Shop Talk | October 25, 2006 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 25, 2006

Shop Talk

ANOTHER KEPLERS TALE? ... The mere suggestion that JJ&F, College Terrace's independent, family-owned grocery store, may be forced to close it doors has put neighbors and longtime customers on high alert.The official reasons for the possible ousting are redevelopment and rent hikes. The unofficial reasons are misunderstandings and lack of trust. "Maybe we should Keplerize it," a member of a small group talking earnestly in front of the grocery store at 520 College Ave. said last week. "I like it. That's a great idea," longtime neighborhood leader Pria Graves replied. The term "Keplerize" was created last year when Kepler's, Menlo Park's 50-year-old independent bookstore, abruptly closed one day. A sense of loss and outrage spread through the community and within days a group of Kepler fans got together to raise enough money to keep the store in business. "I only hope there is sufficient will in this community to keep JJ&F in business," Graves said. JJ&F's current lease runs through 2011, although rent increases may make closure more imminent. These events are in stark contrast to the mood just 18 months ago, when JJ&F spoke of plans to enlarge the family-owned store to nearly three times its current 8,000 square feet. It now looks like the entire square block could be razed for a brand new development. And feelings have soured between JJ&F owners and the landlord, who has sued the JJ&F family for $350,000 back rent. See story in last Friday's Weekly for details, online at www.PaloAltoOnline.com.

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.

Heard a rumor about your favorite store or business moving out, or in, down the block or across town? Daryl Savage will check it out. She can be e-mailed at shoptalk@paweekly.com.

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