TIME WARP AT HOUSE OF FOAM ... In the land of startups and cutting-edge high tech firms, there is one business that hasn't changed in decades. House of Foam, 150 Hamilton Ave., is a throwback to a simpler time. "I know this is unusual to say, but nothing has really changed here since the 1950s. It's just foam. That's all I have," said House of Foam owner Bob Tallman, who has no employees "except for my sister. She comes in once a week." The store in downtown Palo Alto is decidedly untrendy. No frills, no flourishes, just practicality. The unassuming and affable Tallman, dressed in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt works out of an aging wooden desk in the back of his shop. "I bought this desk in 1980," he said. On the desk is a small fan and a large, outdated calculator. "That calculator has got to be at least 30 years old," he said. "I don't get rid of it because it's still hanging in there." Further back in the 1,800-square-foot space is Tallman's work area. On the walls are racks of dozens of old baby food jars filled with nails and screws. "These are from the 1950s, from the original owner," he explained. Tallman does not advertise. "I think the last time I placed an ad, it was in the Yellow Pages. That was eight years ago," he said. "My customers hear about me from word-of-mouth. They are just regular people off the street who want to recover their dining room chairs or get their sofa cushions restuffed. People also bring in their guitars, rifles, cameras, anything that needs to be packed. I do custom cases for them," he said. Almost as an afterthought, Tallman added, "Oh yeah, there's also NASA. They call whenever they need foam. They used our foam on the space shuttles. I remember looking up in the sky when the shuttle did its last fly-by and I knew it was my foam on board. That made me proud." Tallman took over House of Foam in the 1970s. "A friend of my dad's owned the place. He was selling so I decided to buy it," Tallman recalled. Regarding any competition: "There used to be other places around here that sold foam, but they all quit after Katrina hit. Since foam materials are petroleum-based, prices escalated as much as 200 percent after that. Fortunately, I have a fantastic landlord who keeps this place affordable for me." Tallman, who is 64 years old and a Redwood City resident, says he has no plans to retire. "I'll go out of here feet first, toes up, and with a smile on my face," he said.
INHABITURE TO CLOSE ... The eco-friendly furniture store with an eye toward local vendors, Inhabiture, 248 Hamilton Ave., is scheduled to close this month after opening just over two years ago. Observers may have been able to predict the closing. In September, the store announced its anniversary sale, with merchandise at 25 percent off. Then in October came the moving sale at 40 percent off, and this month was the final sale at 50 percent off. While the employees say the store is moving, no one was able to say exactly where or when the move would take place; only that the store was closing at the end of November. But an industry source who preferred not to be identified said that Inhabiture was simply another occupant of the corner space at Hamilton Avenue and Ramona Street that has come and gone over the years. "Inhabiture is just the latest," said the source. "This space should be a desirable location for retailers -- a busy corner in the middle of downtown -- but for some reason, nothing seems to last there."
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