Residents critical of proposed downtown gourmet supermarket
By Elizabeth Pfeffer
August 8, 2006
A forthcoming addition to San Francisco's dithering grocery
store industry will bring a new upscale food retailer to the downtown
area - fodder for residents and workers resisting the high-end
trend that seems to be edging in on neighborhood markets.
Bristol Farms, a chic Southern California chain, is preparing
to open its first Bay Area store in the newly renovated Westfield
San Francisco Centre on Market Street. The luxury mall has undergone
a colossal expansion to provide the grocery store with 30,000-square-feet
of commercial space next to a 1,500-seat food court.
Kevin Davis, president, chairman and CEO of Bristol Farms, continued
efforts yesterday to secure an off-sale liquor license for the
new store. Like the chain's other locations, Davis plans for this
one to sell beer and wine as well as hold regular tastings.
The license was heard for a second time before the Board of Supervisors'
City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee yesterday
afternoon, while residents and labor union representatives also
took the meeting as an opportunity to voice concerns on the company
as a whole.
In particular, there's been debate over Bristol Farm's relationship
to Albertsons. Five moderately-priced neighborhood grocery stores
closed in San Francisco this year due to a reported lack of profits
- two were Albertsons - and 11 more of their Bay Area locations
are closing this month.
"Some of the confusion around Bristol Farms ties to the
fact that we previously had been owned by Albertsons as a wholly
owned subsidiary of that company," Davis said. "That
company recently sold, as of June 2 of this year, and was divided
into many pieces."
According to Davis, the Northern California Albertsons are now
owned by an investment firm called Cerberus which is in no way
affiliated with Albertsons. Yet there's still some confusion as
to whether Bristol Farms' 14 Southern California stores are tied
to the company.
It appears Bristol Farms is now a wholly owned subsidiary of
Supervalu Inc., but Alan Davis, attorney for United Food and Commercial
Workers Local 648, appealed to the committee to delay the liquor
license until stronger evidence of their ownership and accordance
with San Francisco labor agreements is provided.
Bristol Farms boasts above-market salaries, recognizes domestic
partnerships within their benefits packages for full and part-time
employees and offers 401K plans. They also claim to have been
working with their landlord Westfield to abide by all wage ordinances.
"That isn't so clear from what we've seen so far, and we
think that matter needs additional research on every level,"
Davis said. "To see whether it applies, the extent to which
it applies and then to verify whether or not the agreements have
been lived up to by everyone."
Westfield was unavailable for comment.
Some residents found it alarming that an upscale grocery would
be put in an "unpractical" location like a mall, and
wondered why it couldn't be done in neighborhoods that have lost
It was pointed out by public commenter Michael Nulty that North
Market, which encompasses much of the Tenderloin and is home to
many disabled, elderly and immobile individuals, sorely lacks
a real grocery store, and that the low-income residents with the
means to get to Bristol Farms won't be able to afford the gourmet
Whole Foods, another pricey grocery supermarket, offers senior
discounts at some of their locations, according to Nulty. He suggested
Bristol Farms do the same.
The bottom line for residents was a question of what the company
will do to better the community.
One response by Kevin Davis was that some of the 45 job candidates
already offered positions for their grand opening on Sept. 28
are former employees of the City's ill-fated Cala Foods and Albertsons.
The liquor license will be heard by the full Board of Supervisors
on August 15 while Bristol Farms tries to iron out informational
They have already expressed a commitment to keeping alcohol from
individuals under 21 years of age and complying to standard licensing
provisions suggested by the San Francisco Police Department.