Grocer needs a helping handAfter finally succeeding in its longtime quest to attract a neighborhood grocery to open downtown, the City Council may see the effort fall apart unless members agree to help out the new owners of Ava's Downtown Market and Deli.
The plea for help came from Anne Origel, co-owner with her husband Juan, who opened the store five months ago. She told the council that the store needs funding for new refrigeration and possibly a facelift of the facade at 340 Castro St. Besides $300,000 for the refrigeration, Ms. Origel said the store needs a new deli so it can attract lunchtime traffic to its central downtown location.
The problem for the council, City Manager Dan Rich said, was that with the recent state taking of Redevelopment Authority funds, the city has no "pot" of money that could be tapped to help the store. Times have changed from the days when the council, pushed by members of the Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association, considered putting up as much as $2 million to bring a mainstream grocer to the downtown. In contrast, the Origels mortgaged their home to purchase the once-popular Mountain View Market, which specialized in Asian food and had occupied the site for many years.
So far, the Origel's makeover has been well-received by the public, at least according to the website Yelp, where comments have raved about the market, mentioning its organic produce, selection of wines, meats and house-made sausages. Reviewers also note that locally-made Acme bread, once only available at the Farmers Market, is now on the shelf at Ava's.
Back in 2005 the City Council dashed an opportunity to bring in another market when it selected Long's Drugs (now CVS) to lease the space on the ground floor of the new parking garage at California and Franklin. In that deal, the city sought bids from any business interested in locating a drug or grocery store in the space. But when Zanotto's, a San Jose-based grocer, submitted an inferior offer, the council went with Long's, which agreed to a contract that will bring $3.5 million to the city over the life of the lease. The decision was not popular with the Old Mountain View Homeowners Association, but they vowed to keep working to attract another store downtown.
In the current case, the Origels have shown they know what they are doing and can succeed if their store is updated. Unfortunately, the city has no obvious source of funds it can tap to help, although a staff report may uncover a way for the city to do something. In prior years, when downtown redevelopment funds were available, the city's fašade project improved 28 Castro Street businesses, including Zucca's, Meyer Appliance and Little Stompers, now Crazy Heart.
Certainly it would be best if a local lender could step in and write a reasonably-priced loan for the Origels. Otherwise, the city will have a difficult choice: step in and do what it can help make Ava's profitable, or sit back and watch the market struggle and possibly close, endingt the best opportunity in years to bring a mainstream market to Castro Street.