Town Square

Post a New Topic

With fewer workers coming in, Palo Alto looks to rethink retail

Original post made on Nov 8, 2022

After taking an economic beating during the pandemic, Palo Alto's main shopping strips now appear to be on the rebound. They are also getting extra attention from the City Council, which is now formulating a new retail strategy.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, November 8, 2022, 12:58 AM

Comments (27)

Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 8, 2022 at 7:41 am

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

It’s no longer a city of Palo Alto, It’s a city of consultants. Our taxes are paying for private labor firms … City hiring Streetwise is a not money wise. It would be really great to see Mayor Burt and Vice Mayor Kuo out there sweeping and sprucing our downtown. We can all do it. Like a creek clean up day. Or is Mayor Burt too involved in other environmentally friendly duties?

Posted by resident3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2022 at 8:24 am

resident3 is a registered user.

@Native to the Bay,

“It would be really great to see Mayor Burt and Vice Mayor Kuo out there sweeping and sprucing our downtown.”

That would be nice. Some of the streets downtown look like the pothole plagued El Camino, and 101, its not just litter. One of the most visible, Emerson between University and Hamilton is full of cracks. There’s a lot of wear and tear there so it needs more than the occasional repair schedule if there is one.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 8, 2022 at 9:06 am

Online Name is a registered user.

One simple first step the city could take is to ban company cafeterias which for a long time have hurt retail by keeping their employees off the streets while taking up parking needed by potential shoppers and diners.

Another is to stop ticketing retail employees who ultimately get disgusted and quit. I've lost too many of my trusted salespeople that way.

A third might be to force landlords to start discounting their rents to eliminate all the depressing empty storefronts while the former tenants struggle to work out of the back of other stores.

Posted by Sally-Ann Rudd
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 8, 2022 at 12:14 pm

Sally-Ann Rudd is a registered user.

Suspending parking restrictions in downtown color zones until January 2023 may help struggling retail. There's no difficulty getting downtown parking spaces right now. That's something the city could do tomorrow.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2022 at 1:11 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Our parking is ridiculously confusing. People are scared to park where they don't understand the colors or rules.

It should be a good thing that at last residents' needs are put ahead of those who don't. Saying that, as far as retail is concerned, there is a chicken and egg situation. I feel I am being forced to shop online more and more as the places I used to go for various items close and the nearest replacement place is too far away when considering traffic on 101 and the replacement is unfamiliar in store or layout.

I don't like shopping online, but I feel forced more and more to do so. Empty shelves, lack of full range of sizes and overall hit and miss quality make it difficult to visit brick and mortar stores. Take something like underwear or socks, there used to be several different brands at different price levels in various stores department stores. Now it seems that there is only one brand and not a full selection of sizes or styles. If we are going to have to guess the fit or take the only style available, then we might as well do it at home rather than drive 30 minutes for a six pack of socks or pens.

Posted by Clarice Lowell
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 8, 2022 at 2:01 pm

Clarice Lowell is a registered user.

Another option would be to lower the bar on retail stores in Palo Alto.

Why not eliminate some of the fancier (aka more expensive) stores and create a shopping environment that is less pretentious?

A Kohl's, Bed, Bath, & Beyond, Target (or Walmart), The Dollar Store, GNC, Big 5 Sporting Goods, Supercuts, and Walgreens would all make fine additions to Stanford Shopping Center.

The Palo Alto shopping experience need not be exclusively geared towards Veblenesque snobs.

Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2022 at 2:34 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

I agree. I hate, hate, hate shopping online. I do my best to buy local for everything I can, but it is getting much harder to do so.

On my way home form work and en route to meeting friends at Town & Country, I stopped into Books, Inc. yesterday and ordered all of the books I need for Christmas gifts. A very nice young man named Drew helped me quickly find in-stock selections I needed and then ordered everything else I need. He will hold them and call me when all my books are in so I can pick them up on my way home from work. I was in and out of there in a jiff, spent a lot of money--kept my sales tax local, supporting local jobs, and I feel great that Jeff Bezos and his horrible company will not get a single cent of my money. I also spent about 20 minutes enjoying browsing. They have some great stocking stuffers there that I would not have found otherwise.

Then I had coffee at Peet's with friends and got my groceries at Trader Joe's. Town & Country got a lot of business from me yesterday, and I had a nice outing--a good break after a long day. Yay! Keep retail lively.

Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2022 at 2:45 pm

Citizen is a registered user.

When the City became safe for residents (who didn't have to fight the commuter traffic because of the pandemic) again, local retail blossoms. That's the message. A lot of residents stopped going to downtown areas as traffic and commuters drove out resident-serving businesses before the pandemic. Then during the pandemic, such businesses lost their commuting customers. This situation in which businesses catered to commuters and people who saw our town in a very transactional way (both the companies and workers) was always fragile. Paying attention to quality of life including schools creates much more stability in the long term.

Online businesses got a tax break to help them against brick and mortar retail. It's time to give in-person retail the break so they can compete with online.

There are advantage and disadvantages to both. But having in-person retail is important when there are supply disruptions, when you need things quickly (like hardware or electronics), and often when you need the curation of an experienced business to find something that meets a need. In-person is easier to be better for the environment. Something communal is lost when in-person retail goes.

I've said this before but the only reason we can have great schools and civic spaces is that the City owns the land. The same is probably true of resident-serving retail for the foreseeable future. It's how Stanford can afford to attract faculty. It's probably the only way Palo Alto can afford to keep resident-serving retail. Isn't Los Altos doing this in order to maintain their downtown?

This situation is a foreseeable consequence of the lack of holistic approach to growth in the last several years. San Francisco has been impacted much worse.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 8, 2022 at 3:49 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Pendulums swing. Thank goodness. I am hoping to see more local retail, not less. About 3 years ago I had to go to an Amazon distribution center in Milpitas to return something purchased for the office. The experience was eerie and I've not used Amazon much since. The place is soulless, almost windowless, and huge. Multiple like-sized buildings that are as much like a coal mine as anything above ground can be. No, thanks.

Posted by TimR
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 9, 2022 at 10:51 pm

TimR is a registered user.

So why is Stanford Shopping Center "downright thriving," while downtown is merely surviving? Because the two offer pretty much the exact same things: food and shopping. Although, downtown offers a little more in the way of homeless, dirtier walkways, nasty traffic, etc. But answers on how to fix downtown are a short walk away.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Nov 10, 2022 at 7:07 am

MyFeelz is a registered user.

Nothing says "third world" like refusing to allow the customers to leave with their purchases in A FREE BAG. The last time I shopped at Crate & Barrel they said my purchase was "too big" to fit in a bag. Granted this was just before Christmas and maybe they ran out. Then, at Macy's, I was offered a bag, which I had to pay 10 cents for, and it had no markings on it at all. No iconic Macy*s with a red star. Just a plain brown paper bag. I haven't been back to Stanford Shopping Center since. I tested my C&B purchase to see if it fit in the 10 cent Macy's bag, and it did. I looked online and Macy's sold the same product at the same price. I considered returning it to C&B to re-purchase it at Macy's just to make a point.

The point being, it doesn't matter what we are buying. It's all made in China. Every storefront is a broker for China. And now that WalMart is refusing to even let a customer buy any bag at all at the checkout except "re-usable", don't be fooled into thinking they are being forward thinking about the planet. From the "you have to learn cashiering before shopping at Wal-Mart" concept to the "now you have to try to learn how to weigh your vegetables as they are sliding all over the filthy scanner glass", they are nickle and diming us to death while trying NOT to look like China Mart.

The way we spread disease is by contact. We have learned nothing from the pandemic. How about Palo Alto advertising this(and keeping the promise of): "WE PUT YOUR PURCHASES IN BAGS HERE, FOR YOUR HEALTH AND SAFETY!! YES IT'S 10 CENTS A BAG, BUT THEY CAN BE RE-USED!!".

Lest I be considered a snob, I only went to Stanford at Christmas time in 2021 was because I thought it was a slam dunk that I would not to have to bump noses with an unmasked customer or sales clerk. And the prices in the brick and mortar stores were the same as online, without the shipping hassles. This year, I'm not sure if I'll shop at all. Is coal "clean"?

Posted by resident3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2022 at 1:11 pm

resident3 is a registered user.

“While council members were pretty optimistic about the retail recovery, council member Greg Tanaka argued that the city needs to be much more flexible in assisting local businesses. “

There is an ad in the paper today asking for the City Manager to work with local Form Fitness, so that they can stay at their location 445 Bryant.

The ad states that CM Shikada is “soliciting a new tenant for the property.”

If existing gyms are pushed out, will the city then spend money on its own gym and how much will that cost? What happens to the people relying on this gym. All that power at City Hall..

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 10, 2022 at 1:33 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"The ad states that CM Shikada is “soliciting a new tenant for the property.”

I'm confused. Does the city own the property? Wny is CM Shikada soliciting tenants for any property??

Posted by Butch Logan
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 10, 2022 at 1:54 pm

Butch Logan is a registered user.

Is the homeless population having an adverse effect on downtown merchants and restaurants?

If so, they should address the issue with the PAPD.

If not, maybe they should simply lower their prices.

Posted by resident3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2022 at 2:24 pm

resident3 is a registered user.

@online name,

“Does the city own the property? Wny is CM Shikada soliciting tenants for any property??”

Not explained but the petition mentions the City as the apparent landlord twice, in asking CM to work with them and then about the lease agreement.During the pandemic the business was closed but they are ready to start again. Also confused about CM role.

Posted by fred
a resident of University South
on Nov 10, 2022 at 3:37 pm

fred is a registered user.

FormFitness is in a space that is part of the city's Bryant Street Garage.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 10, 2022 at 3:42 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Ah, thank you both.

Posted by Jessica Zhiang
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 10, 2022 at 3:47 pm

Jessica Zhiang is a registered user.

Maybe downtown Palo Alto/University Avenue needs to become more like Castro Street in Mountain View with more ethnic specific stores and Asian restaurants.

Posted by Fritz Weldon
a resident of Los Altos
on Nov 11, 2022 at 9:38 am

Fritz Weldon is a registered user.

@Butch Logan & Jessica Zhiang...
Perhaps downtown Palo Alto needs to become more like downtown Los Altos as the socio-economic issues/problems Mountain View and Palo Alto are experiencing are pretty much non-existent here.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 12, 2022 at 7:48 am

Annette is a registered user.

Agree about Los Altos. Palo Alto is either hiring the wrong consultants or framing the consultants' assignments to drive pre-determined outcomes. It's not possible that Palo Alto decision makers are unaware of the ways in which Los Altos out-performs Palo Alto when it comes to retail and downtown/Cal Ave appeal. Which leads to the conclusion that what we've got is deliberate. Which leads to some questions:

Why, and who is driving what we're getting? The City Manager?

How serious is Palo Alto, really, about the greenhouse gas issue when the elimination of retail encourages driving?

Why isn't there a greater effort to sustain retail since it is revenue-producing, especially since we forfeited the opportunity to have a relevant-to-impact business tax?

Is anyone at City Hall looking at the big picture?

Is there anyone monitoring for consistency so that decisions on development, grade separation, and retail (for example) align with our lofty SCAP goals?

Does anyone at City Hall ever look at a development proposal and ask if it is in the best interests of the City?

Posted by Helen Yount
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Nov 12, 2022 at 9:39 am

Helen Yount is a registered user.

@Annette: You raised some excellent points and while some might beg to differ, IMO over the past several decades downtown Palo Alto has lost much of its original small town uniqueness along with its former abundance of specialty retail stores.

And the same can be said of California Avenue which is commercially overdeveloped and bears no remaining resemblance to the former small town main street of Mayfield.

Like Castro Street in downtown Mountain View, University Avenue presents a very hectic environment and is overloaded with too many repetitive dining establishments and office buildings.

It's that rush-rush, hurry-up vibe which makes downtown PA and CA Avenue very unpleasant at times.

In downtown Los Altos, this vibe does not exist and while I would be the last one to consider visiting downtown Los Altos an enlightening or spiritual experience, at least one can go about town without the anxiety and hassles a person often experiences when venturing into downtown Palo Alto and California Avenue.

The downtown section of Los Altos is also safer because it does not encourage or attract a homeless population like Palo Alto and Mountain View. This is an important consideration for retail stores to thrive as potential customers do not want to pass by or witness blight while shopping or dining.

Unfortunately the die has already been cast in downtown Palo Alto and California Avenue and there is no going back to yesteryear.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 12, 2022 at 10:46 am

Online Name is a registered user.

For years I've been suggesting that staff get out of their offices and check out surrounding towns to see how they've revitalized and maybe learn what mere residents like us have seen But instead they keep hiring consultants with NO local knowledge. They've approved "fake retail" so office workers displaced Diddam's and the4 antique store near the Creamery. They let companies set up their own cafeterias,

Where's our civic leaders like the other towns have that for NO MONEY and with little city hall involvement worked to o revitalize their downtowns when all our business "leaders" do is protest paying their fair share? In Menlo Park they've declared themselves a "Design District and the owner of Bistro Vida ga set uo a Weds. night market. I

n Los Altos, the owner of the Nature Gallery -- a Palo Alto resident -- launched First Friday, where 12 bands play for FREE to draw people downtown. They also have regular downtown concerts, a Thurs night Farmers Market AND the huge new State St Market built with GOOGLE money.

Why didn't the Nature Gallery Owner do it here in PA when her store was here? Because no one at City Hall cared. They were too busy shutting down the PA Gallery Walk lest some kid sneak a glass of wine!

Don't we have any comparable tech leaders involved here? If not, why not! Because they're too busy sponsoring concerts in downtown Redwood City that attract thousands each Friday night! Aren't the Zuckerbergs Palo Alto residebts??

Posted by Teresa Graham
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 12, 2022 at 2:38 pm

Teresa Graham is a registered user.

Retail-related rent is very expensive around here. Add operating costs and it is easy to understand the reluctance on the part of small businesses to set up shop.

As a result...downtown Mountain View, downtown Palo Alto, and California Avenue lack character and generate minimal retail customer interest as a whole because there are no specialty stores remaining and no lively after-hours bar scene.

Having fewer restaurants along these streets should be another consideration because after dining, who wants to hang around downtown PA or MV?

Downtown Menlo Park and Los Altos close down early. Maybe PA and MV should consider doing the same as their downtown evening offerings leave little to be desired.

Besides, there will always be the downtown summer street fairs to liven things up.

Mountain View, Los Altos, Palo Alto, and Menlo Park all have them.

Posted by Jacob Weiss
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 13, 2022 at 9:53 am

Jacob Weiss is a registered user.

@Online Name
Closing off State Street in downtown Los Altos for these auxilliary activities is far easier than closing off Lytton or Hamilton Avenues in Palo Alto for the same purpose.

University Avenue is a direct link into town from the 101 and traffic is always busy during prime hours.

Main Street in Los Altos is just a side street off of San Antonio with minimal traffic flow.

Lastly, the wealthier citizens of Palo Alto (i.e. the Zuckerbergs, Mayers, Thoits, and others) are under no humanistic obligation to provide off-hours street side entertainment for the masses.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 13, 2022 at 12:18 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Jacob Weiss, I never said they closed any of the streets in Los Altos -- not for the First Friday, not for the State Street Market which is in a BUILDING built with Google money not in the street, not for the downtown concerts that happen on side streets (although they do close a few blocks of State St for the Farmer's Market.

My point is that the events in the other communities cost the cities NOTHING in tax dollars, fees for consultants with NO local knowledge. The MERCHANTS do it themselves. When the Cal Ave restaurants hired their own musicians, the city paid DRUMNMERS to drown out the other musicians and chase away diners!

DUMB and a waste of OUR money.

I know what direct street links Palo Alto has; I've watched them take almost 8 years to fix a traffic light on Embarcadero -- one of pour few direct links to 101 -- and am SO looking forward to 5 years of construction work during Casti's expansion on that same direct link.

"Lastly, the wealthier citizens of Palo Alto (i.e. the Zuckerbergs, Mayers, Thoits, and others) are under no humanistic obligation to provide off-hours street side entertainment for the masses."

To be fair, Marissa *did* donate a tortoise to the Junior Museum and Zoo.

The masses?? Pish posh. But funny how they do it elsewhere! Care to speculate why / how they manage to contribute to all the other surrounding communities? Ever been to one of the Zuxckerberg Family Foundation concerts in Redwood City? They attract literally **thousands** of people each Friday with great musicians AND help revitalize downtown.

Name one Palo Alto business or merchant who's contributed to Palo Alto the way the owners of Bistro Vida and the Nature Gallery have. All our "leaders" seem to have done is object to paying a decent business tax or requiring their employees to free up street parking so shoppers can shop and diners can dine while their employees dine in their company cafeterias.

Posted by Fred Turner
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 13, 2022 at 12:59 pm

Fred Turner is a registered user.

Online Name:

If Palo Alto were to offer additional outside attractions, wouldn't this endeavor only create more gridlock, nuisance crowds, and an added potential for street crime?

A quiet town is a happy town and outside of high-end shoppers, business travelers, and Stanford football game attendees, Palo Alto should discourage an influx of outsiders disrupting the fleeting peace and quiet around here.

Those tacky summer street fairs that inundate the main drag and clutter-up parking options for genuine Palo Alto residents living nearby should suffice.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 13, 2022 at 4:31 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Fred Turner, obviously it depends on how it's done and whether Palo Alto is trying to preserve retail and promote its merchants and restaurants like other communities. Other communities manage but Palo Alto doesn't because unlike Los Altos and Menlo Park, it has no retailers/ restaurant owners like those from the Nature Gallery and Bistro Vida willing to do anything civic-minded. (And, no, they're NOT the "wealthy" Jacob Weiss mentions, just independent business owners)

If Palo Alto wants to continue to try to be an office park with no resident-serving businesses and policies that hurt the restaurants and retailers, let it just admit it rather than pretending. Think of all the money we can save on silly consultants and the new senior Business Development Manager.

If this is the case, then it needs to go back to the Chamber of "Commerce" and tell them that it's time to pay their fair share.

PS: What peace? Checked out traffic lately?

RE providing entertainment "to the masses" let's remember that for decades Silicon Valley has ranked at the very low end of the philanthropy scale/ There was a recent article in either the SJ Nerc or the SF Chron saying that if Silicon Valley contributed at the normal rate it could house all the homeless and the low-income people without stick the resident-taxpayers with the bill. Funny how the companies can afford to spend HUNDREDS of MILLIONS of dollars lobbying to avoid paying their gig workers a living wage and to DENY them the ability to collect unemployment or health benefits.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Los Altos restaurant and lounge closes just months after opening
By The Peninsula Foodist | 6 comments | 7,280 views

Bike lanes don’t belong on El Camino!
By Diana Diamond | 27 comments | 5,840 views

Farm Bill and the Future – Final Post (part 10)
By Laura Stec | 12 comments | 2,180 views

It’s ‘International Being You’ Day
By Chandrama Anderson | 20 comments | 2,126 views

How quickly will we electrify our homes?
By Sherry Listgarten | 2 comments | 755 views