Palo Alto Business Owners Trying to Keep Chain Stores Out

There is a new push in Palo Alto to try and protect small businesses from what they say is the increasing threat of big chain stores.

The Peninsula is in the middle of considering updates its "Comprehensive Plan," an all-encompassing document that dictates what gets in the city.

The plan will also put in place what gets saved and in Palo Alto's case, the city is putting an emphasis on saving retail stores. The definition of what constitutes retail is open to debate, as Palo Alto Online noted.

But one thing "retail" is not is a chain store. There is a proposal afoot to restrict new chain stores on California Avenue in the Silicon Valley university town.

That seems popular with both the mayor as well as the newly-elected councilmembers voted in on Tuesday. Similar proposals are afoot in Malibu, where director Rob Reiner personally backed such an effort.

The Cobblery has called California Avenue home since 1940. Co-owner Jessica Roth is worried her grandfather’s legacy is nearing an end in Palo Alto.

“We’ve been through many rent increases,” Roth said. “It’s never been as crazy as it has been in the last 10 years.”

Things are changing on California Avenue. Soon the sidewalks will be wider, as part of a beautification project, which also means rent is expected to go up again.

“It’s going to attract Old Navys, Williams-Sonoma,” Roth said. “We don’t want that on our street.”

Roth has gathered hundreds of signatures. She is asking the City Council to limit the number of chain stores allowed in the neighborhood.

But city councilman Larry Klein won’t support a plan to restrict franchises from doing business. “We can’t protect an existing business from competition,” he said.

In fact, Klein says, big-name stores may even help The Cobblery.

“This place is going to be a lot more attractive, so it will have a lot more foot traffic, more customers,” Klein said.

Terry Shuchat has been selling cameras for 50 years. He says the flavor of California Avenue is disappearing with each mom-and-pop shop that goes under.

“Property owners can make more money off renting office space than they can off retail space,” Shuchat said. “If it gets too crazy, we won’t be able to stay here.”

The city council will have its next meeting Nov. 10 to discuss the issue.

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