The idea for the design area began in the spring of 2021 from Alex Beltramo of Teresa’s Antiques, a business his mother started over 40 years ago. Beltramo said Menlo Park has been a design center for much longer than the formal collaboration began. When his family’s company moved to Menlo Park from San Francisco, they advertised themselves not only as a vintage store but as part of a larger group of design stores that customers could enjoy—although each store operated independently.
The creation of the Menlo Park Design District, registered as a non-profit organization with a political affiliation, solidified and legalized the pre-existing community among shop owners.
“We really feel like we’re part of a community, which makes it seem all the more important,” Beltramo said. “And that’s good for business, because now we’re going to draw a larger scale, because it makes sense to people.”
The Menlo Park Design District aims to be an alternative to San Francisco, keeping residents from not having to travel far to complete interior design projects. Members also offer free design events on the first Thursday of every month, delivered by experts at the various stores in the Design District. Chapter 1 is set for August 4th at Art Ventures. The next lesson will be a countertop lesson at Rocco & Taupe on September 1.
Flegel’s Brian Flegel said he believes the design history of Menlo Park has always been about community and collaboration. Flegel’s, which opened in 1954, says it’s the first furniture store in Menlo Park, featuring products from a variety of Menlo Park stores.
“We’ve always had…a really good relationship with everyone, because there’s always been an ecosystem, right?” Flegel said. “And everyone has always had to be Menlo Park, at least downtown, a destination if you’re thinking of doing something for your home.”
Flegel also believes that the collaboration will be beneficial for businesses in the long run, as it brings together knowledge and resources from a variety of stores with different areas of expertise to create a place where everyone can find what they need.
“This is just the beginning,” Flegel said. “But I think there’s a good balance between no one really trying to do the exact same thing as someone else. Everyone has their elements.”
Anna Williamson, of Anna Williamson Architects, said she shares the feeling that the design district is about more than just an economy, but united together as a community.
“(I hope it) will revitalize downtown and bring in only foot traffic and people interested in art, design, lifestyle and just inspiring environments,” Williamson said. “I also hope we can create a sense of community among the merchants. You see the storefront but you don’t know the owners, and that really made us bring everyone together to do something, to create something together for Menlo Park.”
One of the surprising factors in getting credit for the creation of the nonprofit is the pandemic. Elisa Spurlin of the Peabody Gallery believes COVID-19 can be credited with bringing merchants together, even after some of them worked on the same street for more than 20 years and never met face to face.
“A lot of things have changed during the pandemic, but one of the things that happened is you saw a lot of unique collaborations happening across all kinds of industries,” Spurlin said, and that gave us an opportunity, because a lot of us, were shut down for a while. So in addition to trying to survive, it also gave us a chance to sit back and go, “What are we doing differently?”
Over time, more dealers internalized the idea of collaborating and forming the nonprofit Design District, a vision of a tight-knit business community that Beltramo said was supported by the late Bob Shroom, another store owner. Carolyn Evers of Harvest Furniture confirmed that she felt that everyone’s voice was heard in the meetings that led to the area’s creation.
More details about the Menlo Park Design District and its events can be found on their website.