With its revolutionary frappuccinos and delicious pastries, its syrupy aroma and its casual vibe, Starbucks was a Midtown staple. Yet after decades of business in Palo Alto, the Starbucks located on Middlefield Road and Colorado Avenue closed its doors for business in late January.
While the reason for the sudden closing has not been made public, there is speculation that rent hikes might have put the business under financial pressure, according to Starbucks employee and Paly senior Lydia Wilson.
“We were never told a concrete reason why the store closed, but as far as I know, our store closed because the rent increased by over $2,000 from 2017 to 2018, and it made our store much less profitable, and it didn’t make sense to keep the store open. The rent increase definitely did happen, I just don’t know if that’s the main reason the store closed.”
Other customers, such as resident Joan Goldner, have other theories.
“It was poorly located and the parking was very difficult. The parking was tight with few spaces and just very awkward getting in and out of the parking lot. The outdoor seating and the ambiance indoors was uninviting and did not encourage people to congregate, read the paper and get work done. For a business to thrive, they have to be in an area where there is a lot of foot traffic and this Starbucks doesn’t have an ideal location.”
While Starbucks is popular across the nation, smaller chains such as Philz or local restaurants like Palo Alto Cafe located near and in Midtown often attract larger crowds.
“Midtown has a long-standing mom-and-pop cafe (Palo Alto Cafe) that most locals congregate at,” resident Lisa Barkin said. “I figured if the hours were the same, then people would prefer the more local, friendlier environment over a big-box coffee shop like Starbucks.”
However, not everyone was unphased by the closing. Resident Vincent Sullivan started a petition to “Keep Midtown Starbucks Open” and successfully spread the hashtag #savemidtownstarbucks.
This petition got 150 signatures and opened up the conversation about it. Other residents, such as Heidi Schwenk, parent of two Paly graduates, expressed their concerns about its closing on Nextdoor.
“Greed is the culprit for rents rising and businesses going out of business or relocating. Noxcuses was next door to Starbucks and had to go out of business in December because of the newest owners significantly raising their rent. It is disheartening to see a community location losing primary business.”
While it might not have been the busiest store at Midtown shopping center, there was still a strong sense of community among the customers according to Wilson, who worked there for one and a half years.
“Not only did us employees get to know the customers pretty well, but the other customers got to know each other,” Wilson said. “We had one regular customer who would come spend hours in our store almost everyday and just read the newspaper. Many of our other customers would come in and see him and want to talk to him. They clearly didn’t know him, but they all got to know each other and connect over coffee.”
Employees also got opportunities to connect with their customers.
“We had a lot of regular customers that would come in at least once a day, some even twice a day,” Wilson said. “I got to know them really well throughout the time that I was working there, and I definitely miss seeing them now that the store is closed.