If you’ve walked past 18th and Mission streets, no doubt you’ve spotted it — that empty building, boarded up, often tagged up, a 99¢ Discount Outlet sign the only evidence of what used to be.
Within the next several months, however, the space will shed its status as urban blight and come alive again as a grocery store.
Ricardo Hernandez, who owns a local grocery chain called El Chico Produce, had been hoping to expand his business. So when the 99-cent store closed — because of high rent, according to neighboring businesses — and the vacant building went on the market in May 2010, he seized the opportunity and bought it two months later.
“I’ve been wanting to open up a new store for a while and this is a spot with a lot of people. A good place to do business,” said Hernandez of the building, which is just across the street from Duc Loi Supermarket.
Hernandez currently owns four El Chico Produce locations in San Francisco, including one here in the Mission on 24th Street near Alabama. All the stores sell fresh produce, meats and Latin American groceries.
As for the timeline of the new project, “I’ve been told by the contractors that we’ll be done in six months, but I’m not sure,” said Hernandez. “They usually take a lot longer than they promise.”
The Planning Department required that Hernandez file a building permit, not a project proposal, because the space was already zoned for retail.
Because the 7,000-square-foot space has been vacant for years, his to-do list from now until opening day is quite long. The two floors need to be fully renovated. The interior walls, which are blanketed in graffiti, also need work. Outside, more graffiti often covers the windows and walls, and the old 99-cent store sign still hangs.
“It’s ugly. If we make it nice it will improve the neighborhood a lot,” said Hernandez.
Nearby business owners agreed: a building left empty for months isn’t good for business.
But opening a produce store across the street from a local supermarket could be seen as a risky move. Hernandez doesn’t see it that way.
“I think that the competition will be good and there’s enough people around that we will do fine,” he said.
Amanda Ngo, the owner of Duc Loi Supermarket, is glad someone will be taking over the vacant building.
“I’m not at all worried about the new place taking my business. I’m happy they’re moving in,” she said. “It’ll bring more people to the area and increase the value of my building. They’ll do their business and I’ll do my business.”
That remains to be seen.
“I’m not going to be rushing over to buy produce anytime soon. There’s so many markets already,” said Katy Lawson, the owner of the nearby ABC Locksmith Company. “But it’ll be much better than what’s there now.”