PIANO SHOP THROWS AWAY THE KEYS ... For those who hear music coming from Town & Country Village, it is Carnes Piano playing its swan song. The piano store, which opened in Palo Alto in 1955, will close its doors Dec. 31. "I've been in this business for 66 years. It's the end of an era for me," Fred Carnes said. The 86-year-old piano man established his first store in 1941 in Idaho. Now he is just another casualty of T&C's aggressive remodel. "They wouldn't let us renew our lease," said one employee who asked not to be identified. Carnes looked at other properties, "but they all wanted a long commitment. What's an 86-year-old man going to do with a 20-year-lease?" the employee asked. Adding to the stress of going out of business is the current repaving and shutdown of the parking lot in front of Carnes Piano. "Could it get any worse?" he asked.
BAYLEAF'S 'TOUGH TIMES' HAVE STOPPED... The Yin-wich and the Yang-wich are no more. It's curtains for the Vegetable Pancake. And don't even ask about the Mighty Carrot Roll. After nearly five years, the BayLeaf Cafe at 520 Ramona Street is gone. It was a calculated risk from the start. Two software engineers, Ravi Shivanna and Cindy Liang, searched but couldn't find restaurants serving eco-conscious organic food. So they left their high-tech careers to open their own vegan cafe. They gave it their all, but the venture ended Oct. 15. All that remains in the historic stucco building from 1929 is a yellow memo posted in the window, which begins, "Time has come for us to close the BayLeaf Cafe." It goes on to thank "our wonderful customers," and to add this epitaph: The "tough times never stopped." It ends with, "We know this brings sadness to all of you."
MILLS THE FLORIST BUILDING IS SMOKIN' ... It looks like early November for Palo Alto's first hookah establishment to open. Sehbali Cafe and Hookah Shop are housed in the rustic brick Mills the Florist building at University Avenue and Ramona Street. Flowers will still be sold at Mills, which now occupies only a small front portion of the historic 1902 structure, which has been undergoing a major remodel. The cafe and hookah shop will operate in the back. Another cafe downtown? Well, yes, but this one's different. Genuine Indian Chai and Chaat will be served as well as specialty coffee drinks. Take the Cafe Everest, for example, a tall drink with iced espresso over ice cream. But the truly fascinating part is an adjacent (but separate) part of the building, the hookah area, being stocked with modern versions of the ancient Oriental water pipe -- made famous by the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, with a dark-side history of opium dens and in America's counterculture revolution in the 1960s. But the hookah's original history of exotic tobaccos will be featured at this store. There are already about a dozen hookahs of all sizes, wrapped in brown paper and marked "fragile," sitting on the floor of the store. At least one hookah appears to be more than 2 feet tall. Wooden benches with pillows, filigreed mirrors and panels are also on the floor, waiting to be installed. Some were asking how Sehbali will manage those hookahs in the face of Palo Alto's no-smoking ordinance. The ordinance only applies to cafes, restaurants and public areas -- and the hookah shop will have a completely separate entrance than the restaurant.
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