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'Keeping grocery stores' moves to top shelf

Original post made on Jun 12, 2008

Spurred by the potential closure of JJ&F Market, the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission has launched an effort to retain, and encourage, grocery stores.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, June 12, 2008, 7:19 AM

Comments (48)

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Posted by carrot sticks
a resident of University South
on Jun 12, 2008 at 8:57 am

Government offering incentives to grocery stores to come/stay in Palo Alto = good.
Government requiring people to build grocery stores for them = retarded.


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Posted by Tim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 12, 2008 at 9:28 am

We had our chance with grocery stores and hotels. We mess it up! Love the new Safeway in MP.


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Posted by Marvin
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 12, 2008 at 9:28 am

The problem in PA is that grocery stores are limited in size, so that smaller groceries can survive (or so they say). Unfortunately PA feels that it cannot allow free market dynamics to control the grocery industry in PA, so they must meddle to ensure that there will be no real competition. Palo Alto needs a large full service grocery, not a collection of overpriced specialty markets.
Until that happens I like many others will drive to neighboring communities to shop.


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Posted by eric
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 12, 2008 at 9:30 am

OK, everyone. Repeat after me:

There is NO MARKET FOR SMALL GROCERY STORES anymore. They are dead. Gone.

The only one in the area that is viable as far as I can see is Piazza's, which has been forced(?) to add a bunch of new-agey 'health' products. Also, their aisles are so tight that shopping there is not the most pleasant experience.

Look at what has been successful in surrounding communties-

Mtn View- massive new Nob Hill. Very popular. Benefit to the local community (not a fan myself, but thats just me)

Los Altos-- whopping new Whole Foods. ENOURMOUS benefit to the PA-MV-LA community (and beyond I suspect).

The commonality between these? They are both massive-- I'll bet an acre under roof for each. Thats the only way they get built any more.
(speaking of Whole Foods, dont expect the one downtown to be around much longer. That is the smallest store in the chain, I believe, and, as such, is not overwhelmingly profitable)


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Posted by Jenny
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 12, 2008 at 9:49 am

Only allowing grocery stores to build to 20,000 sq ft of space is obsolete.

Now JJ&F is closing and there are no more small grocery stores that need protecting, the time has come to allow grocery stores in PA to expand to at least 30,000 sq. ft. This is very important, we must allow Piazza'a to expand, if not the long range future of the Charleston Shopping Center as a shopping center could be in doubt.

Like many resident of south PA I shop at Safeway and Whole Foods in Mountain View, the Midtown Safeway does not have the variety of items I want. I understand that many north PA residents are now shopping at the Safeway in Menlo Park.

All these retail tax dollars regularly leaving PA!!


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Posted by WilliamR
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 12, 2008 at 10:37 am

Since most grocery items aren't subject to sales tax, how much local tax revenue does a store like Midtown Safeway actually generate?


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Posted by Marvin
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 12, 2008 at 10:48 am

Forgetting about the tax revenue generation by grocery stores, shouldn't we have a decent size store within our city limits? As others have pointed out, we have large new stores in Mountain View, Los Altos and Menlo Park--only PA thinks that a "no competition model" of grocery stores (i.e. nothing biggerthan 20K square feet so that JJ&F, for example, can "compete") is the way of the future.


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 12, 2008 at 10:50 am

How many grocery stores have left Palo Alto with the "20,000 sq ft limit"? Did it accomplish it's purpose? It's time for the city council to review some of it's social engineering ordanances to see they actually accomplished their goals.


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Posted by Jenny
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 12, 2008 at 11:00 am

William R. Most supermarkets sell liquor, stationery, cleaning materials and drug store items etc. all of which are taxed. Another gimmick that makes money "prescription drugs!" That's how grocery stores make their profit.

If all they sold was milk and a head of lettuce they'd be out of business tomorrow!


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Posted by not a jjf fan
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 12, 2008 at 11:16 am

How can JJF compete with the upcoming Trader Joe in the T&C?
There is not enough loading zone for the current size JJF. Come to see for yourself in the morning hours at Staunton Ct. Trucks need to wait in line to be unloaded and it is quite dangerous to drive on Staunton Ct.

That location is too small for a big grocery store unless we allow JJF occupy the entire block.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 12, 2008 at 11:33 am

Speaking of TJs at T & C, any idea what is going on there and what they are going to do about the ridiculous traffic situation opposite Paly?


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Posted by ride-a-bike
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 12, 2008 at 12:51 pm

> what they are going to do about the ridiculous
> traffic situation opposite Paly?

Terminate student parking privileges at the high school.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 12, 2008 at 12:58 pm

Ride a bike

I don't get it, do you want the students to park at T & C?

The problem with the intersection is that another light is needed. The extra traffic TJs will produce will make a difference, whether school is in session or not.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2008 at 1:08 pm

Since the other thread with my post has now completely disappeared and I think my point is valid, I will state my point again.

Neighborhood grocery stores are vital to the community but not for large grocery trips, but the small everyday needs. For example, if you go to midtown Safeway between 3.30 and 6.30 any weekday (and weekend too) you will find it hard to park. Looking at the carts at the checkouts most carts have about 20 items, for dinner, breakfast or lunch next day or something forgotten or run out. These trips are on the way home from work, school, or wherever and they are not by shoppers who walked or biked. For this reason, people use midtown Safeway regularly for small trips even though these same people say they don't like the store.

Consequently, a neighborhood grocery store is going to need plenty of parking as it will be used by neighborhood residents on the way home or on the way to where they are going when they need to stop to buy something important.


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Posted by Senor Blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 12, 2008 at 1:55 pm

Let's all hope this effort by the City hasn't come too late.

Remember how long the stores that closed waited for city approval on their plans. Finally they just left.
I'm not sure I blame them.
The City has acted terribly in this regard.
SB


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Posted by ride-a-bike
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 12, 2008 at 2:52 pm

> I don't get it, do you want the students to park at T & C?

No .. ride a bike and park on the Paly Campus ..


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Posted by jjf shopper
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 12, 2008 at 2:54 pm

JJF needs more space because future Stanford new housing near California Ave and Stanford Ave will bring more shoppers to JJF.


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Posted by Marvin
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 12, 2008 at 2:58 pm

WE have to look and see whether it would be fair to other grocers to give JJ&F more space--otherwise the other grocers will not be able to compete--that is the PA way. Also are you sure that College Terrace will want a larger JJ&F--that may bring in too much traffic to College Terrace, which will make them demand even more traffic calming (which naturally the city council will give them--anything CT wants, our council is happy to oblige)
I bet you people living in new Stanford housing will want large, full service groceries and will therefore do their shopping in Menlo PArk, Mountain View and Los Altos


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Posted by McGrude
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 12, 2008 at 3:03 pm

I frequently shop at JJ&F and would hate to see it go, but the building is in bad shape and desparately needs to be replaced.


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Posted by McNulty
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 12, 2008 at 3:43 pm

On a related topic,
Does anyone know the status of the former Albertson's location on California in Mountain View in the San Antonio shopping center? They are clearly doing work there, but there's no sign indicating what is going to go in there. I miss having a grocery store there, but I didn't care for that Albertson's. Those self-checkout lines were awful.


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Posted by No Trader Joe's
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 12, 2008 at 5:36 pm

There is no sign of any Trader Joe's coming to Town and Country. Maybe it was just developer hype when he was tossing out so many small stores and wanted some public support. For the people who want to spend $50 on a rattle for a baby, they can come to Town and Country.


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 12, 2008 at 6:34 pm

Grocery stores - while I shop at Safeway midtown for a quick trip, there is such a small selection of items that I go to Mtn View or Menlo Park. I also love the Nob Hill in Mtn View, beautiful store, great selection, wonderful meats and veggie, wine tasting parties and good prices.

Paly parking - the problem is the adults dropping off kids, not the kids parking. It is also a ridiculously laid out parking lot.


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Posted by dave
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 12, 2008 at 7:09 pm

I'm surprised Piazza's is still in Charleston Center since they can't expand because of our "enlightened" regulations. Forget the "G" designation. Just permit 30,000 square feet stores and they will come.

I doubt that an Alma Plaza grocery store will survive any more than JJ&F could. Too small to stock a variety of merchandise and very poor ingress and egress for parking.


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Posted by jj&f regular
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 12, 2008 at 10:32 pm

I dont think JJ&F can survive simply because two of JJ&F's owners are going to retire and they have to close the store for at least one year during the new construction.


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Posted by Shop in MV
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 12, 2008 at 11:36 pm

The new Safeway store in Menlo Park is 65,000 sq. ft. The Safeway in Mountain View is 55,000 sq. ft. How can supermarkets in PA survive when they cannot be larger than 20,000 sq. ft. Boutique, expensive grocery stores are outdated, and will slowly close because they cannot compete.

Palo Alto will have to change or die. We need supermarkets of at least 40,000 sq. ft; that's what the P & T Commission should be discussing, not whether grocery store should be granted a "G" code.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 13, 2008 at 10:58 am

The day is not far off when we will be glad we don't have large grocery stores or big box stores in Palo Alto. We don't have the water/power to support them, and we don't have enough taxpayers to pay for the large infrastructures needed to support them.


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Posted by Enlightened
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 13, 2008 at 12:14 pm

A lasting solution to the grocery store issue would be to allow developers to build a grocery store of ANY size as long as it is entirely located underground. The open space at grade level should then be dedicated to soccer fields, as there is STILL an overall deficit of fields in the community in which to engage in this sport.


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Posted by estella
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 13, 2008 at 12:24 pm

I find JJ&F a little too small, but I love Mollie Stones on Cal Ave. Having a local grocery store is an incredible benefit to the community, particularly given the high gas prices. Personally I don't see a reason to drive out to Safeway when I can walk to Mollie Stones, the prices aren't that much higher (plus you don't use gas), and the selection is fine. Now that we have the Sunday farmer's market on Cal Ave, the grocery situation is pretty much perfect as far as I'm concerned.

So, basically, this is one Palo Alto resident who has no complaints about her neighborhood :-)


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Posted by not-a-jj&f-fan
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 13, 2008 at 3:03 pm

The location of JJ&F is not very good grocery store site and I dont think people driving on El Camino Real ever notice its existence.

It is easy for us to talk about how great a local grocery store is. But in reality it is just impossible to run a profitable small grocery store in the 21st century. So instead of encouraging people to open and run local greocey stores then seeing them slowly dying, let's think a better way to use the JJ&F location for the community. What kind of community center we want to have in Palo Alto?


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Posted by john
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 14, 2008 at 1:05 am

Why is JJ&F so special and get so much attraction in the press once a while?


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Posted by Super Sets
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 14, 2008 at 7:06 am

I awaiting the day, in the very near future, when Piazza will fold. It is simply impossible for JJ&F and its likes to compete with the Grand Safeways nearby.

The Grand safeways are so large they have everything that the small store carry anyways. Why would anybody want to go to a speciality store. Its fast becoming a new brainer. The reality has struck - bigger stores are super sets of speciality stores.


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Posted by Jenny
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 14, 2008 at 8:14 am

There is a very good reason why large supermarkets are killing the small grocery stores. There is no profit in selling just food.

A large Supermarket is able to carry most things you'd find in a drug store, a stationery store and a liquor store, those items have huge mark ups; they are the profit margin for the store. If stores aren't big enough to carry a large selection of non-food items they slowing die.

A $12 lipstick is 98% profit, a head of lettuce will very often be sold at a loss!!!


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Posted by Shopper
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 14, 2008 at 8:32 am

I will tell you why I think Piazza's will survive. I use Piazza's for non-packaged items when I really want quality and help. I use Safeway, in Mountain View or Midtown, when I want packaged goods.

I can go to Piazza's deli and get the meat and cheese cut while I wait, they will cut to the thickness I like and put the meat and cheese flat and wrapped the way I want it, not rolled in pieces as in Safeway. If I buy deli meats in Safeway, you have to take what bits they have rolled up on their pre-cut slabs and dumped in a plastic bag regardless. If you ask for them to take care and do it the way you like, they treat you as if you have asked for something out of order.

The meat counter will cut and score my roast pork, will cut steak to the thickness I want, in other words be a butcher rather than a meat seller, although for some things they need to be given a day's notice.

The produce counter will cut open fruit to let you taste and also give you ideas on how to store or prepare the produce. They are also very knowledgeable about their produce.

Even some of their on the shelves products, they know about. If you ask about something that is usually there and you see the spot empty, they will tell you why they haven't got it and when they expect it.

This is the sort of service that will keep Piazza's (and similar stores) from closing. The prepackaged sell it quick items can be bought anywhere and are probably a little cheaper. But, if we care about the way we cook and prepare food for our families and guests, then for the foods that matter, the smaller stores win each time.


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Posted by walker
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 14, 2008 at 5:48 pm

Here's a different view to the mantra of "megastores are the only viable future for grocery stores, Palo Alto needs to do what Mountain View and Menlo Park did":

I live in Escondido Village along with hundreds of other families. Many families do not have a car, or don't have the money for gas, and others just enjoy walking or biking to JJ&F two or three times a week to shop for what we need. Sure, it would be great if it were bigger than it is now. But the store has an amazing selection for its size, and lots of items stocked because customers ask for it that I've never seen in Safeway.

College Terrace is also not like other low density Palo Alto neighborhoods. The blocks closest to El Camino are mostly 4 plexes and 8 plexes. Just stand on the corner on a Saturday or just before dinner, and you will be amazed at the number of parents with strollers walking in from all directions, and at the constant turnover of bikes in the bike racks.

Some of us go to the big box places once a week or once a month. Others avoid them altogether. As gas prices go up, places like JJ&F or Country Sun will thrive if they are well managed and responsive to the needs of those who shop there. It's the megastore business model that will be in trouble.

Check out this recent article from Reason Magazine:
"Big Box Panic: Americans have been afraid of chain stores for nearly a century, but independent outlets keep thriving"
Web Link


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jun 14, 2008 at 6:03 pm

Walker thanks for that point of view. If true, then PA stores don't need the mis-guided protection the city planners have given them, keeping larger stores outside our borders. We can have choice in Palo Alto, with those who want small stores going there, and those who want big going there. And, good news, we all will have less driving to do.

BTW, I actually doubt that over the medium term that the small stores will survive, except under special circumstances (possibly like the one you described). But the stores and shoppers can certainly sort it out without assistance from city planners.


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Posted by anon.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2008 at 8:03 pm

Super Sets - in answer to your question:
I shop at Piazzas for those things I can't find at Safeway - veg/fruits, unsweetened soy milk, bulk flax seeds, raisins, nuts, higher quality Fish, Beano, the Cereal I like, the crackers I like, better cheeses and olives, the artichoke tepanade, the list goes on. But for regular things Safeway is less expensive so I go there for those. S also carries items not at Piazza. There are also other things that require a trip to Whole Foods and Trader J. I get really tired of having to go to three stores some weeks to grocery shop!!!.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jun 14, 2008 at 8:27 pm

Anon, thanks for sharing your example. Have you tried the Safeway in Menlo Park, which is much bigger than the one in Mountain View? While it is a few minutes further, you may be able to cut down some on your multiple stores.


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Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 14, 2008 at 8:51 pm

What about a Nob Hill Foods (Railey's) which is a California chain store.

I feel that their meat, seafood, and produce, are better quality than Safeway.

Their sales prices often rival Safeway's, and they have online ads too.

They sell things from high end items to very reasonably priced items for those on a limited budget. They can meet everyone's needs in the community with their selection.

I believe most of Trader Joes items are brought in from L.A. and they often wrap up/cut up their produce.

They are nice for some things, but I wouldn't buy a roast there.

Edgewood plaza would be a nice place for a store like this.

Commuters could stop off and pick up something on their way home from work.

There is a fabulous Nob Hill Foods on Grant Road on your way to El Camino hospital.

I wish we could have one here to replace Albertsons (Lucky's) at Edgewood.

This large chain store would be able to take the responsibility of upkeep for this sensitive property.

This parcel was designed for a supermarket.

It has a rear access road and loading dock for trucks from the freeway.

We need more food as our population increases and as Stanford grows.


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Posted by Peter
a resident of another community
on Jun 14, 2008 at 8:56 pm

I shop at JJ&F and Piazza's. The employees are friendly people, not robots. Yes the aisles are somewhat narrow but they're easily negotiable. I find the Menlo Park Safeway an obscene waste of aisle space and an architectural eyesore. There's too much room in the aisles, yet you feel like cattle going through the checkout lines.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jun 14, 2008 at 9:01 pm

Peter, you give a good example of how varied people's tastes are. Many people (most?) love big stores with wide aisles (and low prices). You have different tastes, which is fine of course. We'd be a better town if we allowed people to choose what kind of store they want to shop at, without having to drive to the next town to find it.


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Posted by carl
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 14, 2008 at 9:35 pm

My understanding is that JJ&F wanted a larger store because they were barely surviving in the existing one. If shoppers are willing to pay higher prices, a small grocery store may make it. Remember net profits for large groceries is about 2%; a small one would probably have to net closer to 10%.

I would find it a nuisance, let alone costly, to go to more than one store for a shopping trip. I notice no one has suggested biking to more than one store - totally impractical especially if one has to carry many items.


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Posted by JJF shopper
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 14, 2008 at 11:16 pm

Low margin small grocery store like JJ&F depends on volume shoppers to survive(low margin * high volume unit = profit). But as walker pointed out many JJ&F's shoppers go to JJ&F by bike or walk. I wonder how much grocery they can carry in one trip. On the other hand, people drive to big store to buy stuff in big volume so that they can save time and money. In the developing country people need to do grocery shopping everyday because they do not have the super market. Super market is the product of a highly developed and successful capitalist economy. In a high cost living area like PA it is simply impossible to run a local small grocery store unless people want to pay very high premium price for the grocery in a local small grocery store.


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Posted by crossing the border (legally)
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 15, 2008 at 10:40 am

Good news! Ranch 99 will be opening Fall 2008 on Grant Rd. in Mountain View. Nob Hill has moved out to an adjacent building.

So long Piazza's! All my grocery shopping will be done in Mountain View now: Costco, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and now Ranch 99.


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Posted by James
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 15, 2008 at 6:17 pm

Zone "G" is a good start for Palo Alto. It's not sufficient to simply "plan for" grocery stores in new developments without financial help from the city, as that only creates more upscale pantry stores and not "local grocers" where staple food items may be bought at fair prices for both buyer and seller. It's time for all to realize that the so-called "free" market going unchecked by government only feeds the wealthy corporations like Wal-Mart and their shareholders. It's time for the next "New Deal" in our city and this country.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jun 15, 2008 at 9:54 pm

So the next New Deal involves Palo Alto subsidizing small grocery stores so we wealthy folk can buy foods conveniently at low prices? Cool. I'm sure the Council will take it up after their next deliberation on the situation in Myanmar.


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Posted by Roger
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 16, 2008 at 6:33 pm

Those of you that think bigger is better should look a little closer at what is on the shelves at the large Safeways. These massive stores do not have greater variety than a Piazza's size store, they just have more of each type of item. Instead of one row of Dannon Vanilla yogurt they have 3 or 4 rows. Instead of one row of Orowheat Honey Wheat they have 4 or 5 rows. Yes, JJ&F may be too small, but you are fooling yourself if you think that just because a store is 65K square feet it is better than a Piazza's. As a regular JJ&F shopper, I would like to see it be a little larger, maybe the size of Piazza's.


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Posted by another shopper
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 16, 2008 at 9:43 pm

A Piazza sized JJ&F? Nice dream, Roger. JJ&F will be gone after the redevelopment of that block. Like it or not it will be the reality.


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Posted by a long time resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2008 at 6:27 pm

Palo Alto has done everything it can to run auto dealeships and big grocery stores out of town.

The Sun site and the Albertsons site are to recent examples.

Developers, local, take presidence over logic, fair zoning regulations.

I'm sure the small, super high priced groceries are able to lobby against competion.

The residents need to lobby for local bus routes to MtView and Menlo Park stores to cut down on car trips, traffic congestion. The city and VTA could provide bus routes that loop to these sites. They are doing it for High School Students from home to the schools to cut down on traffic.

The city appears to be raising our utility costs to make up for lost taxes from a lack of these stores/auto dealerships.


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