News

Fry's Electronics to shutter Palo Alto store in January

Store's lease set to expire, fueling debate over site's future

A shopper at Fry's Electronics heads into the electronics store at 340 Portage Avenue in the building which was once used for canning and is now considered a historic building in Palo Alto. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Fry's Electronics, which has been a fixture in the Ventura neighborhood for more than a quarter century, will close its store in January, leaving a vacancy at one of Palo Alto's most hotly debated sites.

The store's lease for the century-old building at 340 Portage Ave. that once served as a cannery is set to expire on Jan. 31. Manuel Valerio, a Fry's spokesman, told the Weekly that the company must vacate the premises by this date and will close for business some time earlier that month.

"Fry's is very sorry to be closing the Store," Valerio told the Weekly in an email. "The people of the Palo Alto community, and surrounding environs, have been great customers and friends of Fry's, and supportive of our business ever since we opened the store in 1990."

He noted that customers can still patronize the Palo Alto store until it closes, order products online or visit its other locations in Sunnyvale, Fremont, San Jose, Campbell or Concord.

The imminent departure of Fry's Electronics isn't entirely surprising. Palo Alto officials were aware of the lease expiration and had already begun planning for the future of the broader area around the Fry's site. The city's Housing Element calls for having up to 221 units of housing in this area, though the plan to actually construct homes seems highly unlikely in the near future, given the reluctance of the property owner, The Sobrato Organization, to replace the 1918 building.

On Wednesday morning, many of the shelves at the Portage Avenue store were virtually empty. There were no customers in line and few employees near the front cash registers. One employee shrugged when asked about the store's potential closure and said he hasn't been informed about the store's future. A store manager directed inquiries to the company's corporate headquarters in San Jose.

The departure of Fry's from the former cannery site marks another transition for the building, which just this year was deemed historic because of its association with Bayside Canning Company. Founded by Thomas Foon Chew in 1906 in Alviso, the company was the third-largest cannery of fruits and vegetables in the world by 1920, according to a report from Page & Turnbull, the city's historical consulting firm.

Despite its historic significance, the building has undergone numerous alterations and has gone through a variety of uses since the cannery closed in 1949 (by that time, it was owned by Safeway). Over the decades, it has housed as a warehouse, a packing company, a paper company and Maximart, a home-goods store that occupied the site between the mid-1960s and about 1978.

Now, the building is set to once again be reinvented. Despite Fry's presence at the site 1990, the parcel is zoned as RM-30, which allows developers to build up to 30 residential units per acre. In 1994, the council voted to accommodate Fry's Electronics by granting it a commercial-use extension stretching 20 years beyond the 1999 deadline, when the housing requirement of the underlying zoning was set to kick in.

In 2006, however, the council agreed to delete a provision in the ordinance calling for the 20-year amortization period for Fry's as part of an effort to retain the store, which was then one of Palo Alto's biggest generators of sales-tax revenues.

Even at that time, council members were talking about the need to create a "specific plan" for the eclectic portion of Ventura, which is near the intersection of two critical commute arteries, El Camino Real and Page Mill Road. The creation of that plan officially kicked off on November 2017 and the council hopes to complete it by late 2020.

So far, there seems to be little consensus on what will go in once Fry's leaves. The city has traditionally opposed allowing big-box stores, particularly in close proximity to California Avenue. And with smaller retailers reportedly struggling amidst a tough labor market, some have opted to close up shop, with The Prolific Oven being the latest example.

While the council has been eyeing the Fry's site for housing for several decades, Sobrato has no plans to redevelop the Fry's building, according to Planning Director Jonathan Lait, who updated the council last week on the city's plan to come up with a new vision for the Ventura area.

"They communicated to staff that at present ... they are not seeking to redevelop or demolish in whole or in part the existing Fry's building," Lait said at the Aug. 19 council meeting.

Even so, the idea of redeveloping the area to add housing to the Portage Avenue campus remains popular, particularly given the site's size, zoning designation and proximity to both the California Avenue Caltrain station and the Park Avenue bike boulevard. Don Barr, a longtime housing advocate, last week advocated that the city redevelop the sprawling one-story building to create a four-story residential complex with clinic for MayView Community Helth Center on the ground floor. Others have argued that the area should be used for teacher housing or "workforce" housing for various types of public employees.

Editor's note: The initial story had failed to state that the City Council voted in 2006 to remove the provision requiring the amortization of Fry's Electronics by 2019.

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Comments

13 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2019 at 2:54 pm

We shopped there regularly during the 1990s. Back then, the parking lot was always full and there was always a long line for the many cash registers. In recent years, the place has gone way down hill. Their selection of newer name-brand products is dismal and the shelves are mostly full of older or off-brand products. They advertise that they match internet prices, but what's the point if their selection is terrible? Customer service has always been pushy and rude and slow. Judging from the parking lot, customers have caught on and only a fraction of the parking lot is in use whenever we pass by.


19 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 28, 2019 at 3:52 pm

Quick! Turn it back into a cannery!

- The Residentialists


19 people like this
Posted by HonestDave
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 28, 2019 at 5:00 pm

The CEO of the company that owns the old cannery building grew up in the Ventura neighborhood and surely appreciates its wonderful history.

They have said that they aren't interested in tearing down the structure, so all of the pro-demolition, pro-sardine can high-density building lovers need to catch a hint.

The building is there to stay.


12 people like this
Posted by B
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 28, 2019 at 7:58 pm

Good riddance! The employees in this place are like zombies. Half of the products are junk often had to return. End of an era!


25 people like this
Posted by Clarkg
a resident of University South
on Aug 29, 2019 at 6:03 am

I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did. Seemed cool in the 80s when I needed a deal on a 56k baud modem (that didn't work btw). I dont like "the city discussing" what should be done with someone's private
property! Seems very assumptive & bullying the property owner to speculate publicly. Here's what should happen to that (and all) property: It should be rented (or not) by its owner to a new tenant, with minimal (if any?) interference from "the city" because it **hello** doesn't belong to them! As long as it's not something too destructive or an eyesore, the city should have zero say on this. Also, the way to encourage a landlord to go a certain direction, is with a tax-based incentive that is the owners choice to accept - like in Oakland where they've been known to offer matching funds to "beautify" your building, which some owners accept & do the work & some don't. "Pressuring" owners through the media is cheaper, but completely unethical.


11 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2019 at 6:10 am

Posted by Clarkg, a resident of University South

>> I dont like "the city discussing" what should be done with someone's private
property! Seems very assumptive & bullying the property owner to speculate publicly. Here's what should happen to that (and all) property: It should be rented (or not) by its owner to a new tenant, with minimal (if any?) interference from "the city" because it **hello** doesn't belong to them!

It has been zoned RM-30 since forever. The city needs housing; it doesn't need any more office space. So, no, the owner -can't- turn it into a hog farm or a ginormous office complex.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2019 at 6:58 am

Interesting that the author used shutter, instead of shut.

Is there a reason the extra t e r was used? Was it to warn of the impending arrival of a storm? Was it used to fit in with the decor? Was it to signify that it may not be shut for long? Was there another message hidden in the headline?

Or was it a typo?


18 people like this
Posted by Mark
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 29, 2019 at 7:50 am

All 34 Frys Electronics stores will be “shutter” in the next five years. The company is looking at a $1billion debt. They don’t have free shipping. Returning a product is a nightmare. Like so many other companies, they jump on the internet sales way to late.


7 people like this
Posted by Don
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 29, 2019 at 10:41 am


> Interesting that the author used shutter, instead of shut.

> Is there a reason the extra t e r was used? Was it to warn
> of the impending arrival of a storm? Was it used to fit in
> with the decor? Was it to signify that it may not be shut
> for long? Was there another message hidden in the headline?

Shutter (Verb - T)

To close (a store or business operations) for the day or permanently.


11 people like this
Posted by Jeanie Smith
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 29, 2019 at 11:08 am

Whatever happens with the space, city planners (and Sobrato) need to pay attention to the commute traffic that may result from creating a more conventional throughway from El Camino to Park-- the proximity to Page Mill interchange already gets totally congested during commute times, and will get worse if planners aren't careful and thoughtful about how to make traffic flow better and not back up into residential zones.

Fry's has been on its way out for years-- this is no surprise. What's surprising is that city planning hasn't moved faster to work with Sobrato on solutions that will enhance the area and not destroy the surrounding residential communities or negatively impact California Avenue's thriving business district....

As someone who lived in Palo Alto (mostly, College Terrace and E. Park) from 1956 to 2017, shopped at Maximart and then Fry's, I'd say this is a golden opportunity for re-vision and for helping the Ventura neighborhood regain its former family-friendly environment.


16 people like this
Posted by maguro_01
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 29, 2019 at 11:26 am

I know we are hard up for history in this area, but preserving the Fry's building is really over the top. There is unlikely to be any economic use for it. Low density housing is wasted opportunity. It's commercial around it and it's easily served by transit, especially if the California rail station continues. Sobrato may well envision higher-rise and denser housing there and that would be an appropriate use for the exceptional site.


5 people like this
Posted by PST
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 29, 2019 at 11:35 am

PST is a registered user.

I suggest setting up a land trust to either buy the property at a fair price or, if necessary, take it through imminent domain laws. Change height requirements, set backs and other restriction to allow building as many small homes as possible leaving some open space. The trust can sell homes below market price while retaining ownership of land. When it comes time to sell, homeowner must sell at below market price to the next person. This guarantees the homes will always be “affordable”. Prices should be a mixture of low income and extremely low income homes set by a formula which is transparent to all. The one time money to launch this could come from FB, Google, Sobrato, tax credits or other sources. While are at it, let’s repurpose the golf course at end of Embarcadero into a RV campground.


9 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 29, 2019 at 11:36 am

Jonathan Brown is a registered user.

Fry's time has passed. Now it's time for leadership on re-purposing the site. The building may be of historic interest, but we can honor our history and also make much better use of the site. The city has a chance to make a really great community and green space here in addition to intelligently adding attractive housing and community-serving businesses. Let's work together to get it done. Sobrato's suggestion that it can't make money if the site contains medium density housing is absurd given the sky-high demand and price of housing in our city. Sell the land to the city, then, and it can make the money!


Like this comment
Posted by Jane
a resident of another community
on Aug 29, 2019 at 11:38 am

What will happen to the other companies in that building? Playground Global has almost half of that space, not Fry's, and Nauto is on the other end. Are they moving out too?


6 people like this
Posted by Don
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 29, 2019 at 11:38 am

It's probably not economically feasible, what with the high cost of commercial real estate, but I'd love to see a food hall. Think SF's Ferry Building, or this sort of thing in the Twin Cities: Web Link

And more generally:

Web Link

Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Screeedek
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 29, 2019 at 12:00 pm

Screeedek is a registered user.

I've been shopping at that Frys for many years and will miss it but its time has come. This would be a very good place for much-needed housing and it is close to California Avenue and a train station.


27 people like this
Posted by No capacity for resistors...
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 29, 2019 at 12:09 pm

Say what you want about Frys, with radio shack gone, where will we go to purchase LEDs, resistors, ICs, capacitors, solder and all the other stuff that building a garage hardware startup need?

We have built at least 50 PCs from parts obtained at Frys. I cannot count the number of projects that would not have been a success without multiple trips to Frys.

Yes, the staff was stiff, rude, pushy, and typically unhelpful. Returns were a mess. But the store sold lots of things that we techies use everyday in Silicon Valley.

Amazon takes a minimum of 24 hours to get you a product. I can run down to Frys and get electronic components and computer accessories every single day on demand.

They will be missed.


9 people like this
Posted by Judy
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 29, 2019 at 12:18 pm

To all of you who are complaining about the limited merchandise. The owners knew its lease would not be renewed in the Palo Alto location, which is probably why they've sort of let the stock run out. It's a huge store with a lot of inventory - naturally they don't want to pack it all up and relocate it to another location.

I really enjoyed shopping at Fry's. It's really a shame to lose retail stores like that. Seems it is much worse for the environment to order little bits and pieces from sites like Amazon and have them shipped in cardboard boxes, with those drivers clogging the roads.

Palo Alto doesn't need more housing. It needs fewer office buildings.


6 people like this
Posted by PhilB
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Aug 29, 2019 at 12:19 pm

PhilB is a registered user.

I used to shop at the very original store in Sunnyvale, off Lawrence Exp. That was like in 1985. "Get your memory chips where you get your potato chips." Since then the PC industry has changed drastically, but not Frys. Now I go there only when I need something urgently like a data cable, something that can't go wrong. Customer service there has always been terrible. For all my PC-building and upgrading these days, it's Newegg all the way, or maybe Amazon.

I'm not sorry to see it close.


4 people like this
Posted by Don
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 29, 2019 at 12:29 pm

No capacity for resistors wrote:

"Say what you want about Frys, with radio shack gone, where will we go to purchase LEDs, resistors, ICs, capacitors, solder and all the other stuff that building a garage hardware startup need?

We have built at least 50 PCs from parts obtained at Frys. I cannot count the number of projects that would not have been a success without multiple trips to Frys."

The garage-based PC/PCB builder is a dying (dead) breed.


5 people like this
Posted by Bye Felicia
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 29, 2019 at 12:38 pm

Over the past tqwo years anytime I went to Frys to buy something I needed (Cash in hand, ready to buy), I'd get to the store and their shelves would be empty except for the cheap garbage no-name product that nobody wanted to buy...they had PLENTY of those and filled all the empty shelves with the garbage to make it seem not so empty.
Entirely worthless now, time for it to go away.


15 people like this
Posted by DTNResident
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 29, 2019 at 1:01 pm

I think we can all agree that the entire site should be turned into a nature preserve, no visitors allowed, so that parking and traffic will be eliminated.

But I'm guessing Sobrato won't agree, and will insist on 3000 apartments, all of whom will leave their cars in the 6000 garage spaces, and use the 3 rental bikes Sobrato will generously provide. The city council will, of course, for the right price, concede to Sobrato, that traffic won't be affected much, seeing as how there will be 3 bikes and all.


12 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2019 at 1:46 pm

Posted by Jonathan Brown, a resident of Ventura

>> Sobrato's suggestion that it can't make money if the site contains medium density housing is absurd given the sky-high demand and price of housing in our city. Sell the land to the city, then, and it can make the money!

If Sobrato can't make money with RM-30, then, Sobrato paid too much for the property. It was already zoned RM-30 long ago. However, I'd be willing to go to RM-40, as long as the height limit is observed. People don't need towers for density. It is a status/ego thing. You can develop an area at greater than New York City density with a 4-story 50-foot height limit. And, it turns out, the lighter construction makes it significantly cheaper per square foot. If we are so, so worried about housing and the cost of housing, the last thing we need is high-rises for status-seekers. Nice, cozy, unfashionable townhouses so sell to middle-income (for this area) buyers. Redwood City is getting into taller buildings lately. If Sobrato wants to build taller buildings, look there. Or, in San Jose, of course, where far more land is available. Housing, and, the high cost of housing, are what we are worried about, right?


4 people like this
Posted by E Souza
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 29, 2019 at 2:14 pm

I wonder if city council is also thinking of how to get rid of the horrible traffic at the crossing between Page Mill and Park Blvd with this new 221 units building. Right now it is already chaotic, and we have two new constructions around. I wish the best of luck for us all living close.


7 people like this
Posted by Jason Wang
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 29, 2019 at 3:31 pm

The Fry's are a wealthy family & the electronics store is just a side business. Fry's also used to operate a chain of grocery stores and have sponsored pro golf tournaments.

The closure of Fry's is no big deal to them.

A far bigger loss was when Harry's Hofbrau closed its MV restaurant.

It would be nice to see the site return to its roots...with a food processing plant that provides jobs for unskilled laborers.

Maybe process Chinese food products to meet the growing demands of our now 40%+ Chinese population in Palo Alto OR perhaps a Chinese cultural center reflective of the new PA.


2 people like this
Posted by Grateful
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2019 at 3:37 pm

We got our new clothes washer/dryer from Fry's PA last year. It was so nice to be able to see what it looked like without driving too far.

The (very handsome) young salesman was wonderfully helpful, and gave us a little discount on the delivery. He was not working on our delivery date, so he gave me his personal cell number in case there was a problem on that day.

Good memories.


4 people like this
Posted by That MV Guy
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 29, 2019 at 5:15 pm

Shame to see it go. IN the 1970s and early 80's I bought from U.S. Electronics, Olden Electonics and U-Do electronics (the last in M.V.). Later I bought surpus stuff from Halted, Haltec and Weird Stuff Warehouse. And Radio shack was always there.

Electronics stores didn't last, but Frys popped up and all was well.

Now no R.S., No local Frys and no mom & pop electronics stores. Still have the Sunnyvale store nearby, but for how long? Guess the internet rules all now, though I HATE buying things and then not being able to take them home the same day. It's all messed up.


1 person likes this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 29, 2019 at 6:47 pm

NO MORE TRAFFIC!

You can't get to the neighborhoods near Fry's because of the new commercial building employees driving or biking in and out. Charleston is now a parking lot with people running red lights since they are timed to allow only three or four cars to turn left each cycle.

For computer-specific stuff try Central Computers. They are awesome!


3 people like this
Posted by Dave
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 30, 2019 at 4:11 am

Palo Alto: paradise lost


8 people like this
Posted by No capacity for resistors...
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 30, 2019 at 9:51 am

Don says "The garage-based PC/PCB builder is a dying (dead) breed."

Says a person who likely does not own a soldering iron or care to crack open the case on your dead or dying electronics.

You probably appreciate Fry's selection of components and tools if you are not afraid of voiding a warranty.

The reports of the hacker dying are significantly premature.


2 people like this
Posted by Real Name
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 31, 2019 at 4:01 pm

The "shutter" was used as an homage to the former photo store where I used to get my chemicals, lenses, and two (used) enlargers.


3 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 31, 2019 at 6:49 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

That entire area should be turned into a city park. No commercial development, no housing.


Like this comment
Posted by Hinrich
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 4, 2019 at 7:16 pm

Hinrich is a registered user.

I too will miss Fry’s (but glad not to have to go there anymore to return the stuff that didn’t work).
No doubt that the age of small town, one house per plot Palo Alto is coming to end. I’m sure many Palo Altans, both renters and owners would welcome spacious, well designed modern apartments as trade ups - but they don’t yet exist.
Time to stop spreading out. Time to save every remaining green space, and build up. Time to think about joining the evolution to 21st century urban spaces. That means cooperative funding and purposeful, sustainable mixed use, highly livable tall buildings. Housing is needed.
The city could help with incentives and a good master plan but NOT dictate - our CC doesn’t own private property. This, as the poster above, is a really critical principle. Let the market shape itself around a good standard and a solid plan for where Palo Alto wants to go.
PA, along with the peninsula is a success that should be grown.
Sad in many ways. I think of decades of lazy bike rides everywhere around town and so many special things about this unique place. But PA just isn’t that place anymore and too many need a good place to live and work not to build higher and smarter.
This is Palo Alto - we can figure this out.


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