To first-timers, Sweet Shop, a gingerbread-house-like building with brown shingles, looks a little out of place. What’s a store doing in the middle of an upscale residential neighborhood in Los Altos? It’s the only retail space around. But for more than 40 years, the location has held a sweet spot for the community.
During the 1960s and 1970s, 994 Los Altos Ave. was home to Foodland, a convenience store popular with local kids looking for a treat on the way home from school. But later, the business changed hands, changed names and lost its appeal, until it finally closed down.
It sat vacant for four years until neighbors Stacy and Peter Sullivan decided to buy it. At first, they considered fixing up the back for an office and leasing out the front building to a local business.
Stacy Sullivan, human resources director at Google, grew up nearby and bought candy and ice cream at Foodland as a kid. She stuck upon the idea of rekindling the feel-good store of her youth with a candy and frozen-yogurt shop. She wanted to provide local kids and families with the same experience she had growing up—while also feeding her frozen-yogurt addiction.
But the business is more than a Mayberry throwback. It’s based on the forward-thinking idea that to be embraced by the community, it has to serve the community. And that’s what makes Sweet Spot so, well, sweet.
After an extensive remodel and permitting process, the store opened in August 2009 and was reborn as Sweet Shop. The store is more than a place for kids to load up on gummy bears and sour worms. It also serves Verve coffee, a premium purveyor from Santa Cruz. There are paninis and soups. The shop features upscale treats for adults, like 479 Degree popcorn (try the black truffle and cheddar cheese) from San Francisco and Saratoga chocolates.
The business is 100 percent solar-powered, and many of the products and in-store packaging are sustainably produced, organic and biodegradable. It’s a shop that appeals to kids and adults.
But the real strength of the store is its community spirit. The Sullivans wanted to create a place that would be a gathering spot for the neighborhood. There are leash hooks and stainless-steel water bowls for dogs. Local high school students work behind the counter. There’s a patio with a fountain of full of water-squirting frogs that attracts children. There’s free WiFi. Best of all, the Sullivans donate all tips to benefit local schools. Once the business is profitable, they will donate after-tax profits to schools.
“I have a true love for food and a true love for the community,” says Stacy Sullivan. “We’re not trying to get rich off the shop. We’re mirroring the whole neighborhood and giving them what they want.”
Like his wife, Peter Sullivan loves the social aspect of the business. “It’s basically like an open party,” he says. “You never know who you’ll see. It’s like the Cheers bar without the alcohol.”
The lineup of candy is pretty great, too, and is available in bulk. Load up a biodegradable bag, weigh it, pay up and you’re off. There are also fresh pastries from Kelly’s in Santa Cruz and Icing on the Cake in Los Gatos.
The place is quiet until about 3pm, when the kids start filing in and loading up on candy and Dippin’ Dots, little ice cream balls.
Store manager Sandra Colunga says the juvenile patrons give generously to the tip jar: “Sometimes, when they read it, they give a little more because it goes straight to the schools.”
She loves the idea of making the community a key part of the business model and would like to see other businesses follow suit. “Then you’re succeeding not only as a business, but you’ve succeeded at doing something for the community.”