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Down times

Original post made on Apr 24, 2009

After three years of chasing dreams and weathering storms in downtown Palo Alto, Lisa and Scott Hunter are packing it in. Their story has become commonplace. Stores all over downtown are either shuttering their doors or struggling to hold on to ever-dwindling profit margins. ==B Photos by Veronica Weber/Palo Alto Online.==

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, April 24, 2009, 10:16 AM

Comments (52)

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Posted by Jeff Selzer
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 24, 2009 at 10:57 am

Just a quick correction I am not the owner of Palo Alto Bicycles. I am the General Manager. Thanks

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Posted by Shady Lane lover
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 24, 2009 at 10:57 am

Shady Lane is a local treasure! The owners are wonderful women who have been in business here for 35 years. They have a great collection of jewelry, much of it reasonably priced. Please shop there--perfect for Mother's Day and graduation gifts!! Let's help keep this store in our community.

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Posted by FunkyChicken
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 24, 2009 at 12:15 pm

I, for one, would like to see Palo Alto have 2-3 night clubs open up so we can think of downtown PA as not just a spot for shopping & dining, but also for gettin' our groove on and enjoying night life every once in a while. Back when I was a kid we had a couple places - one on California Ave and Club Afrique in Whiskey Gulch in EPA - but even that's more than we have today.

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Posted by Tyler Hanley
digital editor of Palo Alto Online
on Apr 24, 2009 at 1:41 pm

Tyler Hanley is a registered user.

Thank you Jeff, we made the correction.

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Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Apr 24, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Since no one Downtown sells anything anyone actually needs, it's no wonder some are going out of business.

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Posted by PA Sucks
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 25, 2009 at 6:56 am

Dilapidated downtown PA attacts no one.
Watch Mt. View downtown grow even more.

The business know it all too well. The matter of fact is at the bad economy has not affected, even a bit, the buying patterns of affluent PA residents.

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Posted by Janice Parsons, owner The Bead Shop
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 25, 2009 at 8:32 am

Dear Palo Alto Sucks and everyone else complaining about downtown, for 27 years, my shop on in Downtown attracted visitors from around the world. The Bead Shop was the a unique west coast business that was extremely successful, employing 25 people with four stores. It wasn't really until I was forced to close our doors because of shrinking sales and changing customer buying habits, that my customers and students showed how bereft they and the community was without The Bead Shop. Mind you, I am very grateful for all of my customers, but the conditions and the direction my industry was taking, changed so much.
I agree that downtown Palo Alto "sucks". But, please don't blame it on the businesses. Trust me, having been involved in committees and trying to keep the streets clean and attractive to visitors, it isn't the local businesses that are the enemy!
Look to the city and the landlords! Honestly, to hear Chop Keenan say landlords are now in the retention business is like seeing someone walk on water. His history with tenants is infamous for high rents and no negotiations. Some landlords fair better, in my opinion but Chop should NOT be the public voice for landlords, if they want to improve their public relations. Mills Florist is also a terrible landlord, but who ever talks about them? They own several spaces on University Avenue and raised the rent on Spirals and everything that went into that space by multiples of $1000 each lease go-around. The same with Arsan Realty representing the building on Emerson which once housed Turner and Martin, then Kikki's and then The Foam Store. Cafe Verona, our much beloved downtown breakfast spot on Hamilton closed because the owners got greedy and threw the tenant on the street. The rents in Palo Alto have been appalling for 15 years, some of the highest in the nation, and, so we're going to lose great, unique businesses...but the city has known this all along and let the landlords get away with it. Most tenant, by the way, already pay the landlords taxes for them when they pay triple net. So, in a sense, tenants will be taxed twice, if this retail tax goes into effect.
We've had great downtown stores! But we have had to leave. The landlords are one leg of the three-footed stool. The other two legs belong to the city council and city government. The streets aren't safe for pedestrians....who wants to cross the street with all the traffic? I never once saw police walk the beat, ask a homeless or drunk teen to stop loitering and littering. Please give the merchants a pass on this one; they are trying to serve the community, even when they are losing money!
It wasn't until the city got their "zero tolerance" on waste and "bring your own bag' that I called them on it and demanded recycling cans for downtown BESIDES CITY HALL! When I left 158 University, my landlord, Thoits Bros. couldn't be bothered with figuring out a way to recycle from the building (which I shared with Facebook and Junoon) so that we could do the right thing. It was too much work for Fred and Jim Thoits to maintain. Parking is a disaster! It's confusing signage for everyone. I had customers say again and again they had to move their car on Saturdays because of the color zones, when the signs just need to say "unlimited parking nights and weekends". But, the city couldn't be bothered to change it..or even listen to the problem.
And, the city government doesn't live here. They commute and they have no imagination for how retail is supposed to work. Go see Portland and learn how it's done. They have sandwich signs, small unique businesses and they are people and pet friendly. We have lost "that loving feeling". And, I just hate to have anyone say it's the tenants, who are there every day, trying to serve our community, supporting local schools and non-profits with gift certificates, free catering, etc. I would suggest even a short drive to Town and Country shopping center to see who is doing well in Palo Alto, but again, that is for only those businesses that could survive the landlords rent increases and two years of construction with no warning ahead of time.
Needless to say, I can now say what I want because I don't have to live with "them" anymore and make nice. So, I agree downtown sucks right now. But, it didn't always and it doesn't have to forever. Here's a litmus test...drop by city hall and go up to the front counter, if you can call that fortress a counter and see if anyone greets you, smiles or asks if they can help. See how friendly they are. Ask them how to get to a business or where a park is located. Trust me, they can tell you where Starbucks and the train station is. That's about it and that goes for the rest of the building. I don't think I'm exaggerating. Now, go walk into any store and do the same thing. I bet you'll get a very different response!
Janice Parsons, not missing the drama of downtown

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Posted by Thank you
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 25, 2009 at 2:12 pm

Thank you Janice Parsons. It is a sad pleasure to read your message. I am so glad to get some straight information, not the sound bites from Chop that the newspapers print all the time with his opinions on business matters.
I loved the Bead Shop.

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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 25, 2009 at 6:53 pm

My current blog is about Palo Alto needing a "Revenue Strategy."

There are many retail spaces along University that are empty. Some are recent, such as Z Gallerie, and others that have a longer tenure in that status.

I am baffled that landlords are raising rents. What is the thinking?

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Posted by Cheryl
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 25, 2009 at 8:44 pm

I stopped shopping Downtown because of all the homeless. There used to be police officers on bicycles that helped to keep them out of there. No more.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 25, 2009 at 10:01 pm


I loved your story and I'm so sorry you're gone. Thanks for your honesty.

As I understand it, landlords won't lower the rents because once they do that the value of their property drops and that makes their portfolio look bad. So they have a vested interest in not responding to the fluctuations of the retail market. It's absurd to me that Cafe Verona was forced out and its location sat vacant for years.

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Posted by The price is right
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 26, 2009 at 5:58 am

There would not be so many empty store fronts on University Avenue if the landlords substantially reduced rents. You can always find tenants if the price is right.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 26, 2009 at 8:25 am

Downtown PA just isn't all that attractive and so isn't top of mind for shopping for me. I think empty storefronts and panhandlers are a turnoff. I much prefer downtown Mountain View - they have their act together.

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Posted by stretch
a resident of another community
on Apr 26, 2009 at 12:04 pm

There used to be regular grocery stores in Downtown (as opposed to the incredibly expensive Whole Foods), like Liddicoats and Norm's Starlite; there were shoe stores and cobblers, four or five movie theaters; there was an old man who sold fruits and vegetables from his truck, and another who would come around to sharpen knives and scissors. People could afford to live and do business in Palo Alto.
Then houses were knocked down, rents were tripled (or worse) downtown, the rich moved in, prices went up and the "people" were simply priced out. Now the luxury stores are closing? Too bad.

ps: I loved the Bead Store, too.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2009 at 12:08 pm

Thank you so much for telling it like it is. Yours was one of the unique shops that made Palo Alto special in the old days. I moved to PA in 1978 when downtown was friendly, funky and clean.

The streets and parking lots are grungy, but then that's true of all the city facilities. And as you point out, the color zones are totally confusing. People don't go to shop in places where there's no convenient -- and long-term parking.

I feel for the panhandlers, but they and their belongings seem to be on every bench and doorway, which doesn't make for a good downtown experience.

Losing Caffe Verona was a terrible blow. I used to go there several times a week for lunch and dinner. Great people, great food, a great experience. The new Mexican place is just one more posh yuppy restaurant with no soul.

I also miss the Voshan Gallery, which was forced out by increased rents a couple of years ago. The owner was great and loved browsers.

The only places I go now are Prolific Oven and Shady Lane.

As for Town & Country Village, that's also gone the posh upscale route. There's a kid's salon there now where little girls can have mini-manicures and facials!

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2009 at 12:18 pm


Thanks for reminding me of Liddicoat's and the movie theaters! I loved the one on Hamilton where you could sit in beanbag chairs.

I still refuse to go to Border's because I miss the Varsity.

Chimera bookstoore in that little green house was also a very special place.

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Posted by Janice is right
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2009 at 12:42 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by To Janice
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2009 at 12:47 pm

I shopped at your store for many years, took classes, preferred it over Global Bead. It was a powerhouse of fun, creativity, sisterhood, beauty & discovery for many, many people. I am so sorry for your experiences. When I managed a small tech business downtown, I was very impressed w/all of the merchants I met, how smart, kind, welcoming & professional they were - Miki from Spirals, a lot of the restaurant owners and managers, etc. What was appalling was what I heard about the landlords. They should be ashamed of themselves!

I've shopped at Shad Lane since I was a kid, so I hope it survives. I'll do what I can to support it.

What are you up to now?

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Posted by 98runner
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 26, 2009 at 12:49 pm

My hope is that the result "Down Times" will bring communities together in a more functional manner vs. the greed and profits of the past.

Every downtown needs the variety of stores that meets the needs of the people in a community. Why do we love downtowns in other communities such as Menlo park, etc. Because you can stroll the streets on a Saturday afternoon...have the children go to a "craft shop" while you do grocery shopping, stop at the pet store, fresh spice shop, dry cleaning, bookstore and post office. Then stop in to see if anything is new at real clothing stores, shoe stores, toy stores, etc. Reasonable restaurants grace the streets again offering variety in taste and prices!!

PA Downtown need to be inviting and pleasant to stroll...Palo Alto can feel like a dump at times...some very seedy and dirty stores. The pan handlers are really bad. They sit on the benches and corners. It is a real distraction. There is not since that anyone is caring for the downtown...where are our tax dollars going!! Another example of mis management is the approval of the biggest eye sore on the street, the Cheese cake factory and it's new neighbor the Madison. They dropped out of the sky from the bad side of Hollywood.

There needs to be a real Palo Alto city goup with a plan for improvements and direction that has the interest of the community FIRST and not just profits. If Palo Alto had a great downtown the profits would follow because people would come as their central place for almost everything. And enjoy their experience...a true community main street!!

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Posted by YSK
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2009 at 1:55 pm

Shady Lane is an amazing store! If you are a loyal customer they remember you and sometimes can work with you on the price of an item. They run their business in a small town way, and reward the customer for loyalty, have beautiful things, and are not overpriced as so many stores downtown are.

Maybe another landlord on the block can offer them a space for less! Wouldn't that make a positive news story!

I was devastated at the loss of Z Gallerie. It was one of the more interesting businesses on the street, I did a lot of shopping there.

Greedy landlords are the root cause of this, and have been for years. The rents were already at an unnaturally inflated rate, and these awful people are raising the rents most likely to make up for losses elsewhere in their financial portfolio's. Wonder how long you can write off a vacant storefront and ditched rent? How long you can make a good tenant pay for your stupidity, greed or economic downturn we are ALL dealing with? Z Gallerie abandoned too you know. As told to me by someone in commercial properties, their lease was up in November and apparently there was an inability to come to terms for a new one.

Santana Row is holding its own while downtown PA is becoming a Ghost Town. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Everytime we lose a unique store, that's one less trip downtown for me. We loved the bead shop too. The one in Mountain View, if still the original owner, has some interesting pricing tactics. Watch your prices and tab carefully, and don't go in too well dressed.This happened more than once, we have since stopped giving them our business.

It would be nice if Palo Alto came together to strategize how to keep our local business icons and provide jobs for Palo Altans. Somehow drive out these greedy landlords with dollar signs for eyeballs and get business back on track!!!

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Posted by long-time PA resident
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 26, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Refreshingly honest, but sad to hear Janice's story of the Bead Shop, because it was one of the places I always took visitors to, and sorely miss it!
The homeless seem to be on every bench in town, so trying to rest your feet while shopping, is difficult. However, the Downtown Cleanup crew has been a wonderful effort and more power to them. I always thank them when we meet.
As for Town and Country now, it is no longer the friendly, welcoming place it once was, so now I avoid it at all costs. Only for new parents, I guess. Unfortunately the re-do of the place has squeezed in more and smaller parking slots, so that my outside rear-view mirrors are often bent out of shape, or tilted. The dings on my car from the next car door, make me go elsewhere to shop now. Menlo Park has more space, and offers pleasanter shopping. Mt. View, too. Sorry, Palo Alto.

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Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2009 at 3:01 pm

I am very happy with the new Town and Country Village development and I am looking forward to when Trader Joes opens there.

Then I will be able to get everything we need from Stanford Shopping Center, Stanford Book Store and Town and Country Village.

Down Town Palo Alto has nothing we want or need, the farmers markets are stale and over priced, Whole Paycheck Foods is pretentious and University Ave is full of vagrants and the mentally ill.

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Posted by 98runner
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 26, 2009 at 3:22 pm

It is so refreshing to see that most of the comments related to downtown PA are consistent. As tax do we help regain control of our downtown and take back our community from the negligence of the City of PA governance!!

Change can offer an opportunity for a better future...I am optimistic that there can be a future in downtown PA for shops like the Bead Shop...But city policies will have to help these types of stores and not focus on short term profits (by increasing taxes)from the small business owners.

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Posted by Alice Deutscher co-owner of Shady Lane 441 University Ave.
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 26, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Dear Shady Lane supporters,

It is with deep gratitude that we thank you for kind comments. We have found the support
from the local community heartwarming and encouraging all year!

We are a one stop gift shop that has a wonderfully diverse selection and price range from
tumbled stones priced at $1.00 and widely collected jewelry designs by Tabra and Holly
Yashi and our in-house designers are truly a "shop local" designation. There is only one
Shady Lane and we feel that we are better than ever.

We thank you from the bottom of our hearts dear customers as we love what we do and
we hope to serve the community for years to come!

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Posted by YCM
a resident of another community
on Apr 26, 2009 at 6:19 pm

Simply put, Shady Lane is the best! Whenever I need a special, unique and memorable gift, I visit the store and the wonderful owners! I always can find something perfect for the person in mind. In fact, some of my friends have come to expect these unique gifts, and even though many of them have not been there in person, they recognize the beautifully wrapped packages. I will continue to shop at Shady Lane (no matter how the surrounding Palo Alto stores change), and I hope they will be there for many, many more years...

Also, special thanks to Alice and Lesley who are dedicated to keeping the store up and running! They are a major reason why I keep coming back...See you soon! :-)

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Posted by YSK
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2009 at 6:29 pm

Haha, I can totally relate to your comment YCM! Those star boxes are unique and I have had friends that have been totally let down if the gift I pulled out of the bag was not one of them!

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Posted by Juliette
a resident of another community
on Apr 26, 2009 at 6:34 pm

Shady Lane is a magic place ... that's all there is to it. It is the single reason I drive to Palo Alto. There is something for everyone, men folk, women folk, children and even dogs... Every time I need that special gift, I stop by Shady Lane. The owners and workers are genuinely caring, helpful and educated about their products that range from beautiful hand made boxes to jewelry that meets everyone's price range. I am grateful that this store has weathered the storm and so far and is pulling through to another, hopefull 35 years!! It would be a great loss if there were no Shady Lane.

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Posted by PaloMom
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 26, 2009 at 11:15 pm


I hope you can find lower rent in the coming years as these landlords are forced to lower their prices. I took my children there for birthday treats, so they can make their own gifts/presents for grandparents and cousins or necklaces for themselves. They are so sad when we last drove there to see it empty. So sad to see many of the beloved stores we liked to go to now no longer in business. Love Vian Hunter and her unique designs. I bought a nice dress on sale there last year. Got many compliments for its unique design--it was not another dress from Stanford Shopping Center.

Is there a mailing group/organization out there so we can organize civic minded progressive citizens who have the community in mind and not the paper pushing/numbed attitudes of bureaucrats or profiteering landlords??

Btw, I know the people who threw out Cafe Verona. I heard they live in Atherton/overseas and could care less about the community. More info if anyone is interested.

Let me know if there is a mailing list...would love to join and vent some more/publicize some of the things the landlords/officials/landlords are doing. A transparent city is an efficient city.

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Posted by resident
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 27, 2009 at 8:25 am

Residents should have a greater input into the types of stores that make up the downtown of their city.

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Posted by Jes
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 27, 2009 at 10:13 am

Out of control rents forcing businesses out, homeless people everywhere, and a town that is now about 80% restaurants, does not make for a very good shopping experience. It seems like every time a store closes it re-opens as another eatery or mobile phone store. Downtown has become a place to eat and run rather than a shopping and browsing experience.

Janice - I really miss your store!! Please come back!

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Posted by Resident
a resident of another community
on Apr 27, 2009 at 10:25 am

AMEN to Janice...thank you for your honesty. Not only does Mountain View have their act together: inviting downtown, nicely repaved streets, easy to understand parking, a beautiful and accessible library, a welcoming City Hall but so does Menlo Park AND Redwood City!! Come on Palo Alto, get your act(s) together before it's too late.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 27, 2009 at 10:45 am

I would be interested to know more about the landlord responsible for the loss of Cafe Verona. I heard the owner lived in Oregon.

Once we lose a unique place downtown -- like Verona or the Varsity -- it's gone forever. What we get instead are the Cheesecake Factory and more glitz.

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 27, 2009 at 11:56 am

I don't like the comments on this article being edited or removed. Why is it we can't criticize Chop Keenan on this forum, yet he gets quoted up the wazoo in the papers all the time? The result is spin, spin, spin. Everyone knows he's a greedy, nasty landlord, who along with others of his ilk, are largely responsible for driving out good merchants downtown. I never take visitors downtown anymore. While I am not a huge fan of the new T&C, at least there are fewer homeless there and it's easy to get there for an ice cream cone, a book or a cup of coffee.

For better food, head to Mt. View or Redwood City. Heck I'd rather go to Indochine or Cafe Sophia for an exotic bite than try to deal with the downtown homeless, bridge-and-tunnel types, snobs and the faux sophisticated.

I only go downtown now for Stanford Theater, sometimes Borders, Shady Lane, occasionally Pluto's or Prolific Oven.

Let the landlords read these posts and realize they need to be in it for the long haul if they want their tenants to be, so jacking up rents the way they do is criminal. If any of you are the Page Mill Properties landlords, please jack up their rent so they know how it feels.

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Posted by YSK
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 27, 2009 at 12:03 pm

I cruised around Stanford Shopping Center and downtown last night before dusk. Noticed the Shopping Center was so sparsely populated I was surprised there weren't chains across the driveways! Downtown was pretty bleak too. I noticed that all white bath place on Hamilton at Emerson is gone.

I really hope something interesting moves into Zee Galleries space. We need an anchor for downtown that is a destination store.

I don't understand all the comments about the homeless. Are they really that annoying? Seems to me the problem has gotten better since they removed the benches (which is a shame, the benches were nice but unfortunately usually occupied by people smoking and acting out). The downtown 'clean crew' seem to do a really good job too. Usually cheerful, friendly and even helpful! A happy greeting and having someone open a door for you as has been done for me can really set a nice tone for your day.

The one thing that interested me about the Stanford expansion plan is the hotel. A hotel would bring people in to consume, explore, spend money. With a shopping center and a downtown with a nice lunch places and a nightlife all within walking distance wouldn't a hotel be an asset?

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Posted by Liz
a resident of Los Altos
on Apr 27, 2009 at 1:20 pm

I agree so much with what the owner of the Bead Store said. When I lived in Midtown I used to walk downtown 3 or 4 times a week, to eat, shop, just hang out. After I moved to Los Altos, I still came for a while. But then Spirals closed, and Good Earth and Caffe Verona (a wonderful COMMUNITY place), and the Bead Store and Kikki's. And someone just told me Andale closed. There's nothing in downtown Palo Alto now except very expensive theme restaurants and very upscale stores like McRoskey's (!). If I want the over-the-top fun window shopping experience, Santana Row is way better. Palo Alto just isn't real anymore and it's sad because 10 years ago it was a great mix of ordinary and "destination". Take a look at Los Gatos.

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Posted by local
a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 27, 2009 at 1:51 pm

I grew up in Palo Alto and think Universiy Ave took its initial turn for the worst in 89 when I left for college. Some really cool businesses left the area and the first Noah's Begals and Starbucks came in giving me the impression that entrepreneurs were not going to have it easy as subsidized chain stores came in. I am sure that the rents downtown are staggering as that this is how lower University Ave in EPA was cleared out back in the 90s as well. Z Gallery used to be an amazing Lidicoats Mall with great ethnic food stalls. Border's Books was the incredible New Varsity Theater with movies and dining. Good Earth was one of my favorite restaurants. There was a North Face outlet, an sporting good store, now I dont even like to walk or window shop because the stores seem pretentious and kitchy.. No offense, but downtown Palo Alto has gone years down the wrong direction from being a community area to being an eyesore and a traffic problem and a place for homeless people.

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Posted by Reality Check
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 27, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Many of us are waxing sentimental about downtown PA, including me. But reality check: Liddicoats, when it turned into food stalls, ended up getting closed more than once for roach infestations. I was once at Good Earth when a roach climbed across my table - last time I ever ate there. And....this is gross, so I warn you: anyone remember Trattoria Romana? They used to leave their meat deliveries out in the sun-soaked courtyard. The business next to them, which had some connecting walls, had a roach infestation thanks to the Trattoria. Employees had to go home after opening desk drawers filled with baby cockroaches. And remember 42nd Street, the bar? There was major cocaine dealing going on there. So not everything from downtown's past is good!

Ok, glad to get that off my chest. I guess the roaches scuttling around downtown just grew into the current crop of crummy landlords...

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Posted by jb
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 27, 2009 at 5:03 pm

Have you noticed that about every three years a slew of businesses close on University? Time to renew the lease. Many times I have overheard 50%, 75%, 100% mentioned as the new rent. I wonder how many of the buildings are in real estate investment trust portfolios? If that is the case, they haven't had their taxes reassessed since Noah's flood.

Downtown is a cash cow coming and going for landlords. The California Craft and Floral on Alma has probably been closed for as long as many readers and their children have been around. My daughter (turns 30 in Sept) went there with me for the last time when she was in 4th grade!! It closed and not another business has been there since. With rents as high as they are in the University shopping area, any landlord with a "nonperforming investment", i.e. unused property, on University has a tax writeoff that can substantially balance obscene profits being made elsewhere in the portfolio. If the city wants a new tax source, how about taxing property sitting closed for longer than some minimum time. At least pay for the paint to clean up graffiti.

I agree with Bead Shop Janice's observations and lament. I used to go to the shop for help with the fasteners and restringing of my jewelry, although I never made anything there. But many recipients got gifts of "charms" and beads from the Bead Shop. We all loved the shop. But community is not of any concern to landlords, their "c" word is cash.

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Posted by PA Teen
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 27, 2009 at 7:26 pm

I feel like all of the comments above are from people who have had Palo Alto longer than I have, so I thought I'd give my two cents.

The teen world sees dtpa totally different than all of you. Borders rocks! I know it's a chain, but it has all of the books I want, the CDs I need, and it has that wonderful court yard where I can ready my newly purchased book with one of their treats. Dtpa has a lot of great restaurants where my friends and I can eat. We go out to dinner there once every two weeks. I'm really sad to see Vian Hunter go, they had a lot of great stuff.

We don't really mind the homeless people. It'd be nice to see less of them, and maybe be able to sit on a bench, but live and let live, we don't really mind. It's not like their violent or anything.

It sucks that Wolf is leaving, I went there. There's always cal ave though, they have K&S.

As for Town and's depressing. As a paly student, I don't have nearly as many options as I used to for lunch. Do they not know how much money they make off of us? I almost broke down to tears when I saw Rojoz closing. That was the biggest blow. I understand they're trying to make it nicer, it does look nice, but it almost seems like they don't want us there anymore. Sometimes groups of us can be loud, and sometimes we're a little crazy, but we still have money, and we're still willing to spend it.

I guess that's all I have to say about this. I thought you guys should all know what us teens are thinking.

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Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 27, 2009 at 7:42 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Palo Alto Downtown Member
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 27, 2009 at 8:33 pm

I would like to thank PA teen for his or her comments; we all need and should respect perspectives from as many people as possible. There are indeed good places in downtown Palo Alto to dine and shop. It is, however, too bad the independents are becoming fewer and fewer, as it is the independents who truly give back to the community in far greater measure than the chains. Trying to get managers of chain stores involved in community enhancement is a frustrating proposition; even if they are interested themselves, their corporate culture may discourage involvement, or as soon as they become truly engaged in their business community they are transferred to another location. Town & Country still has a good number of independents; I hope they continue to keep to that model.

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Posted by Keep Sharon out of T&C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 28, 2009 at 7:58 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 28, 2009 at 9:21 am

PA Teen -

Thanks for your perspective, my kids like downtown PA also, there just aren't a lot of things of a practical nature anymore. But it is a great place to eat and we Iike Borders too!

Regarding Town and Country - unfortunately, I think the mgt of T&C would be perfectly happy if Paly students stayed away although some of the stores and restaurants are very happy to have you. The new mix of stores and restaurants is geared toward young families, pregnant moms and "ladies who lunch".

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Posted by Downtown Business owner
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 28, 2009 at 12:47 pm

The City of Palo Alto needs a few fundamental changes:

1. A central planning commission - this will address rents, ideas, needs, landcapaing, lighting, and helping unknowing unsophisticaed entrepreneurs.

2. A change of mentality - We as a society need to stop being of the ultra liberal mentality that the homeless have the right to exist, and smell, and pee, and drug themselves out in front of our children. How may more can we take?

Further, that the idea that all businesses types, any business are ok for the city. Palo Alto has a specific demographics say it all. People have money, education, and lifestyle. Business must cater to that.

To all those who loath the rich that moved it, it sounds as though you prefer that they are replaced by all the poor. Bizarre!

3. Better policing - The police need to get on their feet to meet the people and get rid of the homelessness. - why are they always sitting in their cars, what good does that do?

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Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 28, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Everyone has a different perspective on here regarding the mix of stores. Some want high-end food and some low-end. Some want entertainment shopping (Z-Gallery) and some want essentials (Longs and Walgreens). It's a good thing that we have a free market so that the invisible hand can determine the mix of stores. In an Internet driven economy, we have to remember that specialty retailers have VERY difficult challenges as products can easily be knocked off and distributed online (Waterworks, Z-Gallery and Restoration Hardware come to mind). Wolf is a victim of digital photography.

I'd expect to see more services, restaurants and experience retailers. The yogurt shops are nice additions. A cupcake place that's open late night might be nice. A small scale grocery store isn't going to happen. Show me a successful one of these somewhere - let's stop the fantasy world. The rug gold rush seems to have ended - yippee.

I'm not sure what the city can really do about the mix of retailers.
However, they can provide the best environment for shopping. That includes clean streets, no smelly homeless people puking in the gutter, fewer car break-ins, more cops on bikes/foot, plentiful parking (this is pretty good in my opinion), etc. Those things will encourage retailers to come in and rent the empty storefronts. The landlords are greedy - what a surprise - wouldn't you be greedy before signing a 5-10 year lease?

One thing that would be nice is a more consistent architectural direction for the downtown area. The architectural review board doesn't understand this. The biggest travesty is the loss of the "Walgreens" building. Wait until you see the painfully ugly and characterless glass box that David Solnick and his pals on the ARB approved. This guy should be removed from Palo Alto ARB immediately for this disaster. Go to Santa Barbara and check out their downtown. You'll see a more consistent look and feel. Their downtown is superior to our downtown in its architectural value. Look at our civic buildings in comparison to theirs. It's laughable!

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Posted by Zane P
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 28, 2009 at 3:35 pm

This is a tad off-topic, but walking past the old California Craft & Floral building this afternoon, I couldn't help but noticed that it's being demolished(!). One of the workers informed me that an office building will go in its place.

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Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 28, 2009 at 4:12 pm


It's likely another David Solnick ultra modern office building sponsored special.

Check out David's website showing his personal work (Web Link). His residential projects are attractive, but they don't have any continuity with the existing architectural look and feel of Palo Alto.

David will argue that his kind of work has already polluted the look and feel of our community enough to make our community officially "eclectic". He argues that's the new look and feel - that's conveniently self serving for him.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 28, 2009 at 4:53 pm

Downtown Business Owner writes: “Palo Alto has a specific demographics say it all. People have money, education, and lifestyle. Business must cater to that.”

That pretty much sums of the sense of entitlement that so many people seem to have, notably our city council. Not everyone in Palo Alto is rich. And even the “rich” shop at Target and Safeway.

Thanks for your two-cents PA Teen. It’s good to hear your perspective. Some day you’ll lament Rojoz as I lament Caffe Verona.

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Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 28, 2009 at 6:10 pm

As far back as the 70’s a friend of mine was fond of saying “you are either a part of the problem or part of the solution.” She, a landlord, chose to be part of the solution and did not raise her rents just because the “market” said she could.

It is the mindset promoted by the media for decades (especially advertising and entertainment), that greed and avarice were cool and clever, and that is the root of the problem in Palo Alto. The landlords with their Stanford Business Degrees (and equivalents) seem to care nothing for Palo Alto and its population. Their concern is for their portfolios and possessions, and they will reduce this city to rubble if our city government and council don’t crawl out of their pockets and do the job they were hired to do.

Why does it not surprise me that their solution is always to find more money somewhere to fix what they’ve broken. Obviously money management is not their collective forte. I’ve watched for years as decisions were made to pave streets that badly needed it, only to watch them turn around very shortly thereafter and chop them up and patch them up rather than doing the necessary work prior to the resurfacing. A friend from India laughs at this observation and says it sounds just like India. Our government must be so proud of that comparison.

And streets that badly need resurfacing such as Lytton recall rides on “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” at Disneyland because they are so patched. Recently, when a new building went up there, they did some paving, but only in front of the new space; another indication of where their priorities lie.

I often shake my head, when I’m downtown shopping, to see ambulances and fire trucks using University as their “fast track”. Let’s face it. With lights at every corner and heavy traffic targeting both the downtown area and Stanford campus, this is not the street to use for fast transit. Hamilton and Lytton would make much better sense for such purpose, IF they were actually maintained, and IF there was a functional brain within Palo Alto City Government.

In response to the person(s) who mentioned that downtown is too dirty and not worth shopping at, I beg to differ and suggest you remove those dingy brown-toned sunglasses prescribed to you by the media that you are wearing. Are there some homeless people downtown? Sure. Smile at them and tell them hello. They are people who may just as easily be perceived as a reminder of the many things we personally have to be grateful for. “There but for fortune.” If they disturb you, perhaps it’s an indication that you are not doing enough to make a difference.

I have not noticed the area being “dirty”. I have noticed shop keepers out sweeping the area in front of their establishments each morning and, as in the case of Shady Lane, watering wonderful flowering planter boxes that entice, and enhance the intriguing windows full and often refreshed with artists’ treasures and gifts of wonder. Their signature star boxes have become a delight for my friends because they know that something really special is going to be revealed when the beautiful detailed bows and multi-colored tissue layers are tenderly removed to expose something selected with extra care for their appreciation.

I personally continue to shop and dine downtown Palo Alto where we are still blessed (and I pray will continue to be so) with interesting shops and restaurants that are not the faces for faceless corporations. I love that in spite of allowing grotesque buildings that look like transplants from NYC to take over portions of University Avenue, Palo Alto continues to be a community. Did we really need Cheesecake Factory with its questionable kitchen maintenance and garish outsized structure to “grace” our wonderful college community when we have fabulous, award-winning restaurants like Siam Royal and Rangoon? I go downtown as often as possible to keep my favorite businesses encouraged and hopefully enduring. There are still wonderful stores downtown and certainly plenty of people in the area whenever I am there.

Could we benefit from a better Palo Alto? Certainly. Did Mountain View do a good job on Castro Street. Yes, and I’d be happy to see our government take a lesson or two from them. For that matter I’d love to see hanging planters grace the length of the business district as is done in Victoria B.C. There are many ways that enhancements can be made, but it will have to be executed by an intelligent governance that is not bought and paid for by the developers and landlords that are ruining our fair city.

I worked at City of Palo Alto for a year back when we were especially well-known for our environmental programs. I observed sluggish employees (so many of them) doing as little as possible to fill their day, all too ready to tell me to slow down because I made them look bad. When I moved on to work in the private sector, I continued to watch those who purportedly work for us as the system eroded and environmental programs were reduced or cut completely.
Forget about a business tax. That is a sure way to drive away the small businesses. These courageous business owners are already struggling to deal with very high rents in the face of diminishing sales. They cheerfully assist potential customers without any assurance that the time invested will equate to sales. It is these businesses that make our town worth living in, and a business tax based on revenues applied to satisfy the insatiable appetites of a government and council that enjoys spending our hard-earned money all too freely and foolishly is another nail in the coffin of Palo Alto’s unique and appealing community, for only the large chains will be able to handle the insane rents and city taxes, and even they succumb to defeat when the costs are unsustainable as seen with such companies as Z Gallerie, Ross and potentially Restoration Hardware and Borders.

Perhaps it’s time to cut the salaries of those many city employees who fail to do much more than take up space and wouldn’t last a week in a corporate job. Perhaps we could start by cutting all the wasteful “investigative” expenditures and redirect those tax dollars to resurfacing our roads before taking on new expansive projects.
Perhaps I should open a shop of Rose Colored Glasses.

We could all benefit from a rosier view!

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Posted by Dennis
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 29, 2009 at 1:41 am

Why would anyone want to "visit" a downtown so heavily polluted as PA?
"Tony and Pat own a camera store in Palo Alto, CA. A wood burning restaurant fills their store and their work areas with smoke from 10am until closing time. Across the street is a venerated old bookstore. Like the camera store there is no other ventilation than to open windows. The cooking smoke filters throughout the store plating out on the valuable old books. Both store owners have reported illness from the smoke."
Web Link

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Posted by Janice Parsons, owner The Bead Shop
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 29, 2009 at 11:52 am

Hi Everyone,
I first want to say, "WOW"...what a visceral reaction! This theme hits home for so many people. I'd also like to say, I'm not a resident of North Palo Alto, but south...I mistakenly clicked on the location my business was located and not where I live. Thank you for all the heartfelt comments about The Bead Shop. I know it was a destination and I'm so happy to hear the support for Shady Lane. There are some wonderful businesses we definitely need to support so that they thrive; sharing their names here and on YELP is a great way to promote them. For those wondering what I'm up to, I'm designing wedding jewelry and doing business on my website,, still located in Palo Alto, but now home-based.
With each comment I read, I learned of a new closure. I didn't know Waterworks closed!
I think the real issue is creating a downtown that is liveable, attractive and inviting. This means it must be safe, both to walk, work, shop, park and play. How do we do this? How do we channel our sadness, distrust and distaste for city and building owner policies (or lack of them) and get back to basics, because that's what I'm reading in many comments. I don't think we're complaining: I think we're pleading for change. I believe we want to come together as a community to be happy and enjoy our city. I think the new park which replaced Palo Alto Clinic is an excellent example of making a park friendly EXCEPT, like too many of our parks, why weren't bathrooms installed? Again....who didn't plan for that???Where do we begin? Do we need to start with someone on the city council? Who can represent us? What about a meeting with the mayor and city manager? I love the idea mentioned by a downtown business owner of a central planning commission. Does anyone know what we have now? Can we start one? I also like the idea of fines to landlords for empty storefronts. It's a disgrace that Cafe Verona was left vacant for so long. Really a tragedy that we lost them and that there was no city team to help keep them in their space. Maybe that's what we really need; someone IN city government whose job it is to mediate landlord/tenant problems and be pro-active in planning.
I want to add, in defense of landlords, I had two really good ones in my time in business. John Santana was really wonderful. His family owns the corner properites on Hamilton and Emerson where the old Bead Shop was (still home of the Unicef store, the Creamery, the shoe repair and Maddelena's restaurant ) was really wonderful. He and his father also owned our once-thriving downtown dairy. He understood the importance of the relationship between a landlord and tenant; it is essential it be a partnership to be successful. My experience was his sons were not as skilled in relationship building. Maybe that's changed. I have heard the Creamery store on Homer (near Watercourse Way and our my favorite Hardware store) is thriving under the son's direction. Landlords and tenants need each other to thrive; that has been Chop Keenans' Achilles heel; his behavior has been "HE" doesn't need anyone. Afterall, he once said to me, "I own the dirt". The other great landlord is Warren Thoits, who has made tremendous contributions to the city over the years and was very gracious and patient with me, when times were tough. He has retired and his nephews are clueless how to build tenant-landlord relations. I hope, for Warren's sake, they learn. And, Jim Baer also needs some positive press from me. He is actively promoting Wave One, the certification of green companies in Palo Alto. He is an astute business person (Premier Properties) but he also has charm and believes in contributing to the community and building properties with Palo Alto quality. (He did the corner building at Ramona and University.) BTW, Ramona between University and Hamilton is a wonderful example of what should be used for a blueprint for downtown buildings. But, I guess most city workers don't walk it because it's not a direct line to Starbuck.
So, where do we start? I'd like to help with change.

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Posted by kirby
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 3, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Really a boring place to live. I have lived here for 35 years, and if it wasn't for the great weather I would have moved long ago. Everyone is very unfriendly and unapproachable. Worst drivers ever too.

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