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Three-alarm fire hits 4 businesses in Palo Alto's Midtown

Original post made on Feb 2, 2023

A three-alarm fire that broke out late Wednesday night damaged four businesses in Palo Alto's Midtown neighborhood.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, February 2, 2023, 8:54 AM

Comments (25)

Posted by vmshadle
a resident of Meadow Park
on Feb 2, 2023 at 9:49 am

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I am sad for the owners of all affected businesses. Hoping that all are well insured.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2023 at 9:50 am

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How long had the Dry Cleaners been closed, I wonder. This is a well used group of businesses and will be very much missed by the local community. Very pleased nobody was hurt but sad to see the businesses unable to open.

Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2023 at 9:56 am

felix is a registered user.

Oh no!.
These businesses are side by side on Middlefield, taking up the entire block. If this was on University Ave, would it have been referred to as happening at a strip mall? Hardly. So why here?

This is awful. These businesses all provide wanted and needed services to Midtown residents and others in town.

My heart goes out to the business operators and neighbors. Thank you fire fighters for you work.

Posted by AlanDavis
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 2, 2023 at 1:05 pm

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Someone needs to explain how long it took for the firefighters to arrive. There are no fire engines in south Palo Alto. Station 4 on Middlefield and Charleston is closed except for medical responses. The fire engine would need to come from either the Arastradero station or the Embarcadero and Newell station.

Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 2, 2023 at 1:11 pm

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Dealing with insurance companies can be a nightmare. I don't know enough about city finances to know if there is some sort of emergency fund. Many businesses like this received PPP loans during the worst of the COVID pandemic. Having to be closed, whether for a pandemic or a fire, can be a disaster for a small business. I do realize that Philz and Bill's have other locations. But it's still a really hard blow to any business. I hope something is available to help them weather the storm.

Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 2, 2023 at 1:17 pm

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@AlanDavis, my guess would be that the hour: 11:15 and the fact that the building is not right beside residences could account for so much of the fire happening before firefighters arrived. When there was a fire next door to me, in Midtown, they were there SO quickly. But it was around 6PM. I assume that firefighters come when someone calls 911, unless there is a magic signal that they get whenever there's smoke or flames.

Posted by Judith Kenney
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 2, 2023 at 5:13 pm

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I've been going to AJ's Quick Clean since 1985. Chris and his whole family are wonderful. The pandemic and now this tragic fire. I am so very sorry and heartbroken for them.

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 2, 2023 at 5:23 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

This is a tragic loss for our community. Even though I live in North PA, my family and I frequent(ed) Pete's and Bill's--and we are/were regular (at least twice/weekly) customers of AJ's Cleaners. We also have visited the liquor store in the past, and found everyone there-like at the other 3 businesses-to be friendly, professional, helpful, and very good at their jobs. Bill's is/was my son's (and many of his teammates on the Paly Baseball Team's) favorite spot for breakfast & brunch. These businesses have been essential to our community. They are invaluable.

I feel particularly bad for AJ's. Not only are they the best and most ethical dry cleaners I had found in decades, but they are a local family-owned business that has served our community for decades. I have had the pleasure of getting to know the owner (because he does much of his own delivery and many other customer-facing jobs) and personally admire and respect him and his work, and appreciate the high-integrity service he has provided for our community. This loss is heartbreaking.

So much is under investigation, which takes time, including what started the fire, and whether it was intentional or accidental, but missing from press coverage is who owns this commercial building.

I searched public records and found:
25 E Pier, Kappa's Marina
Sausalito, CA 94965
which points to Web Link
and Web Link (search for "3155-3199 Middlefield Road LLC"), which indicates that the LLC has not submitted its mandatory information statement, but past records suggest ownership by Lenore & Robert Cavallero, who may live in Hillsborough.

The owners usually are responsible for maintaining property in safe condition. That may not be relevant here. Owners also usually control insurance proceeds & decide next steps. Will they (try to) rebuild as commercial office? What do they say?

It is a very sad day.

Posted by BP Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 2, 2023 at 6:46 pm

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Wait and see. This will be an excuse to rebuild a 6 story condo at the site. All businesses in PA are being driven out one way or another.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 2, 2023 at 7:46 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

And after they drive the businesses out they can hire more staff and consultants to tell us to get out of our cars tand to stop driving to where the businesses relocate.

Go glad mental health is a priority.

Posted by carolanniejoan
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 2, 2023 at 9:36 pm

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When I lived in PA (Midtown) I patronized all these businesses. Especially the wonderful deli-restaurant, that preceded Bill’s. I can’t recall the name(s) of this charming place, and wonder if any PAWeekly readers can refresh my memory. I sincerely hope the wonderful patio remains.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2023 at 9:40 pm

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I agree with others that this will probably be replaced with condos and retail on ground floor but not the same useful amenities and the outdoor seating area which has been there as long as I remember with a Mediterranean ambience, will be lost forever. Such a shame that another place with character is no longer going to exist.

Hope I'm wrong.

Posted by Jeremy Erman
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 2, 2023 at 11:58 pm

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So sad. I used to frequent the Pommard deli which occupied the space before Bill's, and also remember the Creme de Cafe which preceded Philz (and the previously-named Century Liquors). All the businesses there have been well-loved, and the outdoor seating and trees are really wonderful. It's a very inviting spot. Hope they can preserve as much of that as possible--it's a large part of what draws people there.

Posted by Realistic
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 3, 2023 at 10:49 am

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Feel terrible for the owners, workers, and clientele of the businesses!

I unfortunately picked last week to drop off all my work clothes at the cleaners. I imagine this will take a while to sort out, but does anyone have any advice on how I could submit a claim as well?

Posted by III
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 3, 2023 at 12:29 pm

III is a registered user.

How often do Dry Cleaners burn down? Very odd with my limited knowledge.
I am very disappointed for the 4 businesses and patrons. Thank you Palo Alto Fire Dept
for the quick response. When/if open again, I will visit and use all the stores ASAP.

Posted by Old PA Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 3, 2023 at 2:33 pm

Old PA Resident is a registered user.

So very sorry to hear this. We've known Chris for years and been lucky to be one of his customers. Chris -- please know some of us don't need a 'claim' for our clothes that were in the cleaners at the time of the fire. It's the least we can do for your wonderful service. We are thinking of you and hope you can rebuild.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2023 at 8:41 am

Bystander is a registered user.

By chance I noticed this had been updated again. It is very confusing when an article is updated with more information. How many times should we check to see if an important news item has fresh information?

Daily? For how long?

Posted by PST
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2023 at 1:03 pm

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So glad no one was hurt. I hope all businesses return as they were or better and thrive in the near future. I wouldn’t be surprised if fire started at the dry cleaners/laundromat. Anyone who looked in the door could see mounds of stuff all over the place, a real mess.

Posted by Optimist Pessimist Realist
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 7, 2023 at 2:45 pm

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AJ’s is ethical? Sounds like Rebecca doesn’t know about AJ’s tax fraud case.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2023 at 7:30 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

Ms. Eisenberg, how does the Secretary Of State's filing show that the people who have an LLC using the name "3155-3199 MIDDLEFIELD ROAD LLC" is the owner of the properties that burned down? I'm curious how you determined that. I once googled my mother's address and her name and address are also being used for an LLC that she may or may not know about. She's dead, BTW. And she never owned or operated a business at her house or anywhere else.

The County Clerk is the only one who knows who owns that property. And even though it's public information, it's not accessible to the public. Their website Web Link says this:

"Real estate records for Santa Clara County since 1850 are available after they have been recorded. These records will only be available for purchase in person or by mail. This affords greater privacy protections to all individuals whose information appears in the database, and furthers use of the index only for lawful and appropriate purposes."

Did you go to the clerk's office and pay the fees, or did you do it by mail, to discover the owners of the property that burned down? The article didn't identify the owner. Or did I miss it?

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2023 at 7:34 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

As for condos at that location ... driving on Middlefield through Palo Alto is like trying to squeeze a quarter into a dime slot. Scary. Housing at that location would be downright deadly. I wonder if Palo Alto wants to claim the "work from home" trophy where people just move in and never go out their door.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 7, 2023 at 7:50 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

That's why I've long coined the phrase "PIMBY" for Prisoner in My Back Yard.

Re driving on Middlefield being like trying to squeeze a quarter into a dime slot, you can thank our former Transportation "leaders" for much of the problem ince they put bollards and EVEERY Middlefield intersection which prevents drivers from bypassing turning traffic, thus backing up traffic =-- sometimes into the middle of Embarcadero and/or Oregon.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2023 at 10:37 pm

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@Online Name, just blame COVID. That's what everybody else is doing.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 8, 2023 at 8:04 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Since this was updated on Friday, there is no more news.

Except of course that the staff have been displaced and the customers are scrambling to find other places to take the place of these neighborhood favorites.

Bills was always busy at weekends and never empty weekdays. Philz was always busy with customers including local police and fire dept., so much so that crossing Middlefield/Loma Verde was always problematic particularly during morning commute time. Both parking lots were always hard to find a spot with cars backing up Middlefield and others idling in the center waiting for a spot to appear.

Nextdoor is full of questions about alternative businesses for regulars to use instead.

So where are people going? Are the Midtown and Charleston businesses doing better as a result? Is traffic worse or better at the Middlefield Loma Verde intersection? Are people driving to get their coffee instead of having a brisk walk to go to brunch or buy their morning Joe?

The consequences of this fire are only just beginning to hit home to the community.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Feb 9, 2023 at 11:54 am

MyFeelz is a registered user.

It's weird, Bystander, how an article floats just above the bilge pump, trapped by half truths and false accusations, until it gets hooked and yanked out and replaced by a different related article. The internet is forever. LOL.

I drove past the site yesterday , on my way to the bank, and the rubberneckers made the traffic even worse than it ever was when the businesses were operating. I don't think they could EVER turn it into condos that would increase traffic at all hours of the day. No bike lanes, and with so many students coming and going. A kid was weaving through traffic on an electric scooter. Just a recipe for disaster. Google Street View from January 2023 shows a construction crew. I hope wise decisions are made in the restoration of the commercial ventures there. Because condos above retail would take YEARS to complete. We already have more detours, cone zones and flaggers than direct roads these days.

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