Best Of Palo Alto 2020

Desperate times, creative measures
How businesses are pivoting to survive the pandemic

by Elena Kadvany, Lloyd Lee, Kali Shiloh and Linda Taaffe

After the coronavirus hit the Bay Area, the halt of the local economy was swift and unprecedented. Over the past eight months, Midpeninsula businesses have had no idea how long or how extreme the impacts of COVID-19 might be. They've faced an unpredictable cycle of forced closures and partial reopenings — that at times have pivoted back and forth and back again within days amid changing health mandates, which have indefinitely extended shelter-in-place orders from weeks into months.

As many local businesses rise above the chaos and uncertainty to redefine their operations during this time when it appears that business-as-usual will not be usual anytime soon, their creativity, perseverance and commitment to serving the community has pushed the concept of "small business" beyond the established boundaries.

From Menlo Park's Flea Street Cafe, which used community donations to launch a meal program that spared kitchen layoffs while feeding thousands of meals to front-line workers at local hospitals each week, to Mountain View's Ava's Market, which turned to robots to make contactless home deliveries, to Stanford University's Cantor Arts Center, which utilized real estate software to keep its collection accessible to the public, local businesses are blazing new trails and turning to unconventional ways to serve the community.

To salute their efforts, we are sharing the stories of how some businesses have responded to the coronavirus and taking a look at how our 2019 Best Of winners are doing a year later. (Note: With ever-shifting public health guidelines, some services listed below may be modified. Check with businesses before you go.)