This story was first printed in Friday’s Daily Post.
BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
Unable to survive profitably in the face of high rents and competition from Amazon, the Village Stationers is closing after 53 years of being run by the Hoctor family on the Mid-Peninsula.
The stores at 719 Santa Cruz Ave. in Menlo Park and 222 Main St. in Los Altos will stay open at least through July, owner Kerry Hoctor told the Post yesterday (April 18). Hoctor, 65, said that he and his wife want to retire to the Gold Country this summer, and their daughter Shannon is too busy with her children to run the store.
He tried to sell the business, but was unable to find a buyer willing to take on the challenge of competing with online retailers like Amazon while paying Peninsula commercial rents and wages.
Hoctor said he’s lost about 10% of his daily customers each year for the last three or four years, which he believes is a result of the rise in online shopping and online banking.
“It’s clear that there was something going on. I mean, retail is being impacted just via the foot traffic we’re not getting,” Hoctor said. “People used to come downtown to go to the bank. That was just 10 years ago; everybody came downtown to go to the bank.”
Then, people would wind up running other errands and walk into the stationery store, Hoctor said. But nowadays, people can take care of those tasks online, which is also where they’re more likely to buy office supplies.
“Obviously, the biggest elephant in the room is Amazon and the internet making it so convenient for people to sit in their living room and buy an ink cartridge for their computer and a ream of paper,” Hoctor said. “We need these customers to be able to stay in business and pay the rents and pay my employees.”
Higher rents, higher wages
Other factors figured into his decision to close — commercial rents are sky-high, as are housing costs, which means Hoctor has to pay his 12 employees a higher wage in order to retain them.
And Hoctor said he never dared sell products on the web, saying that he still wouldn’t be able to compete with Amazon on price, plus the day-to-day task of running an online business “absolutely scared me to death.”
“I’m old school,” Hoctor said. “I need that interface, interchange with my customers. No, online was not for me.”
Hoctor has been around the business since he was 12, when his parents, Lois and Al Hoctor, bought a stationery store in a 900-square-foot space at Town & Country Village Shopping Center in 1966. The Hoctors renamed the store Village Stationers after the shopping center, and the name stuck through
a move to 711 Santa Cruz Ave. in Menlo Park in 1976.
They took money out of the children’s savings accounts, which may have had $100 or $200 each, to buy the store and a house in Mountain View, “if you can imagine that,” Hoctor said.
Hoctor said it amazes him that his parents could support four children and one on the way in a 900-square-foot space.
Business flourished for awhile
Kerry Hoctor bought the business from them in 1981 and expanded the business to University Avenue in 1988, then moved that store to 310 S. California Avenue in 2002. The Palo Alto location closed in April 2016.
In 2012, Hoctor opened a store at 222 Main St. in Los Altos in 2012 with his daughter taking charge.
Over the years, Hoctor said he saw other stationery stores close, giving way to large chains. But in 2001, Village Stationers outlasted McWhorter’s, a 30-store chain with a 10,000-square-foot space down the street on Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park.
Hoctor attributed his success at that time to in-store printing and Beanie Babies, the collectible toys that had people lining up around the block for a year or two.
Village Stationers also has a strong rapport with its loyal customer base. Some of Hoctor’s customers have been going to the store for 40 years, he said.
Hoctor said he’s sad that he couldn’t keep his employees in jobs.
“We’re a family, that’s the one thing. The Village People, we call ourselves,” Hoctor said. “I’m sorry to say that we’re going to lose that, but they know how I feel and likewise… other than that, I had a great run.”
As someone starting a career, when I read stories like this I wonder what it will look like on my last day of employment.
Thanks to all the big tech companies whose employees make it so tough for any of us to go downtown because there’s no parking and the politicians whose developer-friendly policies contribute to the devastation of our down towns at the expense of residents.
Pay attention to all the stores and restaurants closing.
I feel bad for the loss of a small downtown business. But every time I shopped there, the employees were completely unhelpful and unfriendly. It’s time to stop blaming Amazon for all our problems and start looking at our outdated business practices.
It’s been decades since this business was an efficient use of space. I visited a few times, and its inventory was always spotty and prices high. And yes, the staff was ambivalent about customer service. As John King said in his comment, it’s time to stop blaming Amazon. I just hope that a great business that adds real value to the community opens in this key location.