A lease approved by Palo Alto officials for a new family market at the College Terrace Centre on El Camino Real shows that the new grocer is the son of the developer and a principal partner in the development company.
James Smailey has formed a corporation, J & A Family Markets, Inc., to run the grocery store, which will replace the former JJ&F Market. The corporation was registered on Aug. 23, 2013, according to the California Secretary of State.
Speculation about which grocer would take the place of the 65-year-old, family-owned JJ&F has abounded for years, ever since the Garcia family sold its market at 521 College Ave. in 2010. The whole block at the corner of College and El Camino Real has been slated for redevelopment since 2009. The project will result in 38,980 square feet of office space, an 8,000-square-foot grocery store, 5,580 square feet of other retail space and eight low-rent apartments.
Smailey is assembling a team of four people who have a combined experience of more than 100 years in the grocery business, said his father, developer Patrick Smailey. James Smailey is still formulating a plan, and he will be meeting with city staff next week to provide an update.
Patrick Smailey said having one of the partners in the development business, Adventera/Twenty-One Hundred Ventures, run the grocery store was an option they started considering two years ago. He has always planned to follow through with the kind of grocery store that would honor the Garcia family's legacy, and operating their own grocery with a staff of experienced grocers on board could provide more control over quality, he said.
"It was always our plan and goal to at least match, if not exceed, what was there before. I personally think the grocery will be really viable here. It will have exposure to El Camino Real, and we have given it the best corner on the block. It should be a home run for everybody the residents, the store and the neighborhood," he told the Weekly.
But some neighbors of the development aren't so sure. One of the terms of the development's approval was that the new grocery store would be comparable to JJ&F.
"Do they have experience operating a grocery store?" Doria Summa of the College Terrace Residents Association wrote in an email Wednesday. "Can they provide something 'comparable' to the multi-generational family-owned business that the Garcia family operated for over 60 years?"
Another stipulation in the city's approval of the new development was that the signed lease must be enforceable against the tenant.
"Does one really expect us to believe that the landlord, the father, will enforce a lease agreement against his son and co-partner?" resident Fred Balin asked. "Here we have a situation where the city needs to explain how this lease meets the stipulations for the market."
Referring to the zoning that the city granted the development, known as "planned community" (PC) zoning, Balin added: "(Enforcement) is one of the major things people complained about with PCs. It's something the council tried to tighten up, specifically in this process."
Planned-community projects have become increasingly controversial in recent years, as developers are allowed to build more densely in exchange for giving the city and residents "public benefits," such as parks, plazas, affordable housing and community centers.
However, opponents of PC zones say that many of those promises have not materialized or have been lost as the city has allowed, for example, public spaces to become outdoor seating for restaurants.
While the Smaileys said they had initially intended for the JJ&F Market to return to the new development, the Garcias do not plan to reopen the market, Patrick Smailey said. The subsequent market operators, the Khoury family, expressed interest in relocating to the new space, but they did not submit a formal proposal, Smailey said. Family member Ronnie Khoury said in August 2013 they were not approached to occupy the new market space. They received a 30-day eviction notice and closed the store in mid-September. A source close to the family said this week they would not return.
Russ Reich, a senior planner for the city, said the College Terrace Centre's PC ordinance requires the city to sign off on the grocery store lease and the tenant. The city's legal team approved the form of the lease on Dec. 8, but the city has not yet approved J & A Family Markets as the tenant.
The city has the option to not approve a tenant, but only if city staff reasonably finds the tenant is not likely to be comparable in quality of products and service as JJ&F.
Staff has requested the Smaileys provide the city with a business and marketing plan for the grocery store, and the city will review the plans prior to making a decision on the tenant. Before any office tenants can move in, the grocery tenant must begin operations, Reich added.
Meanwhile, construction may move forward, he said.
Demolition and construction is planned to begin this spring. The company announced in February it had secured funding through Canyon Capital Realty Advisors. Completion of the development is scheduled for August 2015.