By: Aidan Peng
On the busy street of California Avenue in Palo Alto, CA, the coffee and tea shop Backyard Brew can be found by walking through a narrow artistic alley. This shop has been on California Avenue for five years, providing services with a smile to the community. California Avenue is filled with large and small businesses and is often regarded as Palo Alto’s second downtown.
However, when the pandemic hit, the owner of Backyard Brew, Ryan Khalil, says that he witnessed many businesses on California Avenue closing down, and that “it was the initial fear factor that caused many businesses to close.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, the street closed off access to vehicles from Birch Street to El Camino to accommodate outdoor dining and retail, becoming a pedestrian-only zone. Some business owners say that the traffic cut-off has boosted the number of pedestrians and has attracted more customers, while others say that many smaller businesses simply get less noticed because of this policy.
Mr. Khalil, the owner of Backyard Brew, shared that “it’s actually been lovely to have a walkable area. It almost reminds me of Europe.”
Carter Bader, a long-time street-goer of California Avenue, says that “for restaurants, [the decision] made it better because it gave them more seating during COVID times.”
“I’ve been going to California Avenue because of the farmer’s market and Palo Alto Soul, a Mexican restaurant.”
One of the main events on California Avenue is the weekly California Avenue Farmers’ Market, which is when the street becomes filled with pedestrians and tents. Niklas Brants is another frequent street-goer, saying that “ever since I was a little kid, I went to California Avenue to go to the farmers market with my parents”
A few weeks ago, the Palo Alto City Council made the decision to keep California Avenue a pedestrian-only zone until December 2023. The eventual goal is to renovate the street into something more dynamic. Palo Alto’s mayor said that the street currently is disorganized, having a “collection of scattered tents with no unifying theme”
Mr. Khalil agrees, explaining that “if this was actually put in permanently, instead of having all these funky little tents, I think it would be more amazing”
Carter believes that the decision was correct, “I think, for now, it is the right decision because it allows more seating for the restaurants. But for [some of the other] shops, it might be worse, because it blocks off parking to the shops”
He hopes that California Avenue “will stay closed off to cars. Hopefully, the tents will become permanent, because I think it will look better”.
“Yeah, I think it's the right decision to close off the street to traffic because then local restaurants and services will get more customers”.
With this decision from the city being a significant moment in the street’s history, the businesses on the street hoping that the city’s decision will benefit them and allow them to continue to bring services to the community with a smile.