[This just went to press for the Old Mountain View Neighborhood Newsletter, distributed to residents and businesses in the neighborhood around the downtown. The topic has generated unusual interest among residents, so I'm posting it here also.]
Many residents recall the hopeful "downtown grocery store project" a few years ago. Acknowledging mainstream general retail as a missing element downtown, the city sought a retail tenant, possibly a grocery, for the new parking structure at the California-Bryant corner. The strongest and ultimately successful bid however came from Long's Drugs, now CVS.
The prospect of a general downtown grocery had wide appeal, a unifying goal in the neighborhood. Julie Lovins organized a committee to study options, hoping to attract a small quality grocer to the Bryant site. Even after CVS opened instead, bringing other useful services and some groceries, discussions toward a general market continued.
In October, providentially, independently, and largely unaware of that history, veteran grocery retailers Ann and Juan Origel acquired the Mountain View Market (MVM) at 340 Castro, after selecting it as the perfect location to create an "aesthetically pleasing, full-service, high quality" independent grocery, specifically tailored to community needs. It appears that we may get our long-sought downtown grocery, custom-made. Achieving that will require community participation, both in offering input to the owners, and of course shopping there.
I spent time with the Origels, an obviously talented local family with diverse ethnic roots and entrepreneurial initiative, in the best Silicon-Valley tradition. Ann's from Sunnyvale, Juan graduated from MVHS; they got engaged at Eagle Park. They met during careers in various aspects of mainstream supermarket retailing and wholesaling (47 years total, says Ann) and operated a successful liquor store before striking out to create their own distinctive independent market.
In the two weeks they've owned MVM as I write this, the Origels have had their hands full managing an operating market (energetically assisted by two of their children) and starting an epic process of remodeling, updating, clearing inventories that weren't selling, and retaining those that locals rely on. They brought in an experienced butcher who will completely rework the meat and fish sections. The Origels also have experience and suppliers useful to the restaurant trade, and already have seen interest from local restaurateurs.
With all the work in the store, the Origels are just starting to meet local residents and merchants. They've been surprised, almost bewildered I'd say, to learn how closely their own business vision matched local wishes. Ann wrote in an email that they're "completely flattered and honored to be welcomed into this magnificent community."
Ann and Juan outlined plans and ideas. A revitalized produce section; organic produce daily; locally sourced groceries; a "completely re-done" meat department, including in-house ready-to-cook items like kebabs. A cheese section; artisanal breads (producers already lining up); fresh deli counter; bulk cereals; more of the "mainstream" groceries that locals now get from supermarkets outside OMV. The point is to reverse the need to travel to shop, and instead become a "destination" market, drawing people into our downtown.
The Origels are talking to designers and architects toward radically improving visual appeal and convenience. A PG&E energy audit is the first step to replacing badly obsolete equipment (some of it 20 years old) for a far more efficient, "green" business.
This will not all happen overnight; "give us time," said Ann. The other point that she stressed is that it's "vitally necessary to get feedback from the neighborhood" about what they want from their local market. To that end, the Origels plan to encourage suggestions both on paper (in the store) and by email. It won't remain "Mountain View Market," but the Origels have just begun soliciting community input, and that may help guide the new name too.
Ann was emphatic about their perspective: the new business will succeed only if it accommodates community needs. "I'm coming into your neighborhood, not vice versa. We want to be _your_ market." Please stop in, welcome the Origels to OMV, shop there, and help make it work.