Shop Talk | March 19, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Eating Out - March 19, 2010

Shop Talk

by Daryl Savage

DEMISE OF DIDDAMS — OR NOT? ... One of Palo Alto's most established businesses, Diddams, the popular downtown toy and party store, is calling it quits — with a late-breaking maybe. "But not because we want to," owner Steve Diddams said. "We're actually in good shape. I have six other stores. It's only Palo Alto and it's only because our landlords have not offered us a new lease." The store at 215 Hamilton Ave. is set to close March 27, which incidentally is the store's 20th birthday. "It's a hell of a way to celebrate an anniversary," one employee said. The 10,000-square-foot-store with the dark-green awning is selling all its remaining merchandise at half-price. Steve Diddams' Palo Alto store was his first. "It's depressing," he said. "This was my baby. ... My mother and father helped paint the walls when we first got here." But Diddams learned this week that there is a chance a last-minute lease offer may happen, which could throw the close-out sale into reverse. Still, business is challenging in downtown Palo Alto these days in any event, he said. "Retail sales are lousy around here." Diddams said he believes some of the nearby shopping-area developments also cut into sales, referring to the extensive renovation of the Town & Country Village shopping center and the nearly four-year-old Charleston Plaza, whose tenants include REI, Best Buy, and Bed Bath & Beyond.

The closing of Diddams adds another darkened storefront to the area. Next door is the shuttered Waterworks, the high-end bath shop that closed more than a year ago. That store remains empty with the exception of a few bathtubs left behind. Now half of that 200 block of Hamilton is vacant.

Sharing the same fate is another longtime establishment. Quaint, unpretentious Mexican restaurant Casa Isabel is closing April 2. The 31-year-old family-run business at 2434 Park Blvd. is one of Palo Alto's oldest restaurants. "Our landlord has refused to renew our lease," owner Mayra Lopez wrote in a letter to customers. "I left El Salvador in 1974 because ... I wanted to live in peace. I knew that in America if I worked hard I could make a better life for my family. ... Many of you have become like family to me. I have seen your families grow, have seen you have children and those children have children. All of you are dear to me and I will miss you very much," she wrote.

JUDAICA SHOP ARRIVES ... The hole left with the January 2009 closing of bob and bob, a Jewish gift and book store at 4500 El Camino Real in Los Altos, is finally being filled — at least partially. A new Judaica gift shop is planning to open in Palo Alto's new Oshman Family Jewish Community Center on Fabian Way. The shop, Miriam's Well, is putting on the final touches as it prepares for its limited opening March 21 and a full opening in mid-April. "The shop is small; it's about the size of my garage. And it's a closet compared to bob and bob," said Michelle Booth, who started Miriam's Well five years ago in her Foster City home. The business took on a life of its own. "It was all word of mouth," Booth said. "It's kind of taken over my house. I'm looking forward to moving everything out of my home and into the JCC." Booth sees a great need for a traditional Judaica shop. "Not everybody likes to order online. I'll be providing a community as well as a gift shop," she said. "And it's still a work in progress. Expect it to be a little funky at first. But in a year from now, it will evolve into something beautiful."

A shop in Town & Country Village is also offering a small selection of Judaica. Ruti's, an Israeli clothing store that opened in November, has decorated its shelves and windows with menorahs, mezuzas and palm-shaped amulets called hamsas. "I'm shocked how popular they've become and that they sell so well," owner Ruti Zisser said. The colorful Judaica items are intricately designed and account for about 10 percent of the store's sales. Like Booth, Zisser started her business in her home. "I had more than 3,000 people on my mailing list when I was working out of my home. It was time to take a risk. I saw the space at Town & Country, I fell in love with it and here I am," she said.

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


Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 20, 2010 at 10:16 am

What is the landlords' side of the Diddams story? Why are they refusing to renew leases? Is there some tax benefit to owning an empty building?

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 20, 2010 at 10:46 am

If only Diddam's could move to a neighborhood location where there is plenty of easy parking. They'd make a lot more money. Is there anything at Midtown?

Like this comment
Posted by Mom of 3
a resident of Duveneck School
on Mar 20, 2010 at 11:27 am

I agree that the downtown location is terrible for parking. They were probably only gaining sales from people who work in downtown rather than people who drive to downtown to specifically shop at Diddam's. I usually drive to their Mountain View store, which is larger, or Party City in Redwood City.

Like this comment
Posted by Dave
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 22, 2010 at 1:33 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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