News

'Village People' prepare to close up shop

Longtime stationery business' last day is Aug. 17

Kerry Hoctor, owner of Village Stationers, poses in his Menlo Park store on Aug. 1. The business will close its doors on Aug. 17. Photo by Sadie Stinson/The Almanac.

By Elisabeth Westermann/Special to The Almanac

Village Stationers, a family-owned stationery store with locations in Menlo Park and Los Altos, will be closing its doors on Aug. 17 after 53 years in business. The owner, Kerry Hoctor, is retiring and was unable to find a buyer to take over the business.

"The finances weren't there to support a sale, so we decided to call it a day," he said.

The closure of the store at comes at a time when small retail businesses across the country are finding it increasingly difficult to compete with lower prices and convenience offered by large online vendors such as Amazon. For small business owners in Menlo Park, this challenge is exacerbated by the increasing cost of living and high rents.

"The cost of doing business in the Bay Area has become unbearable ... When you add that on to the competition we get from the internet and Amazon, it's a death sentence," Hoctor said.

Hoctor's parents started the store in 1966 at Town and Country Village in Palo Alto, and moved it to Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park in 1976. In 1996, the Menlo Park shop relocated to its current location at 719 Santa Cruz Ave. The family also ran a location on University Avenue in Palo Alto starting in 1988, before moving it to California Avenue in 2002. It closed in 2016.

In addition, in 2012, Hoctor opened a location at 222 Main St. in Los Altos. His daughter, Shannon Klein, who runs the Los Altos store, plans to go into teaching.

Hoctor grew up working in the store with his parents and has fond memories of the experience. "I got to spend a lot of time with my dad. ... We worked together so we had a really nice bond," he said.

When his parents gave him the chance to take over the business in 1981 so that they could retire, he said that choice was a no-brainer because it would give him the chance to make a career out of something he enjoyed.

Since taking over the business, Hoctor has raised a family, and his kids grew up working in the store as well. He treasures "being able to have that special connection" with his children that came from working together, and he was recently able to introduce another generation to the family business by bringing his young granddaughter to the store.

"Here she is at 4 years old, and she got to see grandpa's store," he said. "So there were four generations involved in the store, which was kind of cool. Unfortunately, we can't keep that up, but it thrilled me nonetheless that my little granddaughter was running around and helping me price things."

The business also created close relationships among the other employees, who call themselves the "Village People."

"I just know I will miss it a lot. I will miss the work. I will miss the team ... It's like a family here," said Annegret Wiedmar, who has worked in the Menlo Park store for 18 years.

Kathy Barrons, who has also worked at Village Stationers for 18 years, said she will particularly miss working with Hoctor. "He's just been an absolute pleasure to work for," she said. "I'm going to be missing a great boss and a good friend."

The small scale of the business and long-term employees have led the staff to forge especially strong bonds with customers, Hoctor said. "When my customers come in, they're very familiar with the staff," he said. "Our strength was interaction with our customers... (For example,) we had a pen bar and people would come in and sample all the pens and I let the kids come in and write notes, and you just can't replace that."

Barrons has fond memories of retired Village Stationers employee Doris Fredrick playing hide-and-seek in the aisles with the child of a regular customer.

"It was so fun to see them running around ... It's a cute, cute memory," she said.

The closing of Village Stationers will not only be a loss to the Peninsula, but to the Bay Area at large: According to Hoctor, Village Stationers is the last true stationer, a store that sells office supplies, gifts and stationery, left between San Francisco and San Jose. As stationers have closed around the Peninsula, Hoctor has noticed his Menlo Park location drawing customers from Burlingame, San Mateo and San Jose.

Hoctor is proud that he has been able to keep the business going until his retirement, but says he owes his success to his customers, some of whom have been coming into the store since it opened in Menlo Park 43 years ago.

"We've had such a great customer base of amazing people over the years that's kept us in business," he said.

For Hoctor, the stores' closing has been bittersweet. He said he has enjoyed being able to interact with his customers as they come in to bid him, his employees and the store farewell.

"It's rewarding because people really want me to stay," he said. "I'm grateful to have this time since we announced we're closing to thank all my customers. I'm saying 'Thank you' and they're saying 'Thank you.' They're saying 'I'm going to miss you,' I'm saying 'We're going to miss you.' It's awesome."

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Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Elisabeth Westermann writes for The Almanac, the sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

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Comments

13 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 8, 2019 at 11:18 am

Sadly their neighbor Oriental Carpet is also going out of business. We were chatting with the owner and he said he just couldn't justify paying the new rents the landlord's demanding.

Guess how much the landlords want in monthly rents for the Oriental Carpet and Village Stationers; $25,000 and $20,000 respectively.

Thoughts?


12 people like this
Posted by Days Gone By...As In Bye-Bye
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 8, 2019 at 12:26 pm

With the Congdon & Crome closure a few years back...an end of an era.

The same can be said of Keeble & Schucat (photography) & the music stores that once flourished in Palo Alto (i.e. Draper's, Dana Morgan & Son, Swain's House of Music, Guitars Unlimited-formerly of Menlo Park).

There used to be a lot of REAL sporting goods stores in the area as well...Spiro's (Town & Country), Stanford Sport Shop/ECR, Smith's (on the University Avenue 'circle' & PA Toy & Sports < I think they might still be around.

The high-end stereo stores have also vanished in the mid-peninsula as well except for the one on Moffett Boulevard in Mountain View.

Internet commerce & the digital mentality have succeeded in creating a TACKY & shallow local world...seemingly one more consumed (no pun intended) in dining at various upscale and fusion-styled restaurants.


4 people like this
Posted by Max Hauser
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 8, 2019 at 12:41 pm

Max Hauser is a registered user.

The closure is symbolic, change-of-era. Trends that started long before e-commerce did. Survival of Village Stationers even THIS long is remarkable, unusual.

Within memory of most people living, every local business district in the Bay Area had its neighborhood stationery store -- sometimes two or three (if many offices or schools were nearby). One was here in MV on Castro Street. Most gave way in the '90s to stationery chains (larger but less accommodating -- McWhorters, around here), and those in turn to the big-box "Office" chains.

Neighborhood stationers sold business envelopes in six or eight incremental sizes (they could enclose each other in turn) -- now you're expected to use one standard size that the big-box planners deem worth carrying. Manila envelopes in even more sizes and shapes. Lots of custom orders for rubber stamps or printed stationery. Rolls of tickets for school fairs and fund-raising raffles. Even (in the old days) ditto masters [remember those?], in many colors, even sold individually. Helpful staff who could explain standard paper and envelope sizes, or what "wove" and "bond" paper meant (try asking at "Office XXX" sometime!)

These shops went the way of the neighborhood pharmacies with soda fountains (once ubiquitous), and the little appliance-repair shops (still around but relegated to lower-rent strip malls).


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 8, 2019 at 12:49 pm

What we are getting around here in shopping options is becoming a chicken and egg situation.

We are losing shops because of Amazon and because we are losing shops we have to shop on Amazon.

Never mind the quality, feel the width.


6 people like this
Posted by Greed kills communities.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 8, 2019 at 1:52 pm

I hate shopping online. Sorry to see this family business lost.

Self-centered greed destroys communities. Family businesses all over the country are being destroyed to line Jeff Bezos' pockets. In the long run, is this a good way to build community? If you worry about inequity of wealth, make sure you aren't exacerbating the problem with your purchasing decisions. Amazon is NOT our friend. They are holding off raising prices until we are completely dependent on them.

Greedy landholders (many of whom are long-time owners who are tax protected by Prop 13) can charge higher rents and it's all profit. Make sure we ZONE for retail only where we want it--NO offices in retail areas. If retailers don't have to compete with higher margin office and housing uses, that will help to stabilize retail rents a little.




11 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 8, 2019 at 2:17 pm

I don't blame Amazon for this one. The big box stores (Staples, etc) took the school supply market away from neighborhood stationary stores years before Amazon became popular. The stationary market started dying when email became popular, then social media killed whatever was left. Stationary stores really need to adapt to the times and join forces with copy/print shops, package shipping/receiving services, photo labs, and other service industries that are rapidly changing in the internet era.


6 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Aug 8, 2019 at 3:15 pm

pearl is a registered user.

Thanks to you and your family, Kerry, for your many years of dedicated service with a smile to the community. You will be greatly missed. Enjoy your well-deserved retirement years!


6 people like this
Posted by You will be missed
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 8, 2019 at 7:38 pm

I think there is a bigger issue here. We are losing these local retail gems -- which Amazon really cannot replace, let's face it, it's mostly abysmal to shop for small stationery items online -- because of skyrocketing real estate costs. Online is incredibly wasteful with all the packaging and individual delivery. I'm not saying no to online shopping, I'm saying ONLY online shopping ends up being bad in so many ways.

While we can lament the various reasons the costs go up here, and things do fluctuate some, the Bay Area has been horridly expensive for all the decades I have lived here, and the specific details make it impossible for new business owners. What allows people to stay, the business owners, the teachers, the car mechanics, everyone, is buying (always, always, always at great painful sacrifice) and stabilizing costs that way.

If cities like Palo Alto and Los Altos want to maintain a reasonable civic life for residents including resident-serving retail, they must find a way to buy up the retail areas and own at least the land under the buildings, with some constraints on the use and sale so the costs stabilize, the way Stanford does to keep nice relatively affordable neighborhoods for their faculty that you could only find in the Midwest. There is no way to maintain resident-serving local retail in the long run unless we do this.

It's really doable, when you consider that Midtown Shopping Center was sold not that long ago for $15 million, not during the recession. Cities can also finance things with bonds and longterm loans. The other benefit is that when shop owners benefit, the City can also leverage higher wages for the traditionally low wage workers, meaning the restaurants can stabilize their workforces, and workers will be better able to live here. If the City stabilizes costs by owning the land in retail areas (like Stanford does), the benefit grows every year while the costs remain stable.

Goodness knows we have billionaires who could make this happen for the communities they have so negatively impacted, but if it was going to happen, it already would have (speaking for Palo Alto, Los Altos billionaires have been instrumental in keeping it a village instead of pillaged).

Really sorry to see Village Stationers go. There are just so many things that help my life that I cannot easily (or at all) shop for online. All the best in your retirement!!


4 people like this
Posted by Ideas
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 8, 2019 at 9:25 pm

This would be a great location for a tiki bar.


Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto native
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 9, 2019 at 5:28 am

Our community was saddened when the Cal Ave location closed. Village Stationers carried the best greeting cards, holiday cards and unique gifts.

Thank you and best wishes for your retirement!


1 person likes this
Posted by HRM
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 9, 2019 at 5:47 am

People love to blame Amazon for every retail closure but rarely consider the greed over high rents in the area. I would rather shop locally but high rents have forced closure on many stores and made way for exercise places. Just how many of those gyms do we need, we live in California with great weather to exercise outdoors.


Like this comment
Posted by Don
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 9, 2019 at 9:45 am

parent wrote:

"Stationary stores really need to adapt to the times and join forces with copy/print shops, package shipping/receiving services, photo labs, and other service industries that are rapidly changing in the internet era."

It's a losing battle, especially in the Bay Area.


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