Shop Talk: Parking problems brew at Philz Coffee

This week's business news

Parking is getting tight in Midtown, and the opening of a new cafe may make matters worse.

PARKING PROBLEM BREWING IN MIDTOWN ... When Philz Coffee opened in Midtown Palo Alto at 3191 Middlefield Road seven years ago in its teeny tiny 600-square-foot spot, it was logical to think that the adjoining parking lot of 18 spaces -- along with street parking on Middlefield and an additional nearby parking lot with nearly 40 spaces -- would be more than adequate. But Palo Altans love their coffee, so much so that customer parking for Philz is creating a problem for the surrounding neighborhood. Particularly concerned are some residents from a condo complex located directly next to Philz, at 725 to 773 Loma Verde Ave. A large red sign was erected earlier this week on the condo property at the entrance to its driveway. "PRIVATE PROPERTY," it reads. "NO PHILZ PARKING." A Philz customer walking by commented on the sign. "It's not a very friendly sign, is it?" she noted. "It's rather bright, and all capital letters -- like it's yelling at you." The coffee shop has been in touch with a representative from the condo association about the parking problem. Philz spokesman Robert George said, "We don't have much control over our customers' behavior. People park where they can find a space. We have signs on our door that ask our customers to please be nice to our neighbors in terms of parking. We try to encourage street parking or bike riding." George also noted that 80 percent of Philz customers get their coffee to go. "That means that our customers are in and out in about 15 minutes or so," he said. Complicating the parking problem is the anticipated July opening of Bill's Cafe, which is moving into the former Pommard Delicatessen and Fandango Pizza spot. The new restaurant, which will be open for breakfast and lunch, and will seat 75 to 80 diners, is just steps away from Philz at 3163 Middlefield Road. If the overflowing parking lots of the five existing Bill's Cafes in San Jose are any indication of the restaurant's future success in Palo Alto, the parking problem is likely to continue. "People are already complaining about parking, and it's probably going to get worse once Bill's opens," said Michelle Apango, who works at the counter of AJ's Cleaners, located between Philz and Bill's. "The parking lot fills up real fast because of Philz, especially on the weekends," she said. But Bill's Cafe owner Nick Taptelis believes that since the Palo Alto restaurant is located in a residential neighborhood, "Mostly, people will be walking to Bill's, not driving," he said. "So I don't really see it as much of a problem."

Got leads on interesting and news-worthy retail developments? Daryl Savage will check them out. Email shoptalk@paweekly.com.

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9 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Whenever I pass by that corner, there always seems to be plenty of parking in the big parking lot on the other side of the building. Why are Philz customers so lazy that they park illegally along Loma Verde, even blocking the clearly marked bike lane?

3 people like this
Posted by Customer
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2015 at 12:15 pm

As a customer of the dry cleaners, I often find it hard to park in the larger lot, even with designated signs for different businesses there. If you see lots of empty spaces, it doesn't mean that there is place for the business you want.

Looking forward to walking here for dinner when the new restaurant opens. We need more dinner options in walking distance so that we don't have to worry about driving home after a beer or a glass of wine.

12 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2015 at 12:30 pm

Designated parking spaces for each business is counter-productive. The coffee shop is busiest in the morning. The liquor store is busiest in the evening. Why can't they share?

And please do not park in the bike lane. This is extremely dangerous and the cops take the "NO PARKING" signs very seriously.

4 people like this
Posted by Downtown Worker
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 21, 2015 at 12:59 pm

I used to live a block away from that center ten years ago, and it was usually empty. The previous coffee shop was pretty bad, and, as much as I liked Cafe Pommard, it was never busy.

But replace boring shops and restaurants with great ones, and you suddenly have a parking problem with the same buildings and the same lots. It's a good thing to have better restaurants, but it's an interesting problem.

Having worked downtown for the last decade, I suspect the same issue has happened there. There's been a few office buildings, but not many compared to what was already there. People used to complain about the SurveyMonkey building, but it turns out that it doesn't actually contribute to people parking in the neighborhood. (They know exactly where each employee parks, and are careful about buying permits for anyone who can't fit in their garage.) But in anecdotes from retail workers, they all park in the neighborhoods or shuffle their cars because daily parking is $17.50 per day - way too expensive for them. Customers also would prefer to grab a neighborhood space at lunch or for the evening over parking in a garage and walking further.

Take a downtown that had shops and not-so-busy restaurants and turn it into one with great, busy restaurants and good nightlife, and you suddenly have many more customers and retail workers with roughly the same number of buildings. But you can't make restaurants build more parking just because they become successful.

It's a conundrum. In downtown, RPP should fix this problem and empty out the neighborhoods, once it's finally implemented. Maybe midtown should think about an RPP.

6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2015 at 1:14 pm

Another place for 30 minute parking only?

1 person likes this
Posted by Midtown Resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 30, 2015 at 10:09 pm

It would be nice to have an evening place within walking distance for dinner and drinks, but Bill's Cafe is breakfast/lunch only, closed at 3pm. Philz parking is a huge issue in the morning, and this will add to that during the same hours. Seems silly to me. Why not have an evening place to balance the parking pressure? And while the liquor store does have more business in the evening, it doesn't even come close to what a restaurant will bring. The menu looks good, but we already have The Breakfast House right up the road. I look forward to checking it out when it finally opens.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 31, 2015 at 11:11 pm

Anyone know if NIMBY complaints about nighttime noise are preventing a dinner restaurant from opening at this location?

1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2015 at 6:33 am

The after church crowd will find the restaurant and they will fill the parking lot for lunch after church as they fill the parking lot before church. Sundays will be a different crowd to the Saturday crowd.

2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 1, 2015 at 9:24 am

Many churches are less than 3 blocks from this corner. I hope that at least some of those people can walk from church instead of hunting for another parking space. Churches don't mind if their worshippers leave their cars for a couple of hours after services, do they?

2 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 1, 2015 at 12:30 pm

I would imagine they would if there is another service afterwards...

12 people like this
Posted by Move it!
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 1, 2015 at 5:52 pm

I think it is safe to say that Philz has outgrown its location. That outdoor patio they use actually belongs to the building the restaurant will be in--it was originally part of Cafe Pommard. Philz is actually encroaching by using it. Fortunately, Fandango Pizza has not had enough customers to claim use of it, or there would have been a legal wrangle by now. Once Bill's moves in, look out.

Philz should start looking for a new location. The business is rich enough now, there is even a Philz in Los Gatos, so there is no excuse to stay in their cramped quarters.

1 person likes this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 2, 2015 at 10:59 am

Instead of moving Philz into an oversized space, how about leaving this location as is and opening a new one elsewhere in the city. There are lots of spaces where a small business could open. Starbucks seems to have several locations around Palo Alto with no problems.

Posted by Memories
a resident of another community

on Jun 2, 2015 at 11:57 am

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5 people like this
Posted by Move It!
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2015 at 10:54 am

Phill in Midtown is cramped and stuffy. There is nowhere near enough indoor seating-- and that is made miserable by the lack of standing room for people waiting to place or receive or pay for their orders.

I have seen people leave with their coffee without paying rather than ( I'm assuming) stand in a cramped line a third time.

When Bill's moves in and claims the large patio that is rightfully theirs, Philz will be too miserable for words. Most of their outdoor seating will evaporate.

The company is prosperous, time to size up.

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

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