Fresh & Easy May Not Be Coming to the Mission

Plans for a new Fresh & Easy on South Van Ness Avenue where a shuttered Delano's currently are being put on hold. Mission Local file photo.

Plans for a new Fresh & Easy on South Van Ness Avenue where a shuttered Delano's currently are being put on hold. Mission Local file photo.

A new Fresh & Easy will not be coming to the Mission — at least not anytime soon.

Plans for a new Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market on South Van Ness Avenue between 23rd and 24th streets are being put on hold while the U.K. owner of the money-losing grocery chain conducts a strategic review. Construction of a South Van Ness location could be tabled entirely depending on the outcome of the review.

In March, the San Francisco Planning Commission approved Fresh & Easy’s application to build a new store on South Van Ness Avenue where an empty building that used to house a Delano’s IGA supermarket is currently a magnet for trash.

But on Dec. 5, Tesco PLC, Fresh & Easy’s parent company, announced that it would conduct a strategic review of the chain. The multinational grocery and general merchandise retailer, headquartered in Cheshunt, U.K., said it is considering all options, including selling Fresh & Easy to another company or closing it entirely.

“Whilst the business has many positives, its journey to scale and acceptable returns will take too long relative to other opportunities,” said Philip Clarke, Tesco’s chief executive officer, in a statement. “I have therefore decided to conduct a strategic review of Fresh & Easy, with all options under consideration.”

The timeframe for the review has not been determined, said company spokesman Brendan Wonnacott. An update on its status is set for April 2013.

Fresh & Easy has been in San Francisco since 2007, when it opened a site in the Bayview. Currently there are 19 Fresh & Easy stores in the Bay Area.

In the past, Fresh & Easy has faced resistance from the Mission community because its employees are not unionized, unlike those at Foods Co. and Safeway, the Mission’s two other grocery chains. It has also gotten flack for its self-checkout lanes, which some have called “anti-labor” and which the Planning Commission worried could make it easier for minors to buy alcohol.

But neighbors seemed most concerned about the South Van Ness property remaining a vacant eyesore.

Vanessa Castelinos, who lives next door to the property, said homeless people often hop the fence to go into the empty parking lot. Though she doesn’t feel that the vacant storefront makes the neighborhood less safe, she said having a market there would give the Mission a better look.

“It looks really ugly,” Castelinos said as she sat on her stoop and looked over at the property. “A place to shop or something would make the neighborhood nicer.”

On Wednesday, Joe Pham walked his dog in the former Delano’s parking lot, which is now fenced off and covered with trash.

“I think a lot of people throw more trash out here because it’s a vacant lot,” said Pham, who lives across the street on Shotwell. “I’d like a store there because I am a cook and it would be convenient to get certain groceries there, instead of having to travel to Safeway or Foods Co.”

Despite the decision to put new developments on hold, Fresh & Easy is still proceeding through the city’s permitting process.

“There have not been any changes communicated to the Planning Department in relation to Tesco’s latest actions,” said Brittany Bendix, the city planner assigned to the project.

Abigail Sawyer, who lives across the street from the shuttered Delano’s, said that if Tesco is just planning to put the project on hold, the Planning Department should pull Fresh & Easy’s permit approval and open up the property to another grocery chain, or allow neighbors to turn the lot into a community garden.

“Having this vacant lot in front of my house for two years has become really irritating,” Sawyer said. “It’s just garbage.”

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28 Comments

  1. suki

    Rainbow grocery should open a store here.

  2. Schlub

    Meanwhile, down on Harrison between 22nd and 23rd construction has begun on the upcoming Mission Local Grocery, which is going to be a much better addition to the neighborhood than Fresh and Easy. I sure wish a Trader Joes would go into this S. Van Ness location.

  3. marco

    A Trader Joe’s there would be great!

    On another note — this is a telling quote:

    “Despite the decision to put new developments on hold, Fresh & Easy is still proceeding through the city’s permitting process.”

    According to this article, the project was approved back in MARCH 2012. That’s about 9 months ago and the company is still making it’s way through the permitting process??

    I’ve had a similar experience with SF Planning and Building Departments and have seen countless projects waste time and money wading through a seemingly endless swamp of Planning and Building Department meetings, notifications, fees, paperwork, fees, more fees, etc.

    They don’t seem to understand that time is also money. Someone is sitting there paying rent on a property while the Planning and Building Departments take their sweet time, throw up fees and roadblocks, and generally make it far more expensive to start a business here in San Francisco.

    These costs are of course ultimately passed on to the consumers in the way of higher prices, if the business can actually make it after such expenses.

  4. Neighbor

    I agree with all of the comments. The city’s permitting process is obviously not working in this context, and Rainbow or Trader Joe’s would be a much better option (certainly better than an empty lot). This abandoned eyesore has attracted graffiti, loitering, etc. It is poorly lit and dangerous. We desperately need a full-service grocery. I look forward to Local Mission Market, but the neighborhood needs something that will appeal to the masses as well. Safeway is nearby, as is Whole Foods, and I don’t think Rainbow will make the move (I hope they consider it). Our best bet is to encourage Trader Joe’s to come to the Mission! They recently moved into Nob Hill right where the last Cala Foods operated for decades. The Cala on S. Van Ness is no more, but TJs has a great opportunity here. Please, make your voice heard and fill out this request form:

    http://www.traderjoes.com/about/location-requests-form.asp

    Thank you.

  5. tree

    Trader Joe…Where does there cheap food come from? http://ecosalon.com/behind-the-label-trader-joes-secretive-sourcing-practices/

    http://www.chow.com/food-news/70450/more-trader-joe-s-exposed/

    Do we want to more Walmart type stores in the city? Huge traffic in and out of this location?
    The Local Mission Market will be trendy and costly, but local and higher quality.

    I don’t know what realistically what kind of store would be ideal for this location, but in the meantime how about a garden on the spot?

    • Old Mission Neighbor

      Stop it. Just stop.

    • MissionChica

      Given that it’s taken over 2 years of SF planning to maybe approve a supermarket to take over the location of a former supermarket (seriously this makes my head hurt), I’m guessing the process to transform a supermarket to a garden will take approximately 348 years.

      But to answer your question, yes, I do want traffic in and out of this location because the abandoned building is a blight on the neighborhood.

    • Blurpy

      I don’t think that area needs anything “trendy and costly.” I think it needs something more mid-range that will get support from a wider variety of economic groups. Simply put: Trader Joe’s is cheaper, and the quality is pretty decent for the price.

    • Dave

      There is already an unsafe level of traffic as nothing has bern done to slow SVN like other streets in the area. This street is viewed as expendable or something would have been done about the constant MUNI buses flying by and cars doing likewise.

      I would love for Trader Joes and all of the cars it would bring to ring the block and create a perpetual traffic jam.

  6. Bob

    Trader Joe!!

  7. Pleather Tuscadero

    The over $100K foodies can shop at the new “Locals” Market or BiRite.

    The braindead can continue 2x-3x overpaying at Safeway for the pleasure of having 26 peanut butter options.

    For the rest of us, Trader Joe’s is the obvious choice. Yeah, it’s an evil corporation in hippy clothing, but still the best option.

    I suspect TJ’s isn’t grabbing this spot because they know it will mainly cannibalize traffic from their 9th street store.

    Viva two buck chuck, the intoxicant of the masses!

  8. emilia

    I also vote for Trader Joe’s and went to their website to request the location. I think it’s a nice middle-ground between the high-end grocers and Foods Co. Their prices are reasonable and they offer both cheap and healthy options, so there’s a little something for everyone. I also like that they hire lots of employees (unlike Fresh & Easy), and treat their empoloyees fairly.

    I agree that the vacant parking lot is a total waste of valuable space and the source of ongoing problems while the building sits idle. Would a temporary farmers’ market there on weekends be a good option? I don’t know what is involved in that initial process, but it might bring some well-needed foot traffic and provide some new grocery options to the neighborhood in the meantime.

    • Eileen

      Fresh & Easy is great! Affordable and employees are always happy and helpful plus they are always available at the self check out to assist, help bag & monitor. Produce, dairy, etc. is from California. Prices and coupons are great. There are more employees on duty at any one time then the Safeway in my neighborhood…which now has self-checkout. Hey Trader Joes, why are you importing garlic when we are 2 hours from Gilroy

  9. Ramon

    I cannot believe all of you who are saying that a Trader Joe’s or a Rainbow Grocery would be a good fit for this neighborhood. Have any of you studied the demographics of The Inner Mission? Most of this neighborhood is not similar to Valencia Street. Many people in The Inner Mission cannot afford anything other than an inexpensive grocery store. Currently, the only shopping options are located on the far north border of this district and are accessible to many only via the 12-Folsom and 27-Bryant busses. Please be realistic and not idealistic in your expectations of the type of market that should locate here.

  10. sfmissionman

    When I moved nearby in 1997, this location was a Cala which was open 24hrs. a day. It was inexpensive, especially the meat, the produce was decent, and the rest was pretty OK. I.e., it was a down-scale, full service market, and I went all the time. I never went to Safeway or Costco. I could walk there and it was my main supplier, augmented by other local outlets like Sun Fat, Mission Mkt., or Lucca’s. But it closed and was sold. And the specialty stores didn’t carry the basics. And the Latino markets are highly ethnically focused and, frankly, not very welcoming to Anglos. (The line to checkout at Casa Maria is long, even with virtually no one in the store. I’d love to sing its praises, but the truth is that unless you are cooking something Mexican, it doesn’t have what you need. And you have to have time to waste.)

    Since Delano’s closed, I hardly shop for food – a major part of any household’s budget – in SF. Mostly I drive to San Mateo County to the 99 Ranch and the Costco. Sure, I hit all the options occasionally, Joe’s, Whole, Molly’s, Rainbow, even Safeway. But mostly I now shop outside this city for food, driving miles, when 15 years ago I could get most – not all – of the basic stuff on foot.

    Why did a down-scale, full service market in a dense, down-scale neighborhood fail? After having survived for decades? Why did the subsequent IGA fail? Why is F&E failing to even open? Why does a great retail space, with good parking, continue to be empty and a nuisance?

    Why did all of this occur?

    • Eddie

      In our over twenty years living in the Mission, neither my wife nor I have ever felt uncomfortable or unwelcome in a Latino market and we are Anglos/Gringos.

      In fact, after the farmers markets, those markets are our preferred spots for buying produce.

    • e001

      Cala was awful. They had a terrible selection and their prices on staples like butter, cheese, bread, wine (which I consider a staple) were almost as high as Whole Foods – without the quality. I never would have shopped there if it wasn’t spitting distance to my house. I was always amazed that there were cars in the parking lot, because if I had a car, I’d shop somewhere else.

  11. N. Santiago

    How about not putting yet another grocery… sounds like people have a lot of options (see comments above) that are not too far. How about a warm safe place to sleep for the people who climb the fence and sleep on the ground. Maybe offer community support groups to help the so many victims of crime in our neighborhood (see Trouble) or, a community center to help criminals turn their lives around.

  12. neighborhooded

    Mission Local Grocery is going to sell a peck of precious pickled peppers for $15 to all the new gentrifiers in the hood. It’ll be the grocery store version of the Emperor’s New Clothes and all the overly privileged yups will be lining up around the corner for a chance to stand in line and pay outrageous prices for a handpicked blueberry blessed by New Yorker and new neighborhood savior Yaron Milgrom. We need something more affordable and much less pretentious and fast.

  13. Eddie

    I agree this neighborhood needs an affordable grocery store that meets the needs of Mission residents from every income level. Preferably, that store will be employee owned or unionized.

    My impression of the old CALA was that it was overpriced, and that its management took advantage of a captive consumer base without cars who couldn’t easily shop at more affordable supermarkets. That said, I always found the workers there friendly and helpful.

    I doubt that I will ever shop at a new boutique market that will be out of my price range. I suspect that this new Mission Local Grocery will be overpriced like most of the new businesses that are both the result of and contribute to gentrification. My wife and I shop at a combination of farmers markets, Rainbow, Trader Joes, and local Latino groceries.

    I agree with the spirit of the humorous comment by neighborhooded, though I think that the fact that Yaron Milgrom is from New York is inconsequential.

  14. Treat streeter

    I think any full service supermarket that is open long hours will do well in that space. As one of the commenters noted, Cala survived there for years as a 24 hour store *before* the neighborhood had all these new developments. For me the key is being open late at night. The mission has a lot of shift workers, and people who commute are more likely to shop at a store that is open late than at one of the niche markets that closes its doors early. I’d vote for a unionized store like Safeway or Albertson’s, though Rainbow would be good too.

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