Students weigh in on restaurants, prices and entertainment
It’s been named the most expensive college town in the U.S., used as the setting for James Franco’s collection of short stories (aptly named “Palo Alto”) and spawned IT giants like Hewlett-Packard. Stanford’s answer to New Haven and Cambridge, Palo Alto is the first step outside the bubble where people don’t speak in acronyms (“Wanna meet at TAP after PWR?”) and Cardinal Dollars do not equal money.
But pinning down the precise Stanford-Palo Alto relationship has always proven difficult. Some indicator came this fall, when Coldwell Banker Real Estate put the University’s suburban neighbor at the top of its “most expensive” list. And today, students and locals alike have plenty of opinions to offer.
Despite the city’s focus on its older population, student-filled Stanford remains a central element of Palo Alto’s identity. Stanford is the top employer in the city, and its members, from students to administration, constitute a large portion of the consumer market.
Erin Browner, store manager at the American Apparel store on University Avenue, explained how vital Stanford students are to the business.
“At least one third of the shoppers are students,” she said. “Stanford students are so much fun. We get students who are frequent shoppers and we love helping them put together outfits for parties and events.”
Alan Garcia, a manager at Celia’s, a Mexican restaurant and bar on El Camino Real, agreed.
“About 20 percent of our customers are from Stanford,” Garcia said. “Once a month, usually, a large group of Stanford students come in, and we have special hours for them like staying open later than usual. We love having Stanford students here.”
But many students aren’t feeling the love.
“I don’t feel like it’s a thriving college town,” said Rob Blount ’12. “It’s more for rich people, there are the Stanford graduates who live there, but you don’t have the kind of support you get at a state school.”
Palo Alto can certainly stretch the student budget. For some students, the high prices are a deal-breaker, but students like Jujjhaar Singh ’14, a Palo Alto native, know how to cope.
“It’s kind of cumbersome that it’s so expensive, but that’s not going to stop people from going out,” he said. “There are libraries, a bowling alley, an art museum, a theatre and an ice skating rink in Palo Alto, and it’s easy to take a train to San Francisco.”
And some students have learned to search for deals.
“It’s very possible to go enjoy an evening in Palo Alto without spending a lot of money,” Kaden Freeman Villegas ’14 said. “Coffee at a cafe or a chocolate at Monique’s or a cupcake at Sprinkles only cost a few dollars.”
While price might not stop people from venturing out for a night, it may discourage students from moving off campus.
“I know a lot of grad students who live off campus who have to live in nearby cities like Menlo Park, because it’s too expensive to live in Palo Alto,” Blount said.
Nevertheless, even stores that don’t rely heavily on the Stanford community for business try to tap into the potential market.
“We haven’t seen a huge Stanford crowd, but we’ve been trying to reach out to the Stanford community,” said Katie Green, a server at Howie’s Artisan Pizza, an eatery in Town & Country Village.
For students’ part, culture and character also play a role in the relationship.
For example, Blount noted the “separation between city and campus,” which stood in contrast to his experiences visiting the University of Texas in Austin, where the whole city supported the football team.
Last week’s weather is another attraction for some. “It doesn’t get really hot or really cold,” Singh said. “It’s the perfect weather to live in.”
And, of course, Palo Alto has a seat in the heart of Silicon Valley.
“There’s a trade-off between being in a typical city and having the resources of Silicon Valley,” Villegas said. “Being here gives us a lot of opportunities, and that makes up for other things.”