Park Street's Party Warehouse to close
Park Street's Party Warehouse to close
Party Warehouse co-owner Donna Candela reduces prices for quick sale. Photo by Michael Lano.
Party Warehouse, a longtime bookend of the Park Street business district, is closing on June 28 after 16 years as the Island’s party supply store. Owners Bob Spencer and Donna Candela – who spent her 70th birthday working at the store this week – are retiring, Candela said.
“When you get to be my age, you don’t ignore the birthdays, but you hopefully celebrate them the way children always have,” said Candela as she worked a packed store full of parents and kids. “Seriously, with this sale, it has at least allowed me to do what I love best. That’s getting back behind the counter and working on our floor with people.”
The store’s inventory included party supplies and costumes, life-size cutouts of famous actors, holiday merchandise and helium-filled balloons – all now reduced for quick sale.
“We’ve always had a treasure trove of everything and anything here!” Candela said.
Party Warehouse is one of two longtime Park Street businesses closing this month. Dog Bone Alley’s owner, Elizabeth Pinkerton, announced last week she’d be closing her Alameda store after a decade in business.
“All of us here at Dog Bone Alley are grateful for the relationships we have developed with you and your pets,” Pinkerton wrote in a June 10 e-mail to customers.
Candela and Spencer opened their first Party Warehouse store in 1985, in a warehouse on Oakland’s Jack London Square. Two San Francisco stores followed, and then the pair branched out into the suburbs; by 2000, they had 11 stores in the Bay Area.
“We had them everywhere – San Leandro, Hayward, El Cerrito and a big one in Daly City at Westlake Shopping Center near Joe’s Of Westlake (restaurant),” Candela said.
When Candela stopped teaching, she missed happy children around her and came up with the idea for a party store that she could craft as fun enough to attract children but sophisticated enough to draw their parents, too.
Spencer was behind the scenes, negotiating leases and deals, while Candela was in charge of details in the stores.
The Alameda store is the pair’s last, Candela said. She and Spencer tried to find a buyer with enough cash to purchase the store’s name and remaining merchandise, but that proved a tough proposition in the current economy and in the face of competition from corporate challengers like Spirit, which sets up shop on the Island temporarily to sell costumes during the Halloween season.
“It was painful gradually closing them all one by one over the last few years as I’ve tried to come to terms with retirement,” Candela said. “You can’t do this forever, I keep saying.”
A New Jersey native who attended college at Michigan State, Candela taught elementary school for 16 years in Oakland. Sometimes she sees her former students at the store, she said.
“Any time any of my students have come into this store they still call me Mrs. Candela, which is so sweet,” she said. “They’re all fathers, well into their 40s now!”
Since the store’s closure was announced, customers from Alameda and beyond have stopped in to say goodbye and to take a final tour through the aisles, Candela and one of her longtime employees said.
“Since Donna announced the closing, we’ve had even more people from well outside Alameda come to shop here because their kids and grandkids live here in Alameda,” said Matt Warnack, an Alameda native who has worked at the store since 2001.
Candela said many of the store’s employees started as teens and have worked at the store since it opened. Store manager Diana Yanez has worked for the pair for 17 years, and has overseen some of the closures.
“I’ll miss Party Warehouse terribly,” a tearful Yanez said. “Donna has been so great to work for, everyone is family here.”
After the store closes, Candela said she plans to visit family up in Oregon – including her mother, who is 94 – and to take some of the cruises she loves, including a month-long trip to Norway and beyond. She said she and Spencer will miss the children whose families shopped at her stores over the years, and that she’ll miss Alameda.
“You have to move on at some point and enjoy other parts of your life,” Candela said. “I’ll never forget all the good times at any of my stores or the very last one we have to close here in Alameda.”