By Elisabeth Westermann/Special to The Almanac
Village Stationers, a family-owned stationery store with locations in Menlo Park and Los Altos, will be closing its doors on Aug. 17 after 53 years in business. The owner, Kerry Hoctor, is retiring and was unable to find a buyer to take over the business.
"The finances weren't there to support a sale, so we decided to call it a day," he said.
The closure of the store at comes at a time when small retail businesses across the country are finding it increasingly difficult to compete with lower prices and convenience offered by large online vendors such as Amazon. For small business owners in Menlo Park, this challenge is exacerbated by the increasing cost of living and high rents.
"The cost of doing business in the Bay Area has become unbearable ... When you add that on to the competition we get from the internet and Amazon, it's a death sentence," Hoctor said.
Hoctor's parents started the store in 1966 at Town and Country Village in Palo Alto, and moved it to Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park in 1976. In 1996, the Menlo Park shop relocated to its current location at 719 Santa Cruz Ave. The family also ran a location on University Avenue in Palo Alto starting in 1988, before moving it to California Avenue in 2002. It closed in 2016.
In addition, in 2012, Hoctor opened a location at 222 Main St. in Los Altos. His daughter, Shannon Klein, who runs the Los Altos store, plans to go into teaching.
Hoctor grew up working in the store with his parents and has fond memories of the experience. "I got to spend a lot of time with my dad. ... We worked together so we had a really nice bond," he said.
When his parents gave him the chance to take over the business in 1981 so that they could retire, he said that choice was a no-brainer because it would give him the chance to make a career out of something he enjoyed.
Since taking over the business, Hoctor has raised a family, and his kids grew up working in the store as well. He treasures "being able to have that special connection" with his children that came from working together, and he was recently able to introduce another generation to the family business by bringing his young granddaughter to the store.
"Here she is at 4 years old, and she got to see grandpa's store," he said. "So there were four generations involved in the store, which was kind of cool. Unfortunately, we can't keep that up, but it thrilled me nonetheless that my little granddaughter was running around and helping me price things."
The business also created close relationships among the other employees, who call themselves the "Village People."
"I just know I will miss it a lot. I will miss the work. I will miss the team ... It's like a family here," said Annegret Wiedmar, who has worked in the Menlo Park store for 18 years.
Kathy Barrons, who has also worked at Village Stationers for 18 years, said she will particularly miss working with Hoctor. "He's just been an absolute pleasure to work for," she said. "I'm going to be missing a great boss and a good friend."
The small scale of the business and long-term employees have led the staff to forge especially strong bonds with customers, Hoctor said. "When my customers come in, they're very familiar with the staff," he said. "Our strength was interaction with our customers... (For example,) we had a pen bar and people would come in and sample all the pens and I let the kids come in and write notes, and you just can't replace that."
Barrons has fond memories of retired Village Stationers employee Doris Fredrick playing hide-and-seek in the aisles with the child of a regular customer.
"It was so fun to see them running around ... It's a cute, cute memory," she said.
The closing of Village Stationers will not only be a loss to the Peninsula, but to the Bay Area at large: According to Hoctor, Village Stationers is the last true stationer, a store that sells office supplies, gifts and stationery, left between San Francisco and San Jose. As stationers have closed around the Peninsula, Hoctor has noticed his Menlo Park location drawing customers from Burlingame, San Mateo and San Jose.
Hoctor is proud that he has been able to keep the business going until his retirement, but says he owes his success to his customers, some of whom have been coming into the store since it opened in Menlo Park 43 years ago.
"We've had such a great customer base of amazing people over the years that's kept us in business," he said.
For Hoctor, the stores' closing has been bittersweet. He said he has enjoyed being able to interact with his customers as they come in to bid him, his employees and the store farewell.
"It's rewarding because people really want me to stay," he said. "I'm grateful to have this time since we announced we're closing to thank all my customers. I'm saying 'Thank you' and they're saying 'Thank you.' They're saying 'I'm going to miss you,' I'm saying 'We're going to miss you.' It's awesome."