Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 42 / 19 October 2017
 

Family scuttles plans for Castro Trader Joe's

NEWS


m.bajko@ebar.com

Trader Joe's plans for a Castro location now appear in doubt. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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The Sinclair family, Castro property owners who had been in talks with Trader Joe's for the last two years about opening a location on upper Market Street, has ended negotiations with the national grocer. The family now plans to open a smaller upscale market at the site, which currently houses a Dulux Paint Center.

The Trader Joe's proposal, which called for demolishing the existing structure and replacing it with a 13,000 square foot store and two levels of parking, provoked strong opposition from residents and nearby business owners who feared the store would result in a parking and traffic nightmare. While other Castro residents clamored to see the grocery chain move into the area, Supervisor Bevan Dufty repeatedly said he did not see a solution to the parking problems the store would create.

Faced with a lack of political and neighborhood backing, the Sinclairs informed Trader Joe's in late July that they no longer found the project feasible. Instead, the family is moving forward with opening a scaled down grocery store and are looking for an operator to run the business.

After numerous meetings with neighborhood groups, "We came to a conclusion that the community would not support an approximate 13,000 square foot Trader Joe's with approximately 50 parking spaces," said Keith Sinclair, whose mother and uncle own the property at 2112 15th Street bordered by Sanchez and Market streets.

Trader Joe's officials did not return calls seeking comment. Sinclair said the company was not surprised to learn of his family's decision.

"They certainly have been very active in listening and talking to the community. They were not surprised at the conclusions I came to that this is a very difficult project to get approved and therefore we need to readdress what we are going to do on the property," said Sinclair, whose family purchased the property in the 1950s to open their eighth paint store.

The family sold the paint business in the early 1970s. ICI Dulux now owns the store and its lease expires in February 2007. Sinclair is working with local architect David Blair, with MCG Architecture, on plans for the remodel of the building and expects to begin presenting the new concept to community groups in October. 

He said the family intends to renovate the existing 5,000 square foot building and keep the 15 parking spaces. The smaller market would sell produce, poultry, fish and meat, and said Sinclair, "would service the community quite well."

As for community reaction, he said, "I certainly hope we won't get any negative reactions. We are trying to upgrade the corner and do the right thing for the community. Certainly, we want to work with the community."

Dufty, who has long sought to bring an upscale grocer along the lines of Market Hall in Rockridge to the Castro, said he is supportive of the family's plans.

"I think it is a very understandable decision in light of the strong feedback the adjacent neighbors provided about traffic impacts. What I am most appreciative of is Keith's recognition that a high quality food or market hall can really make the neighborhood more sustainable," said Dufty. "I look forward to working with him to bring in a market that will really serve the Castro well."

Even a scaled down market could be met with opposition. Greg Wilcox, president of the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association, said while most residents would welcome the news that Trader Joe's will not be moving in, he said many members of the group still worry about the impact to existing businesses in the area.

"A majority of the neighborhood likes Trader Joe's as a business but the neighborhood as a whole did not like the idea of a Trader Joe's at that location," said Wilcox. "Initially one of the major concerns about Trader Joe's going in there was the impact on smaller grocers in the area. By putting a specialty store in there, I would be concerned about the impact to our local small grocery stores in the area."

Already, one corner market in the area closed its doors after Trader Joe's announced its plans and another, Golden Produce on Church Street, has put on hold its plans to open a butcher shop and fish market due to the possibility of a competing store nearby. Dufty said he thinks there is room for more than one grocery store in the neighborhood.

"I think there is definitely a lot of unmet need in the neighborhood," said Dufty, adding that the new store would be on a "different travel corridor" than Golden Produce.

Condo plans

The Sinclairs are not the only ones with plans for that corner of Market Street. Leticia Luna, owner of the vacant lot at 2200 Market Street and the adjacent Thai House restaurant, plans to build a new five story building on the lot with eight condo units above a restaurant facing Market Street and a garage with eight parking spaces fronting 15th Street. The project would have a contemporary look on the Market Street side and a Victorian feel on the 15th Street side, which will serve as the entrance for the residential units.

As for the restaurant, Luna said she would not be reopening her Mexican restaurant, called Leticia's, which she closed several years ago.

"I was in this area for 26 years. It was enough," said Luna, who presented her plans at the September 1 meeting of the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro.

For those hoping to see Trader Joe's open a Castro location, there is still a possibility of the chain coming into the area. Cala Foods/Bell Markets is reportedly putting its stores up for sale, and Trader Joe's could decide to take over the grocery chain's 18th Street location. While Dufty said it is still unclear if Cala will leave its Castro store, he said the company's store in Noe Valley on 24th Street is for sale and could be one possibility for Trader Joe's.

"I will have another conversation with them. There is an opportunity in Noe Valley. It appears very likely Bell Market will change over; I am aware that market is for sale," said Dufty. "I have certainly heard tremendous amount of support for having Trader Joe's in the neighborhood from people who like what they offer so I am certainly going to look for a win-win situation. I don't think there was any way to mitigate the impact at this location [on 15th Street]."






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