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About this blog: I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the area in 1963 when I started graduate school at Stanford. Nancy and I were married in 1977 and we lived for nearly 30 years in the Duveneck school area. Our children went to Paly. We moved ...  (More)

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Increasing the Number of Customers for Palo Alto's Small Businesses

Uploaded: Apr 14, 2022
Many small businesses including in Palo Alto are struggling to remain viable and open. Challenging factors include online shopping eating into retail store sales, work from home diminishing the number of customers, large vacancies diminishing the number of customers, and rising labor costs as low-wage workers are getting higher wages in the tight labor market.

Increasing the number of customers for small businesses in Palo Alto should be a goal that has broad support. What are some of the ways to make this happen?

Filling vacant spaces such as in downtown and Cal Ave will provide customers for the existing small businesses. I think it is unlikely that all the retail vacancies can be filled given the continuing growth and ease of online shopping and the continuation of some work from home together with the other challenges cited above. Major shopping areas all across the country including Stanford Shopping Center are adapting to the online world and adding new non-retail activities to attract customers to their venues.

One positive step for Palo Alto is to allow non-retail uses such as services, which remain in high demand, on current retail sites. Even if the services do not provide sales tac revenue, they provide customers and add to the vibrancy of the shopping and restaurant areas. Keeping these spaces vacant benefits no one.

More housing will provide an increase in customers for local small businesses. Most of the residents I know where we live downtown are active customers for nearby small businesses. It is very convenient. I am sure this is true for the area around Cal Ave as well.

While work from home decisions are mainly made by firms and workers, there is a clear benefit to our small businesses if more workers return to offices such as in downtown. Perhaps the City can work with local office employers to see if there are city policies that could make it easier for workers to return to the office at least part time.

Improved parking availability and ease of knowing where to find parking could help increase the number of customers. Some ideas include dedicated spaces for short-term and special needs parking, better enforcement so daytime workers are not taking spaces that should be available for small business customers and, possibly, completion of additional public garage space.

A final idea is to add activities such as music events that will draw people to downtown and Cal Ave. Make them more interesting destinations to visit.

Readers probably have additional ideas to increase the number of customers for our small businesses.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 14, 2022 at 4:10 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Make it easier (less confusing to park) and keep prices for parking low. We still don't have electronic signage or pay by phone.

Last time I had reason to shop at Stanford SC, I made several impulse purchases. I had to return an item so returned a few days later and made more impulse purchases. The impulse purchases were all much smaller than the intentional purchase, but still added to the economy.

Last time I went to eat on a pleasant evening, we strolled around other stores.

The idea is that shopping is often a pastime rather than a necessity. Make it pleasant. Make it easy. We have lost many activities but shopping can be much more entertaining (and pleasant) than sitting in a theater or sports venue.

Posted by Brent Waters, a resident of Castro City,
on Apr 15, 2022 at 6:57 am

Brent Waters is a registered user.

> shopping is often a pastime rather than a can be much more entertaining (and pleasant) than sitting in a theater or sports venue.

I suspect that browsing and what we used to call 'window shopping' back in the day is more of a woman's pastime, especially when it comes to shoes, clothing, and fashion accessory items.

Men tend to browse (if at all), at pastime oriented stores that cater to their hobbies and outside interests.

Online shopping has its drawbacks from the standpoint that a customer must rely on product descriptions and cannot try on clothing first for proper sizing.

I hate going shopping with my wife because she dilly-dallies too much at various women's stores that I have minimal interest in.

As a result and with the possible exception of groceries, we shop separately most of the time.

Our neighbor has a gay male friend that she goes shopping with and they seem to enjoy each other's company and fashion-related conversation.

I would rather kick back with a beer and watch the ballgame.

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 15, 2022 at 7:38 am

Bystander is a registered user.

It may be true that women prefer browsing around clothing and kitchen stores. Men tend to browse around hardware and high tech. Whenever a new Iphone or video game comes out, the lines always seem to be male only. The Tesla store always seems to have more men also.

But we don't want to be called out for being sexist do we?

Posted by Joanie Spangler, a resident of Los Altos,
on Apr 16, 2022 at 7:53 am

Joanie Spangler is a registered user.

We need more retail stores that carry merchandise exclusively manufactured in the United States or from modern Western European countries.

American consumers have become too accustomed to buying cheaply-made goods from China along with overpriced designer label clothing and accessories manufactured in 3rd world countries.

Posted by Consider Your Options. , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 18, 2022 at 1:54 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

I hate shopping online. I like to see and handle what I am buying before I purchase it. With clothing, I check the weave of fabric, construction of the garment, quality of workmanship. I want things that last. I can't check any of this online where there is a lot cheaply manufactured JUNK for sale.

Though I am a lowly woman (really, the previous posts were quite insulting), I love my local hardware store and appreciate the convenience of being able to dash over there and back home in less than an hour on my bike to get parts for to get parts for emergency repairs. Time matters when your irrigation system or plumbing system springs a leak. I also like to browse at the hardware store...Imagine that, a woman interested in building and fixing things.

I am picky about my foods. I love to cook, so here again, I like to select my fresh ingredients. I don't want some minimum wage Amazon slave who knows nothing about produce selecting my tomatoes for me.

The internet is useful for some things, but I like to limit my time there. I like getting out in the world and interacting with people and things. I like to ESCAPE THE SCREEN as often as possible. The real world is a much better place to be.

Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on Apr 20, 2022 at 7:26 am

Annette is a registered user.

I agree with Consider Your Options. Completely. I also think Palo Alto needs to focus on crime prevention. I think it likely that the sort of crimes that are happening near retail areas deter people from going to those areas as often as they otherwise might.

Posted by Greg Lassiter, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Apr 20, 2022 at 8:02 am

Greg Lassiter is a registered user.

> Palo Alto needs to focus on crime prevention. I think it likely that the sort of crimes that are happening near retail areas deter people from going to those areas as often as they otherwise might.

A lot of this has to do with Palo Alto being an upscale community with high-end stores that attract criminals from outside the area.

Mountain View does not have fancy stores and the neighborhoods are more nondescript in nature.

As a result, there are fewer residential burglaries and retail store thefts.

Surprisingly, Los Altos offers both quality shopping (albeit it limited) in addition to having nice residential neighborhoods.

Perhaps Palo Alto could take some lessons from its neighboring city.

Posted by Ginger Poston, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 20, 2022 at 11:22 am

Ginger Poston is a registered user.

> shopping is often a pastime rather than a necessity.

In many ways it is.

I enjoy browsing for clothing and cookware but leave the more serious household purchases (like cars, computers, iPhones and home entertainment components) up to my husband who is far more adept at making these key decisions.

I feel sorry for women who are single and have to do menial tasks like cleaning their own rain gutters and having to balance the checkbook.

Being pampered and marrying the best provider one can stomach is the key to happinesses and a successful long-term married life.

And all it takes is being reasonably attractive and superficially cordial.

Posted by Bobbi Calloway, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Apr 20, 2022 at 1:12 pm

Bobbi Calloway is a registered user.

Though there have been prior discussions regarding Town & Country Village accommodating more private businesses and medical facilities, I would like to see it revert back to a collection of upper tier specialty stores.

Because of its elongated compactness, Town & Country Village would also be easier for security guards to monitor and for the PAPD to apprehend suspects as Embarcadero Road and/or ECR are the only way out of Palo Alto.

And bring back, expand, or possibly re-introduce many of the older stores that were once symbolic of Town &Country Patrick James, S. Christian Copenhagen, Prestige, Spiro's Sports, Edy's, Nippon Goldfish Company, Village Cheese Shop, Williams Cutlery, Peninsula Box Office, Stickney's, and a host of others.

In other words, let's make the contemporary dullness of Palo Alto a bit more palatable by making it a tad more interesting.

Posted by Bay Area Shopper, a resident of Portola Valley,
on Apr 22, 2022 at 11:32 am

Bay Area Shopper is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by Marion Bailey, a resident of Blossom Valley,
on Apr 24, 2022 at 10:33 am

Marion Bailey is a registered user.

Except for a multitude of dining options, downtown Palo Alto (including California Avenue), and the downtown sections of Los Altos, and Mountain View lack a certain vibrancy.

Add some live entertainment venues, more full-scale bars, and retail marijuana stores to stimulate the local economy.

California Avenue is no longer quaint and redeveloping it along the lines of San Antonio Road with both ground level stores and multi-story residencies would help to alleviate the housing shortage.

Include some Section 8 rental eligibility options as well for people on fixed incomes (e.g. social security, disability, welfare etc.) and eliminate all parking on California Avenue to accommodate walk-through traffic and bicyclists.

Making progress and gearing-up for the future is the key objective and the future is now.

Posted by Fritz Weatherly, a resident of Barron Park,
on Apr 24, 2022 at 11:58 am

Fritz Weatherly is a registered user.

Sunnyvale left a small section of its downtown area (Murphy Street) for quaintness while the rest of the city is getting further developed.

Downtown Palo Alto could easily do the same. Just leave a few of those now antiquated and mundane retro-Spanish architectural designs intact and bulldoze the rest of them. No big deal.

Palo Alto is getting left behind by clinging to remnants of an insignificant past.

Posted by Callie Davis, a resident of Atherton,
on Apr 24, 2022 at 3:15 pm

Callie Davis is a registered user.

• "Just leave a few of those now antiquated and mundane retro-Spanish architectural designs intact and bulldoze the rest of them. No big deal."

The post office on Hamilton and small stores on Ramona add a certain character to downtown Palo Alto but the multi-story Hamilton building, President Hotel, and old PAMF building most certainly does not and should be razed for newer architectural designs.

California Avenue is OK but could also use a renovation.

Architecturally, much of downtown Palo Alto is marred by a non-vintage, mundane appearance and this could be easily remedied by a coordinated tear-down of the older buildings followed by a visionary rebuild that reflects tomorrow.

Posted by Pepi Morgan, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 25, 2022 at 7:53 am

Pepi Morgan is a registered user.

The question is whether Palo Alto residents can fully support the revenue generating stream of their local businesses by themselves or whether an established and continual customer base from outside of Palo Alto is needed to fulfill this criteria.

If Palo Alto residents wish to maintain a small town vibe, then keep things the way they are including all of its antiquated 1920 architectural styles.

100 years have passed and times change.
If attracting a stronger customer base from outside of Palo Alto is required to keep things afloat fiscally, then spend some more money on redeveloping the entire University and California Avenue shopping districts.

The section of Barron Park along El Camino Real is also hideous with its endless flow of mundane strip malls, automotive repair shops, and nondescript motels.

South Palo does not reflect the venerable essence of North Palo Alto and is more reminiscent of Sunnyvale and Santa Clara.

Stanford Shopping Center attracts a lot of out-of-town customers but downtown PA and California Avenue can only seem to accomplish this feat via those tacky summer street fairs featuring questionable artisan goods with mediocre cover bands providing the entertainment.

A commemorative wine glass is about all there is to show for this cultural Palo Alto experience.

Posted by Melissa Vogt, a resident of Los Altos,
on Apr 25, 2022 at 11:03 am

Melissa Vogt is a registered user.

Palo Alto could take a lesson or two from Los Altos.

Our crime rate is low, no RV or homeless issues, and there are plenty of places to either dine or shop.

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 25, 2022 at 11:27 am

Bystander is a registered user.

We have a chicken and egg situation.

We are losing stores because of online shopping. We have to shop online because local stores are closing.

Posted by Avery Stone, a resident of another community,
on Apr 26, 2022 at 9:18 am

Avery Stone is a registered user.

• We are losing stores because of online shopping.

This is true (to a certain extent) but the exorbitant commercial rental costs in Palo Alto also discourage merchants from expanding their businesses or even staying in business altogether.

Greedy landlords are to blame.

Posted by Julian Lopez, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Apr 26, 2022 at 11:58 am

Julian Lopez is a registered user.

With the population of both Palo Alto and Mountain View becoming predominantly Asian, retail stores should seriously consider catering to these newer markets.

Downtown Mountain View is accomplishing this to some extent and there is a large 99 Ranch supermarket on Grant Road.

Palo Alto could easily do the same but I suspect that many of the older white residents would not welcome such a changeover.

Other local Bay Area cities have ethnic shopping districts (e.g. Little Kabul/Saigon/Italy etc. and Korea, Japan, and China towns).

Why is Palo Alto so reluctant to embrace and promote the newer demographics?

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