he was negotiating to keep his store open, Carol Mullen, one of the four property owners, said there were no active discussions ever since Diddams rebuffed a reduced-rent offer last year, reportedly making some comments not as flattering to downtown Palo Alto. As a result, she was negotiating with other prospective tenants -- including Party America, the nation's second largest retail party store.

Now Diddams is staying put and everyone can relax. Party-on even.

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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