Best New Business: Gray Matters

New Business

It's a toy store for your brain! Gray Matters, this year's best New Business, aims to improve you while you play. With games for everyone aged 2 to 92, the store's modus operandi is to get you thinking without you even realizing it. "The theme here is building cognitive skills," explained store owner and clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Richard Abbey. What's more, the salespeople are all psychologists, poised to explain the benefits of all of their intriguing products. To find the Gray Matters shop on California Avenue, just look for the bubbles wafting toward the sidewalk.
330 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-600-8892;

New Beauty Supply: LaBelle Day Spas and Salons

Beauty Supply

When it comes to beauty and skin care, LaBelle Day Spas and Salons offers the finest products. The secret behind LaBelle's high-quality cleansers, toners, moisturizers, masks, serum and oils is a wealth of clinical research. The product line is guided by Bella Schneider, a recognized skin care leader who founded her first spa and salon in 1976. Whenever you would like to treat your body, LaBelle offers countless different services — whether a relaxing massage or a refreshing mani-pedi session — all performed by experts in their fields.
#36 Stanford Shopping Center, 180 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-326-8522; #95 Town & Country Village, 855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-327-6964;

Hall of Fame: Second Year

Locals know they can avoid the adage "Pain is beauty, and beauty is pain" by shopping at Peninsula Beauty Supply. The friendly staff answers questions and helps customers find the right products for their every need. Because it carries a huge variety, and offers in-house hair styling and esthetic services, it's a one-stop shop for cosmetic and beauty essentials. The store even stocks many favorites in a travel size, so even packing isn't a pain anymore.
250 University Ave., Palo Alto, 650-327-1454;

Bike Shop

The wheels of success for Mike's Bikes continue to turn. For 51 years, Mike's Bikes stores have remained dedicated to the sport of cycling, not only by selling biking equipment, but also by upholding their core purpose to get as many people on bikes as possible. Aside from bikes, the Palo Alto shop also offers a diverse selection of bike frames, components, accessories and apparel. This location presents a setting that attracts bike riders, and passes that same cyclist-friendly feeling on to Palo Alto.
3001 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-858-7700;


This cozy and popular destination continues to offer local bookworms the perfect reprieve from digital noise. A part of a small chain that brands itself as "The West's Oldest Independent Bookstore," Books Inc. is a little paradise for the traditional sort of browser — the type who savors the sound of a turning page and appreciates the elegance of ink. The store features a helpful and knowledgeable staff, a wide selection of books and magazines, and community-centered events such as author readings and book groups.
#74 Town & Country Village, 855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-321-0600;

Hall of Fame: Third Year

Even though Kepler's Books is comfortably within its third year of Hall of Fame status, the phrase "Some things never change" would be greatly off the mark when speaking about this local institution. "We are gradually and successfully transforming Kepler's from a traditional for-profit bookstore into a membership-driven institution with a mission of deepening literacy and providing cultural enrichment for our community," said Praveen Madan, community engagement officer. In addition to offering a tantalizing book selection, Kepler's Books has a new nonprofit events organization, which has scheduled author events in the fall featuring Meg Clayton, Adam Johnson, David Shields and others, Madan said.
1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 650-324-4321;

Best Boutique: Romi


A fashion-forward boutique in downtown Palo Alto, Romi is mainly concerned with helping customers find "the perfect look." At Romi, the air is fresh with honest and informative assistance from employees who make sure customers leave the store with something they love. Romi hosts designer trunk shows, holds private shopping parties and offers event fundraising. The boutique also offers personalized closet services at home to help customers create new looks from their wardrobe. Started by Palo Alto native Romi Mahajan, the shop aims to make customers feel that they and their thoughts matter by developing interactive and communicative relationships.
624 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-322-7664;

Best Boutique Hall of Fame: Shady Lane

Hall of Fame: First Year

When it comes to finding that special gift, look no further than Shady Lane. This Hall of Famer holds a special place in reader's hearts, although sadly, it has moved to Menlo Park from downtown Palo Alto after the building it occupied was slated for remodeling. From artisan-crafted jewelry and glass to wood, brass, textiles and leathercraft, there's still an opportunity at Shady Lane to find a gift that will be treasured for years. And see if you can keep from treating yourself.
Sharon Heights Shopping Center, 325 Sharon Park Drive, Menlo Park, 650-321-1099;


At Lux Eyewear, you don't just see your best — you look your best. A premier place on the Peninsula for eyewear, this store offers advanced optics and high-fashion frames. Products include optical and contact lenses and a diverse collection of distinctive eyewear, from designers such as Tom Ford and Judith Leiber. The store also gives eye exams and accepts insurance from a full range of providers. The time of "four-eyes" jokes is over, and Lux Eyewear can help you craft a look of style and sophistication.
1805 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-324-3937;

Flower Shop

Roses and tulips and daisies ... Oh my! One can find an array of flowers at Michaela's Flower Shop, a store that is committed to providing the finest floral arrangements and gifts with swift and cordial service. They provide flowers for different occasions, including birthdays, proms, anniversaries and weddings. Prices vary from around $30 to over $250. Each floral item is unique and cared for meticulously to capture its ideal presentation.
453 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 650-321-5390;

Gift Shop

One would expect a store with the name of Paperwhirl to offer up paper goods galore. And it does! But beyond the main attractions of cards and custom invitations is a veritable amusement park of whimsical items more amazing than a carnival strong man and more astonishing than a sword swallower. Customers can peruse kitchen knickknacks, like an egg timer delightfully shaped like a pig, or find gifts suitable for a baby shower or housewarming. With inventory constantly changing, the proprietors promise there will always be something to tickle one's fancy.
230 University Ave., Palo Alto, 650-328-6141;

Hall of Fame: First Year

See complete listing for Shady Lane under Boutique.

Hardware Store

The favorite hardware store of readers of both the Palo Alto Weekly and the Almanac is Menlo Park Ace Hardware. "We try to be helpful and solve problems," said Vasile Oros, owner and store manager. "That's the first goal. Sometimes we succeed; sometimes not so good, but we try," he said. The store has plans for a handyman area for services such as fixing window screens, as well as a knife-sharpening service. As always, the store will continue to supply its invaluable advice on any and all home improvement projects, Oros said.
700 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 650-325-2515;

Hall of Fame: Third Year

From nuts to bolts and everything in between, do-it-yourselfers and gardeners will find a wide array of supplies and tools at Hassett (Ace) Hardware. This family-owned business is a Palo Alto institution. Its knowledgeable and friendly staff members are always willing to lend a helping hand when customers don't know exactly what will do the job. Begun in 1957 and now run by the third generation of a Peninsula family, the Hassett organization knows what the "community" means in community hardware store. The business supports local organizations including Paly Robotics, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, Repair Caf<0x00E9>, Little League and the YMCA.
875 Alma St., Palo Alto, 650-327-7222;

Home Decor

When it comes to making your home hospitable, Sur La Table serves up goods that have both function and flair. Ornate yet durable dinnerware evokes the old Italian countryside; Teflon tablecloths, with patterns subtle or vibrant, suit any occasion. Sur La Table sells tools for grilling, cutting-edge appliances and topiaries for the garden, too. So no matter what the event, you are equipped to be your best hostess self.
#57 Town & Country Village, 855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-289-0019;

Jewelry Store

Since opening its doors in 1931, Gleim the Jeweler has become one of the premier family-owned, independent jewelers in the United States. There is a collection of one-of-a-kind colorful jewelry, and available services include jewelry repair, appraisals, custom design, watch repair, and the polishing or re-cutting of diamonds and gems. What makes this store unique is one value that it stands by: accountability. When a mistake is brought to the staff's attention, they will do everything they can to make it right.
#111 Stanford Shopping Center, 180 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-323-1331;

Hall of Fame: First Year

See complete listing for Shady Lane under Boutique.

Nursery/Garden Supply

A new winner has taken root in the Weekly's Nursery/Garden Supply category: Ladera Garden & Gifts, located in the Ladera Country Shopper mall. Co-owner Mercedes Navarro attributes the popularity of her business to a variety of plants and gifts, excellent service and hard-working employees with good attitudes. The store's appeal may also have something to do with a continuous influx of new items, Navarro said. "Maybe that's part of it," she said. "You don't see (the new items) in other places."
3130 Alpine Road, Suite 380, Portola Valley, 650-854-3850; (search for "Ladera Garden & Gifts")

Pet Store

For four years in a row, Pet Food Express has been voted the best Pet Store by the Weekly's readers. This is no surprise given the high quality and variety of food and toy options for pets offered by the store, as well as painstaking customer service that leaves visitors smiling every time. The store also holds cat- and dog-adoption days, along with special events that provide useful animal-care techniques to pet owners, such as a cat nail-trimming clinic.
3910 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 650-856-6666;

Shoe Store

Some people may think "comfortable shoe" equals "grandma's orthopedics." Not so, say the friendly folks at Footwear etc. Styles to rival the runway's — with none of the accompanying arch and heel pain — can be found at the Palo Alto retailer. Its sandals, boots, athletic wear, etc., made by foot- and fashion-friendly companies like Dansko, Vionic and Mephisto, offer your dogs the tender, loving care they need. So step right up for some stylish kicks supplied by people who know a thing or two about feet.
463 University Ave., Palo Alto, 650-328-1122;

Sporting Goods & Apparel

From the Xootr scooter to the Rawlings basketball shooter, from kickboards to cleats, Palo Alto Sport Shop & Toy World has been giving the big box stores a run for their money for decades. Founded in 1930, the downtown retailer has served as the go-to place for generations of local families looking to engage in all sorts of sports. Regulars give it high marks in particular for its selection of swimsuits and goggles.
526 Waverley St., Palo Alto, 650-328-8555;

Stationery Store

The art of the thank-you note, alas, has fallen by the wayside for many, but as torchbearers of all things civilized, Village Stationers carries an array of stationery goods to gladden the most refined of souls. Lovely papers and notecards, bright with designs certain to bring a smile to the recipient's face, sit happily on the store's long shelves. Office supplies and a wealth of cards for all occasions are also purveyed. For those with a weakness for all things paper, Village Stationers is like a sprig of catnip to a frisky feline. For thank-you note neglecters? Well, gentle reader, they know not what they are missing.
310 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-326-7970; 719 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 650-321-6920; 222 Main St., Los Altos, 650-941-9600;

Toy Store

Kids' birthday parties often feel like a carnival of the animals run amok, but they are part and parcel of family life. So where do savvy parents go for sure-fire gifts their tykes' friends will like? Why, Cheeky Monkey, of course! With stuffed toys, educational gadgets, children's books, arts and crafts, science kits and more, this is the kind of shop that harks back to the toy stores of yore, while still keeping current with new trends in play.
640 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 650-328-7975;

Hall of Fame: Second Year

See complete listing for Palo Alto Sport Shop & Toy World under Sporting Goods & Apparel.

Best Women's Apparel: Leaf & Petal

Women's Apparel

Whether one's shopping for casual or career needs, the staff at Leaf & Petal strives to provide customers a personal shopping experience. Customers can schedule an appointment or walk in for a fitting and style consultation. The staff pulls together coordinated looks, from head to toe, that will have you walking out dressed to impress. Plus, the staff stays ahead of the season, guaranteeing every step you take is fashion forward.
439 California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-329-8070;