Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - November 26, 2010

JJ&F: A sad farewell and an object lesson

The impending closure of the JJ&F Food Store in central Palo Alto's College Terrace/California Avenue area marks a sad departure of a multi-generational family-owned market.

Many neighbors treasured the modest-sized market that emphasized personal service for its customers, often known by first names. "Save JJ&F" became a rallying cry for a large redevelopment of the block where JJ&F was a fixture for six decades.

But competition from larger markets, an economic slump, competitive buying power of large chains and other factors were cited by JJ&F owners in a farewell letter this week. Even a rent subsidy for 30 years apparently was not enough to make the market feasible in today's environment.

Fortunately, Palo Alto city officials in 2008 were far-sighted enough to require the developer of the College Terrace Centre to make the rent subsidy available to any grocery store that would occupy space in the new mixed-use development.

JJ&F owners said the store will be bought by Emerald Market, a grocer based in Redwood City. They note that the buyer has a neighborhood-service emphasis.

There are two take-home object lessons here:

The first is that no development should be keyed to the future of a single business, such as the rallying of support for JJ&F when the office-heavy development was being considered.

The second is that if residents want to have landmark locally owned businesses such as JJ&F, local pharmacies, bookstores (such as Kepler's in Menlo Park and Bell's in Palo Alto), art-supply businesses and restaurants they need to make personal choices that support such businesses. Otherwise, chain stores and the Internet (with no local sales-tax revenue) will displace them.

That is one reason the Weekly has launched an interactive business directory (www.ShopPaloAlto.com): to help residents find and support local businesses. It is designed to boost awareness of products and services of local merchants and highlight their importance to our communities. Check it out this holiday season.

Comments

Posted by TimH, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 29, 2010 at 11:13 am

Most people will agree that JJ&F's closing is a sad event. It is a bit surprising that another grocer bought the store, as the economic model for the small market is among the reasons for JJ&F's closure. If the new owner does indeed open a market of similar products and services, it may be on a fixed timeframe to produce results.

I agree that residents need to make personal choices to support local businesses whose offerings are challenged by larger companies and stores. However, it is unrealistic to expect that this effort will succeed for certain commodities. JJ&F struggled for many years to extend beyond "convenience" for many shoppers who have Safeway, Whole Foods, and now Trader Joe's in close proximity.

It needs to be noted that people are different today than 30 years ago, and "personal service" is not required, or even desired, as a feature in many shopping experiences. Observe the popularity of the self-checkout lines at grocers today; these are not simply people who want an alternative to "Nine items or less" but wish to complete their business without further interaction. It is a key part of "who we are today" and for many people, anonymity is a comfort zone for their shopping. The days of grocery checkers chatting about the products selected by customers are gone, or should become so. Time is the most valuable factor at that stage, since the customer has already made their cost/value decision for items in their basket.

If I could offer advice to Emerald Market, it would be to offer something unique and highly mindful of the competition and also of today's shopper. Government can only influence and help to a certain extent, personal choices to preserve tradition are important, but the most persistent force at play is always "change".


Posted by object lesson or windfall?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 29, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Of course, JJ&F could just be cashing in on the windfall that they fortunately received from Palo Alto city officials who, in 2008, were far-sighted enough to require the developer of the College Terrace Centre to make the rent subsidy available to any grocery store that would occupy space in the new mixed-use development.


Posted by Fred Balin, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 5, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

The developer-initiated lynchpins of "subsidy" and the urgent need to "save JJ&F" were parts of a skillfully executed campaign that diverted attention from other aspects of the project and manipulated the public and the council.

Much time was absorbed during the process for the city to finally establish the concept that a private agreement between landlord and tenant (i.e., a subsidized lease for JJ&F) could not be a legal basis for a required public benefit in a Planned Community (PC) zoning application. Hence, the word "subsidy" does not appear within the City Council ordinance defining the approved PC.

The stipulated advantage to any future market on the site and the public benefit are the requirements that (1) a market be there prior to any office tenant and remain in continuous use, (2) that it have a specific minimum size (8,000 sf of enclosed space, 2,447 sf of open air market), and (3) that it be comparable in quality and service to that of JJ&F.

The developer's concepts of subsidizing and/or saving JJ&F, ceased once the project was approved.


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