Businesses are boarding up their storefronts on University Avenue

The West Elm furniture store at 180 University Ave. in Palo Alto. Post photo by Sara Tabin.

Daily Post Staff Writer

All the windows and doors of the West Elm furniture store in downtown Palo Alto are boarded up with plywood, a sign of the economic toll the COVID-19 outbreak has had on the community.

A half dozen businesses nearby have paper or curtains covering their windows. Others, including Starbucks and Paris Baguette, have pulled down metal grating to protect their property.

Coupled with few people on the streets and numerous empty parking spaces, the overall effect gives Palo Alto the feeling of an abandoned town.

A closed store at 318 University Ave. Post photo.

Chop Keenan, a downtown landlord, said West Elm is probably trying to protect their inventory. He said some businesses may have covered their windows to prevent thieves from seeing their merchandise while others might be permanently closed.

Local businesses have struggled since COVID-19 began spreading through the community last month.

The virus has claimed 30 lives in Santa Clara County. There are 890 reported cases but the real number is likely higher because of a lack of testing. The county won’t say how many people are hospitalized.

Everyone in the Bay Area is supposed to stay home under a state order that lasts until May 3. The people allows people to leave their homes for “essential business” like buying food or seeing a doctor. Some downtown restaurants are open for take-out, but all of the retail businesses have shut their doors.

Keenan said retail was having problems in Palo Alto before COVID-19. He blamed a lack of downtown parking and a high minimum wage for making things harder for business owners.

A former pharmacy at 328 University Ave. in Palo Alto. Post photo.

Owners of downtown eateries, including Coupa Cafe, told the Post last year that the housing shortage was making it hard to find employees.

Keenan said he is allowing many small businesses that he rents to including restaurants and hairdressers a delay in turning in April’s rent because of the current economic situation. Keenan said he will decide when the money is due based on individual situations after things calm down. He said he wants to see the businesses survive.

Mayor Adrian Fine tweeted yesterday about the boarded-up West Elm.

“This boarded-up business is at the main intersection downtown @cityofpaloalto,” wrote Fine. “How things change so quickly.”

A Twitter user named Sean Biederman said some stores board up to prevent looting even if they are coming back.


  1. The pharmacy & David’s tea have been closed for years and months respectively. This has nothing to do with the current global pandemic. You should do a bit more research.

    • I had the same reaction when I first walked past the boarded-up windows several weeks ago.

      West Elm: Boarding up windows was not the only solution to address potential security concerns. It demonstrates a complete disregard for the community. It was a totally over-the-top response and unnecessary.

      I’ll never shop at West Elm.

  2. Downtown Palo Alto is desolate, lame and boring even before Covid-19. Don’t blame that. Blame the high cost, lack of diversity and super pretentious crowd in Palo Alto …

    • SERIOUSLY…I have two siblings who live there and I absolutely hate going there. My African American partner feels incredibly uncomfortable and we are stared at the whole time because of the lack of diversity. The rich and out of touch White and Asian folks of Palo Alto live in a bubble with very little understanding of the real world. And they want to keep it that way. Look at their anger over affordable housing. Their NIMBYism is so gross. God forbid their traffic gets worse and they have to wait longer in their Teslas to get to their jobs that pay insane figures for work that doesn’t contribute positively to our communities. (yes some do good work and positively contribute to society, but many are just finding ways to make $ automating our jobs or hoarding venture capital $ for stupid endeavors & apps that make our kids dumber) Palo Altans by and large are fine making their restaurant servers, teachers, and maids live two hours away and commute if you look at voting responses to affordable housing measures. “Voters overturned in a referendum the last project to rely on that zoning designation — a 60-apartment building for low-income seniors and 12 single-family homes on Maybell Avenue…Palo Alto is almost certain to fail to meet its regional allocations for low-income housing, which means that the city will be subject to Senate Bill 35.” They literally don’t want low income seniors in their neighborhood. Sorry your West Elm looks “ghetto” Dan. You’ve got bigger problems.

  3. It’s rather disingenuous for mega-landlord Chop Keenan to blame limited parking and high wages for the decline of retail stores in downtown Palo Alto. Astronomical rents charged by him and other landlords who have owned their buildings for decades are what have driven out countless businesses. I’ve lived in this town for 32 years and for the past 10+ years rarely shop in Palo Alto. All the wonderful small shops like Shady Lane, Bryn Walker, PA Toy & Sport, Congdon & Crone etc were driven to close their doors or move because of high rents.

    • So sad what has happened to downtown Palo Alto. I used to live there 35 years ago…what a quaint, neighborhood friendly downtown it USED TO BE. I never go down there now unless for some forced reason. It’s dirty, crowded with not even mediocre restaurants, many of the people walking the streets are rude and there is no social interaction whatsoever because of the multi-cultural distancing amongst everyone. I use downtown Los Altos now for all my neighborhood needs…just cleaner, quieter, more friendly restaurants…like Palo Alto used to be. Very sad.

  4. Agree, the three landlords (ventana/Roxy Rapp, thoit brothers, Keenan) that split up the real estate in downtown has such low basis they can keep a location empty for years waiting for a higher paying tenant.

  5. Dozens of restaurants and retail businesses across San Francisco are boarding up their storefronts with plywood, lending the normally lively retail corridors a feeling of neighborhoods about to be slammed by a hurricane, rather than one under siege by a pandemic.

  6. Dozens of restaurants and retail businesses across San Francisco are boarding up their storefronts with plywood, lending the normally lively retail corridors a feeling of neighborhoods about to be slammed by a hurricane, rather than one under siege by a pandemic.

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