Shop Talk: Bloomies goes high-tech, Common Ground closes

Business openings, closings and more

A brand new Bloomingdale's opens at the Stanford Shopping Center, Mac's Smoke Shop and Gryphon Stringed Instruments celebrate big birthdays, and Mandarin Gourmet and Common Ground both close.

BLOOMIE'S BLOSSOMS IN NEW LOCALE … A newly-built, $18 million, three-story Bloomingdale's opened Oct. 10 at the Stanford Shopping Center, replacing the older two-story department store, which was constructed 18 years ago. "It has a new look and a new face," said Bloomingdale's spokesperson Anne Keating. "We listened to our customers and we realized we needed a brand new store." The 125,000 square-foot upscale department store has 39 fitting rooms, each of which is equipped with its own iPad that customers can use to communicate with sales people or get product information and reviews. The fitting rooms' full-length mirrors are framed with adjustable lighting that can be modified to create an outdoor, office or evening look. Another unusual feature is the store's children's department, which has two wooden playhouses and a balloon-like chandelier. "It's not often you get a second chance to make a first impression," said veteran store designer Jack Hruska, who has designed 30 Bloomingdale's stores in 22 years. Referring to the Stanford store, he said, "This is the jewel in the renovation of the mall." The shopping center is undergoing a major facelift. The aging structure that houses the former Bloomingdale's is scheduled for demolition in the next 30 days to make way for 20 to 30 new shops and five new restaurants, which will bring the total number of shops in the mall to more than 160.

Shop Talk columnist Daryl Savage.
TWO PALO ALTO SURVIVORS … While many retailers come and go, two Palo Alto businesses have withstood the test of time and are celebrating. Mac's Smoke Shop announced its 80th year in business last week. Located at 534 Emerson St., the small shop with the bright blue awning marked its octogenarian birthday with cake, coffee and energy drinks. It also gave out $5 gift certificates to the first 100 people who walked through the front door. Owner Gloria Khoury said Mac's is almost the oldest business in Palo Alto. "I think Bell's Books has got us beat by one year," Khoury said. The reason for Mac's longevity? "We do our darndest to make sure everyone who comes in here is treated with respect," she said. The second longtime survivor is Gryphon Stringed Instruments, 211 Lambert Ave, which celebrates its 45th year in Palo Alto on Oct. 25. Planned festivities include cake and a full day of live music. "We started in a garage on Margarita Avenue, about two blocks from here," said Richard Johnston, who owns Gryphon with his business partner, Frank Ford. "Then we moved into another garage in downtown Palo Alto, and we finally opened here in 1976. Never did we imagine we'd be celebrating 45 years."

TWO PALO ALTO GONERS … Mandarin Gourmet, which has been serving Chinese food for more than 20 years at 420 Ramona St., is now dark and dusty, with newspapers piled up near the locked front doors. There are two other Mandarin Gourmet restaurants -- in Cupertino and San Jose -- which will remain open. But they are no longer affiliated with the Palo Alto eatery, according to Fanny King, who owns the restaurants in the South Bay. She said Palo Alto's Mandarin Gourmet was sold several years ago. Also disappearing is the 43-year-old organic garden supply and education center, Common Ground, which closed Oct. 11. The much beloved business, located at 559 College Ave., could not survive a string of unfortunate events. Common Ground's Patricia Becker, who has managed the store for 20 years, saw it coming. "I knew it was just a matter of time before we would be forced to close," she said. Becker then listed the reasons for the shop's demise: "First, we have a drought. People don't like to garden when there's a drought, but actually, it's a good thing to do. Then JJ&F Market closed so we lost a lot of foot traffic. And there's construction going on. It's noisy and makes it hard for customers to get here. Plus, the road is blocked and you can't get in the parking lot. And of course, there's the whole online shopping thing going on. Also, our rent was going to increase and we lost the space for our classroom." Wow. Talk about a perfect storm. "I'm terribly sad," Becker continued. "This was my baby." But Becker, who also teaches yoga classes at Stanford University, is looking ahead. "I'm going to start teaching yoga for gardeners," she said.

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. Email

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


6 people like this
Posted by Stephanie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2014 at 11:58 am

We will really miss Common Ground and would love it if Patricia Becker made herself available as a consultant!

5 people like this
Posted by cid
a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2014 at 12:48 pm

cid is a registered user.

OMG! I have been a Customer ever since 1989 when they were still in a tiny space on the El Camino Real. Patricia was truly ths lovely shining headt and soul of the Organization. I took so many classes tgere and learnec so much about sustainable living & gardening.
I've owned John Jeavon's book, HOW TO GROW MORE VEGETABLES (How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine)SINCE THE EIGHTIES AND IT'S COVERED WITH DIRTY FINGER PRINTS FROM USING IT AS A REFERENCE IN THE GARDEN.
Web Link
He has even come down from Willits to teach classes. I loved this Garden Center so much, I drove over from the Coast to shop!
-Cid Young
Moss Beach, CA
Moss Beach

4 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2014 at 1:13 pm

The one percenters don't garden, they hire gardeners to take care of all that green grass. No time to mess with dirt.

1 person likes this
Posted by palo alto
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 20, 2014 at 2:28 pm

How typical Palo Alto. Stores that people "claim" are important to the e.g., common ground are forced to close (Who the heck gardens anyway? [Portion removed.] Yep, a lot of misplaced idealism.

1 person likes this
Posted by Oh Please
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 20, 2014 at 2:58 pm

I garden, but common ground was too expensive. I found everything I needed elsewhere and cheaper. I don't think there are any misplaced idealism, just smart shoppers.

4 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2014 at 4:54 pm

I love(d) Common Ground and have shopped there since 1978 when I moved here, and as recently as earlier this month.

I preferred to spend my money there and loved to measure seeds out of jars (so very many of them until a few years ago) instead of paying for packaging that hid how much you were actually getting (like we can visualize in grams?!?).

They said it was because newbie gardeners wanted more information. Hello! That's what the internet is for! And the classes, etc.

When they phased out the jars of seeds, they lost my loyalty, but not completely my business.

Too many businesses seem to abandon the characteristics that earned them the love to begin with. Then they wonder why their businesses failed.

This is a great loss for many of us, but it began its death march several years ago.

I'll miss it like many other small businesses that made Palo Alto a special place to live.

I guess it's what we can expect when our City Council sells out to soulless developers.

1 person likes this
Posted by Local
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 21, 2014 at 1:28 am

:-( Very sad about Common Ground closing. It was an amazing local resource. We used to drive up here from Sunnyvale because of it. We have a patch of still-green fescue in the back that hasn't been watered for months, and we were wondering what it was -- we bought a bunch of different native grass seed from them, and want to know which one it is so we can plant the rest of the backyard in it. :-(

1 person likes this
Posted by Sea REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 21, 2014 at 4:38 am

Yes. It was a unique store.
Sure, we will miss them

1 person likes this
Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2014 at 7:00 am

I'm also shocked and saddened to hear of Common Ground's closing. I relied on them for organic seedlings and general advice. I was just there this summer and had no inkling they were on the verge of closing.

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 21, 2014 at 8:24 am

Can $18 million be correct for the cost of the new 125,000 square foot Bloomie's? Our new Mitchell Park Library at less than half that size (56,000 square feet?) cost $28 million last I saw.

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 21, 2014 at 11:28 am

The new Bloomingdale's is beautiful inside, but intimidating. Will work well for the weekday serious shoppers who are usually decked out in designer duds (mostly non-Palo Altans). It would have been wiser to tone it down a bit. Now, it's like shopping at Neiman-Marcus but it's actually just a step-up from Macy's (owner of Bloomingdale's). But shopping at Macy's is almost like shopping at Kohl's. Nordstrom atmosphere is just about right to appeal to all shoppers, although their clothing salespeople have gone downhill in the last decade. Since Macy's owns Bloomingdales, if you find something you like at B's, check Macy's and you can probably get 20% off since Macy's almost always offers sale prices.

Like this comment
Posted by Kim
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 4, 2015 at 5:50 pm

I cried when I found out just this week that CG closed. Common Ground was a wonderful resource for all level of gardeners. I'm still crying as I write this because Common Ground was the place where I got my first gardening job! As a new student of horticulture at Foothill College I lucked into a great partnership with my future mentor, a classmate, while I was shopping in CG for tools back in the late 80's. She just got a new job a few minutes earlier while she was shopping at CG. A new homeowner with a fantastic and large landscape came into CG asking for a reference for a skilled gardener and it was serendipity. Common Ground was a rare place where all this greatness could come together because that homeowner heard it was a great resource, visited CG and lucked into meeting my mentor, one of the best gardeners I've ever met.

I was in CG shopping for tools that day because they carried the highest quality tools available for professional gardeners in addition to the best amendments, seeds, seedlings, and advice, education and resources to all level of gardeners. Ordering tools online isn't the same as holding them and getting advice from an experienced gardener about my choices. CG also taught me how to maintain those expensive tools and I still use them today.

I am guilty because I haven't shopped there in years. I stopped gardening for the most part. I wish we could get that magic back but fighting online shopping can be pointless, ask almost every local bookstore who closed in the last 20 years. It's not just rising rents, it's that the times are a changin'.

Thank you Patricia, the heart and soul and backbone of Common Ground! Thank you to everyone who ran and supported Common Ground since it's inception. You made a beautiful place where Palo Alto and surrounding communities could get in touch with the earth and transformed so many, many lives. Thank you to John Jeavons, CG's founder.

Everyone who misses Common Ground should be sure to see what Mr. Jeavons is up to at Ecology Action. Check it out if you're interested in saving the planet! For a long, long time he has been helping people all over the world by stopping and even reversing topsoil loss, by making a nurturing environment for all the sometimes invisible critters who actually feed us, by teaching how to use our resources in the most efficient and beneficial way possible, by helping people all over the world get back autonomy and control over their food sources which has been stolen and stripped away by "modern farming" and the owners of that system. If that interests you then Jeavons is your man.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Chick-fil-A quietly starts delivering out of DoorDash kitchen in Redwood City
By Elena Kadvany | 38 comments | 6,074 views

Disposing of Disposables
By Sherry Listgarten | 24 comments | 3,202 views

By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 1,828 views

Differentiating Grief from Clinical Depression
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,324 views

Anonymous Sources: Facebook and YouTube suppressing important questions and discussion
By Douglas Moran | 22 comments | 1,067 views