'Village People' prepare to close up shop

Longtime stationery business' last day is Aug. 17

Kerry Hoctor, owner of Village Stationers, poses in his Menlo Park store on Aug. 1. The business will close its doors on Aug. 17. Photo by Sadie Stinson/The Almanac.

By Elisabeth Westermann/Special to The Almanac

Village Stationers, a family-owned stationery store with locations in Menlo Park and Los Altos, will be closing its doors on Aug. 17 after 53 years in business. The owner, Kerry Hoctor, is retiring and was unable to find a buyer to take over the business.

"The finances weren't there to support a sale, so we decided to call it a day," he said.

The closure of the store at comes at a time when small retail businesses across the country are finding it increasingly difficult to compete with lower prices and convenience offered by large online vendors such as Amazon. For small business owners in Menlo Park, this challenge is exacerbated by the increasing cost of living and high rents.

"The cost of doing business in the Bay Area has become unbearable ... When you add that on to the competition we get from the internet and Amazon, it's a death sentence," Hoctor said.

Hoctor's parents started the store in 1966 at Town and Country Village in Palo Alto, and moved it to Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park in 1976. In 1996, the Menlo Park shop relocated to its current location at 719 Santa Cruz Ave. The family also ran a location on University Avenue in Palo Alto starting in 1988, before moving it to California Avenue in 2002. It closed in 2016.

In addition, in 2012, Hoctor opened a location at 222 Main St. in Los Altos. His daughter, Shannon Klein, who runs the Los Altos store, plans to go into teaching.

Hoctor grew up working in the store with his parents and has fond memories of the experience. "I got to spend a lot of time with my dad. ... We worked together so we had a really nice bond," he said.

When his parents gave him the chance to take over the business in 1981 so that they could retire, he said that choice was a no-brainer because it would give him the chance to make a career out of something he enjoyed.

Since taking over the business, Hoctor has raised a family, and his kids grew up working in the store as well. He treasures "being able to have that special connection" with his children that came from working together, and he was recently able to introduce another generation to the family business by bringing his young granddaughter to the store.

"Here she is at 4 years old, and she got to see grandpa's store," he said. "So there were four generations involved in the store, which was kind of cool. Unfortunately, we can't keep that up, but it thrilled me nonetheless that my little granddaughter was running around and helping me price things."

The business also created close relationships among the other employees, who call themselves the "Village People."

"I just know I will miss it a lot. I will miss the work. I will miss the team ... It's like a family here," said Annegret Wiedmar, who has worked in the Menlo Park store for 18 years.

Kathy Barrons, who has also worked at Village Stationers for 18 years, said she will particularly miss working with Hoctor. "He's just been an absolute pleasure to work for," she said. "I'm going to be missing a great boss and a good friend."

The small scale of the business and long-term employees have led the staff to forge especially strong bonds with customers, Hoctor said. "When my customers come in, they're very familiar with the staff," he said. "Our strength was interaction with our customers... (For example,) we had a pen bar and people would come in and sample all the pens and I let the kids come in and write notes, and you just can't replace that."

Barrons has fond memories of retired Village Stationers employee Doris Fredrick playing hide-and-seek in the aisles with the child of a regular customer.

"It was so fun to see them running around ... It's a cute, cute memory," she said.

The closing of Village Stationers will not only be a loss to the Peninsula, but to the Bay Area at large: According to Hoctor, Village Stationers is the last true stationer, a store that sells office supplies, gifts and stationery, left between San Francisco and San Jose. As stationers have closed around the Peninsula, Hoctor has noticed his Menlo Park location drawing customers from Burlingame, San Mateo and San Jose.

Hoctor is proud that he has been able to keep the business going until his retirement, but says he owes his success to his customers, some of whom have been coming into the store since it opened in Menlo Park 43 years ago.

"We've had such a great customer base of amazing people over the years that's kept us in business," he said.

For Hoctor, the stores' closing has been bittersweet. He said he has enjoyed being able to interact with his customers as they come in to bid him, his employees and the store farewell.

"It's rewarding because people really want me to stay," he said. "I'm grateful to have this time since we announced we're closing to thank all my customers. I'm saying 'Thank you' and they're saying 'Thank you.' They're saying 'I'm going to miss you,' I'm saying 'We're going to miss you.' It's awesome."

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3 people like this
Posted by Max Hauser
a resident of another community
on Aug 8, 2019 at 12:38 pm

Max Hauser is a registered user.

The closure is symbolic, change-of-era. Trends that started long before e-commerce did. Survival of Village Stationers even THIS long is remarkable, unusual.

Within memory of most people living, every local business district in the Bay Area had its neighborhood stationery store -- sometimes two or three (if many offices or schools were nearby). One was here in MV on Castro Street. Most gave way in the '90s to stationery chains (larger but less accommodating -- McWhorters, around here), and those in turn to the big-box "Office" chains.

Neighborhood stationers sold business envelopes in six or eight incremental sizes (they could enclose each other in turn) -- now you're expected to use one standard size that the big-box planners deem worth carrying. Manila envelopes in even more sizes and shapes. Lots of custom orders for rubber stamps or printed stationery. Rolls of tickets for school fairs and fund-raising raffles. Even (in the old days) ditto masters [remember those?], in many colors, even sold individually. Helpful staff who could explain standard paper and envelope sizes, or what "wove" and "bond" paper meant (try asking at "Office XXX" sometime!)

These shops went the way of the neighborhood pharmacies with soda fountains (once ubiquitous), and the little appliance-repair shops (still around but relegated to lower-rent strip malls).

1 person likes this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Aug 8, 2019 at 12:45 pm

Very sorry to hear, but like Max said above, I'm shocked that they've been around this long considering they're probably in the two highest retail rent places on the Peninsula (MP and Los Altos). If University Art Center can't make it in downtown Palo Alto, it's crazy to think any mom n' pop place will make it in a high-rent area (see Colin and Occasions, Etc. in Menlo Park as another example).

1 person likes this
Posted by diesel
a resident of another community
on Aug 8, 2019 at 1:43 pm

diesel is a registered user.

I shall miss going in after the Farmers Market to get a greeting card. They had very good card selection. And now where do we go if we want just one of something? The chains sell envelopes, tape, labels etc. in packages which often are way more than needed for home use.

11 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Aug 8, 2019 at 2:47 pm

pearl is a registered user.

Kerry, thanks to you and your family for your many years of service to the community. You and your great store will be forever missed. Hope you enjoy many happy years of well-earned retirement!

3 people like this
Posted by Lynne
a resident of another community
on Aug 8, 2019 at 2:52 pm

Many years ago I was active with the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce. Many fond memories of Kerry’s support of the organization and his time given to insure a healthy environment of the local business community. His store was always a pleasure to pop into with friendly, knowledgeable staff. A wonderful reflection of their boss and way to take care of customers.
Retirement well deserved!

3 people like this
Posted by Linda
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Aug 8, 2019 at 8:17 pm

So sorry to see you go, but I get it. For 30 years, our small business relied on you for single sheets of W-2's and 1099's but now we have retired as well. Your card and gift assortment has been amazing too. Wishing you well in your retirement.

5 people like this
Posted by Ball of Whacks Guy
a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 9, 2019 at 3:18 pm

Kerry: it was a great pleasure doing business all these years. You were a great customer. You have/had a great staff too — especially Kathy and the Swiss Miss. it was always a pleasure coming into the store.

Best wishes to you!

2 people like this
Posted by Stu Soffer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 11, 2019 at 12:54 pm

Village Stationers will be missed. Personal service form people you know. Hand delivered boxes of paper.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Mom
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 14, 2019 at 5:49 pm

Thank you Kerry for all of your generosity over the years, donating supplies to our local schools, like Hillview for Mini-Courses and also to causes like the Hurricane Katrina Drive, to just name a few. We will also miss the unique gifts and items your store has offered Menlo Park residents for so many years. Certainly the end of an era, and wishing you all the best in your retirement. Please know that you have positively impacted many people here...especially families and students!

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