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.

The interior walls are covered in graffiti.

“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.”

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  1. As a longtime neighbor of this place I have mixed feelings, the owner is a grade-a piece of work and basically let the building rot abandoned since he bought it, leaving both the building & the roof, with access to the neighboring buildings, open to the public.

    There were no issues with the previous owner, only this guy.

    At least thanks to the work it’s well closed up. And at least not turning into condos or something else horrible.

    Have plenty of stories / could go into detail but in a fair and just world the guy should be in jail… or, well, realistically, fined several orders of magnitude beyond what he already had been.

    The enormous rat colony that lives in & around the building should have a fine time with those groceries.

    Never cared about the ‘blight’, just about safety. I mean come on, the fire department had been running drills on the place and off-record advising neighbors to take initiative and board up the place themselves.

    Someone did finally board up the roof after waking up to people off the street peering into their window. After weeks and weeks of city & SFPD calls & attempted owner contact.

  2. El Chico has got to be one of the dirtiest places to shop in the Mission. Surprised they haven’t been shut down. This new one defintely needs to be scrutinized in the same way as Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Fresh & Easy. It is too bad that none of these businesses will be going into this space. This area desperatley needs improvements not more of the same dreck. In the meantime, I will continue shopping at Duc Loi, which is spotless!

  3. Fresh and Easy faced a huge neighborhood battle as they try to go into the Cala/DeLanos space.
    Mission Local’s coverage of that story asked the question of whether the employees were going to be union or not. Where is that reporting here?
    Mission Local also reporting on how many of the employees at the proposed Fresh and Easy will be from the neighborhood. Where is that reporting here?
    Just because this is a locally owned chain doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve the same critical examination as a huge chain like Fresh and Easy. Careful of the bias folks.

    1. Righton Dave well said.
      Im born and raised here in the Mission… I hadnt even heard about the Fresh and Easy coming LOL. when? do u happen to know? I use my basket for shopping and miss Calas, went there for years, was hoping for a Trader Joes 🙁 need good choices in the Mission.

  4. Darn, I really was hoping for a Trader Joe’s or some awesome all-night trendy coffee shop to open up there…but I guess we can’t everything we want in life…! Now if only Howard would rent out that tiny space in his building next to Duc Loi at San Carlos alley…

  5. From the comments it appears that most prefer an eyesore.

    Let the business open and then determine how fresh the veggies are. Pretend it os a trendy spot and I am sure all will be ok.

    1. Kev, it seems that there is an epidemic in San Francisco of people whose eyes get sore whenever there is not a new shiny well used structure on a parcel of land here.

      Might I suggest that you join Healthy San Francisco and avail yourself of a visit to an ophthalmologist to ascertain exactly what it is that makes your eyes so sore?

      Most of us are able to pass by these sites without experiencing what appears to be existential eye pain.

  6. The produce at el Chico on 24th St is so bad I am not shopping there any more. The best thing is that they sell meat and veggies on the same store. Their employees are great people.I’ve heard they take good care of their workers. If only they sell organic at an affordable price…

  7. Not to many Latino people shop at Duc Loi so it should only affect the other Latino markets in the area.

  8. I’ll believe it when I see it. This is now the third market that’s supposed to open in the Mission, none of which seem anywhere near to actually opening – Fresh and Easy on S Van Ness, Local Mission Market on Harrison and now this one.

    The El Chico on 24th is an ok market, but no organic stuff.

      1. I agree, the El Chico on 24th is pretty good. Glad to see another opening up, and glad they will stock latin american products.

      2. Old Mission Neighbor – at this point in history, it’s just ok. I personally don’t want myself or my loved ones eating pesticide sprayed vegetables, nor do I want to be eating caged chickens or tasteless corporation-raised beef.

        El Chico is OK. They’re inexpensive, which is great until you realize you’re not buying stuff that’s long term good for your body or for the environment. They’re great for peppers and other specialty items but in general they’re on the wrong side of the curve in terms of what consumers are looking for more of in the Mission.

    1. I find La Mission Market on 17th and Mission has some of the freshest and cheapest produce.

  9. Hope the produce is fresher than many of the other local markets. Lots of that stuff is either rotting or on the verge or rotting the day after you take it home.

    Either way, choice is good. Duc Loi rocks.

  10. And hopefully folks will no longer sleep on the roof and the tags can get cleaned off regularly.