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By Steve Levy

Increasing the Number of Customers for Palo Alto's Small Businesses

Uploaded: Apr 14, 2022

Many small businesses including in Palo Alto are struggling to remain viable and open. Challenging factors include online shopping eating into retail store sales, work from home diminishing the number of customers, large vacancies diminishing the number of customers, and rising labor costs as low-wage workers are getting higher wages in the tight labor market.

Increasing the number of customers for small businesses in Palo Alto should be a goal that has broad support. What are some of the ways to make this happen?

Filling vacant spaces such as in downtown and Cal Ave will provide customers for the existing small businesses. I think it is unlikely that all the retail vacancies can be filled given the continuing growth and ease of online shopping and the continuation of some work from home together with the other challenges cited above. Major shopping areas all across the country including Stanford Shopping Center are adapting to the online world and adding new non-retail activities to attract customers to their venues.

One positive step for Palo Alto is to allow non-retail uses such as services, which remain in high demand, on current retail sites. Even if the services do not provide sales tac revenue, they provide customers and add to the vibrancy of the shopping and restaurant areas. Keeping these spaces vacant benefits no one.

More housing will provide an increase in customers for local small businesses. Most of the residents I know where we live downtown are active customers for nearby small businesses. It is very convenient. I am sure this is true for the area around Cal Ave as well.

While work from home decisions are mainly made by firms and workers, there is a clear benefit to our small businesses if more workers return to offices such as in downtown. Perhaps the City can work with local office employers to see if there are city policies that could make it easier for workers to return to the office at least part time.

Improved parking availability and ease of knowing where to find parking could help increase the number of customers. Some ideas include dedicated spaces for short-term and special needs parking, better enforcement so daytime workers are not taking spaces that should be available for small business customers and, possibly, completion of additional public garage space.

A final idea is to add activities such as music events that will draw people to downtown and Cal Ave. Make them more interesting destinations to visit.

Readers probably have additional ideas to increase the number of customers for our small businesses.