News

Milk Pail Market to close after 45 years in Mountain View

Family-run grocery store takes buyout after holding out against shopping center developer for years

After 45 years in Mountain View, the popular Milk Pail Market will be closing its doors permanently. Renowned for its cheese, croissants and crowded aisles, the San Antonio grocer persevered amid intense competition with a loyal customer base, but its owner says the hardships of running a small business were becoming too great.

In Tuesday interview, Rasmussen said he had accepted a buyout for his store property at the corner of San Antonio Road and California Street and would be closing in the next few months, likely in July. He did not disclose the buyer or the purchase price.

“The wave of development in Silicon Valley has brought many changes. It was inevitable that one day we, too, would be part of that change,” Rasmussen wrote. “Although the closure of the Milk Pail will be bittersweet, we leave with fond memories and immense gratitude for the community that built us.”

Explaining his decision, Rasmussen said it was becoming more challenging to maintain a business that is open year-round, especially amid tighter sales and competition. Today, there are at least five chain supermarkets within a one-block radius of the Milk Pail.

In recent years, the Milk Pail seemed to be Mountain View's version of the David and Goliath story. Beginning in 2013, Rasmussen was the lone holdout on that side of the San Antonio shopping center, refusing to sell his small corner lot even as the development firm Merlone Geier restricted the market's access to parking and rebuilt everything around it. The plucky grocer’s battle with the corporate developer became a local cause celebre, drawing crowds to City Hall, demanding that the Milk Pail be saved.

The Milk Pail emerged from that feud with a promise of parking and an outpouring of community support, but its business still suffered. Rasmussen said the intense nearby construction impeded access to his store and sometimes sent dust in the air. His customers went elsewhere, and Rasmussen said his business had suffered roughly a 40 percent drop in sales from just five years earlier.

Today the rustic, old-style Milk Pail stands in stark contrast to the multi-story offices occupied by Facebook and a luxury megaplex crowding its sides. For a period last year, the Milk Pail employees attempted to co-opt the sudden influx of tech offices by changing up their inventory, offering ready-to-eat sandwiches and salads.

It was an idea that didn't pan out, in part because Facebook employees received free meals from their employer. City officials had pressured the tech company to patronize local businesses, but a debit-card payment system used by the company only included nearby restaurants, not grocery stores.

Rasmussen said the growing presence of well-heeled tech workers has been a difficult force to reckon with as his business struggled. Relocating would have been a possibility years ago, but today the cost of commercial real estate made it prohibitive. A grocery store would never have the capital to compete, he said.

"When you have millenials earning $240,000 a year, and your employees are earning a little more than one-tenth of that, it's extrordinarily hard to co-exist," Rasmussen said. "The disparity in Mountain View these days is unbelievable."

Staffing has also remained a persistent challenge for the Milk Pail. Like many employers, Rasmussen said he has had difficulties finding regular service workers amid the high cost of living in Mountain View. For years, Rasmussen’s brother-in-law James Liu worked as store manager, but he died unexpectedly in 2014. In recent years, Rasmussen’s 20-year-old daughter, Kai, has stepped in to take over management duties at the store.

About two weeks ago, Rasmussen said he notified the Milk Pail's 38 employees of his plans to close the store. He said reaction was mixed: some were shocked while others said they had sensed the writing was on the wall.

Rasmussen said he remains open to the idea of continuing the Milk Pail by handing off the business to younger hands. So far, no one has stepped forward, he said, certainly no one with the resources to reopen the store in a new location.

"I'd be open to collaborating if that was a real possibility, but it's not going to happen on the premises we're on now," he said.

The Milk Pail site will likely be replaced by an office building. Last year, Mountain View officials approved an initial proposal for an eight-story, 250,000 square-foot office building at the corner site in order to secure needed funding to build a new elementary school.

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Comments

38 people like this
Posted by MV Renter
a resident of Shoreline West
on Mar 19, 2019 at 11:43 am

I am very sad about this.

I understand it. But I'm sad about it.


32 people like this
Posted by A Talking Cat
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 19, 2019 at 11:44 am

A Talking Cat is a registered user.

It's too bad we're losing independent retailers like this.

And yet, those of us who value and love them clearly don't give them enough money to stay open! We have only ourselves to blame.


16 people like this
Posted by peanutboy
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2019 at 12:50 pm

peanutboy is a registered user.

While sad, it's inevitable. Mountain View is becoming dominated by high density buildings that crams many multiple housings and offices. Milk Pail was sitting on a gold mine of a real estate with many intense competitions. I think in few years, Mountain View will be reduced to only a handful of retail/restaurant malls.

Many of my friends and neighbors shop at similar yet cheaper alternatives like Foothill Produce or Felipes Market.


6 people like this
Posted by IVG
a resident of Rex Manor
on Mar 19, 2019 at 12:53 pm

Steve should have taken a buyout and moved the store while he still could. Merlone Geier must have offered him beaucoup bucks.

I will miss the Milk Pail. I've been disappointed with their produce selection recently, though.


Like this comment
Posted by Just saying
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2019 at 1:22 pm

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]


87 people like this
Posted by Rodget
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Mar 19, 2019 at 2:25 pm

High rises are our future unless we make sure we only elect city council members who promise to fight and vote against high density buildings


9 people like this
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of North Bayshore
on Mar 19, 2019 at 2:34 pm

Bad news. I visited at least few times a month and apparently not enough customers spending lot of money to keep them afloat. Another store biting the dust because of the rapid changes in Bay Area. Many small businesses will find it hard to survive in this economy and it is really sad. People are shopping in Costco and spending big money in buying factory farmed unhealthy meat and vegetables.


25 people like this
Posted by Things change, Always.
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2019 at 2:38 pm

The owner stated the #1 reason for closing is that they were tired.
They took a big payout and can now relax. Good for them!
I just saw some fool on FB wondering if Google was to blame! HAHAHA.
It's cheese and produce, people. Don't get too overly dramatic. You'll adjust.


12 people like this
Posted by Jeff B.
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 19, 2019 at 3:06 pm

I have fond memories of walking to the Milk Pail as a boy in the 60's and 70's to buy chocolate milk and treats.
I'm happy that Steve was able to purchase the property or it surely would have been gone long ago. My business had to close after 35 years due to my building in Mtn. View being sold without an option to renew my lease at any price. Best of luck Steve!


20 people like this
Posted by Ava's
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 19, 2019 at 3:37 pm

Ava's is a registered user.

This article reminded me to stop by Ava's on the way home and pick up some groceries!


9 people like this
Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Waverly Park
on Mar 19, 2019 at 4:06 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

@Ava's: I had a similar thought. I need to drop by The Rose Market to see how it's doing in its new digs at 801 W El Camino Real (El Camino & Castro). Hope that they're not being killed by insanely high rent.


Like this comment
Posted by Market Rate Rent
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2019 at 4:17 pm

No pun intended but yes Rose is paying market rate rents for this zip code. Not insanely high unless you compare it to time machine rents of years gone by.
I heard in the 70's you could rent a place for 50 bucks!


21 people like this
Posted by reader
a resident of Waverly Park
on Mar 19, 2019 at 4:24 pm

I'm a little disappointed. Many of us spoke up for Milk Pail when the developers were playing hardball. I can't help but wonder if this business could have been sold to someone who wanted to continue it. Seems like there's no shortage of wealthy folks.

Funny, I just returned from NYC and it had more of a small town feel than Mountain View! All those little independent, neighborhood shops, restaurants, pizza joints, and so on. We're almost down to nothing but big nationwide chain stores here.


24 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2019 at 4:27 pm

This is what happens when you let developers run your city. Of course the Milk Pail closed, they are blocked in on all sides by towering buildings and traffic. It's the end of an era, I hope you like the new city you built.


13 people like this
Posted by Dramabarometer
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2019 at 4:28 pm

How many chains on Castro? No independent restaurants, tea shops,coffee houses or chinese bakeries in town??
People...c'mon now.


6 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2019 at 5:02 pm

@JR, they wanted to retire. I know the ACTUAL reasons the OWNER stated don't fit your narrative, but facts are facts, unless you're a Trumper.

The article is really interesting as are the owner's statements on his FB page. You should read both.


11 people like this
Posted by shoulda coulda
a resident of Jackson Park
on Mar 19, 2019 at 5:46 pm

Steve should have sold when he was first approached. Now he has a small lot that cannot be developed into anything useful compared to what's around the lot. The city and the developers bent over backwards to allow him to stay open w no parking rights. Sometimes being stubborn is not useful. He should have listened to those who told him to read the writing on the wall


8 people like this
Posted by MV knows what they are doing
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2019 at 5:48 pm

JR- you are from Palo Alto, so you have lousy grocery stores, the inability to manage your finances. Can not get simple bike bridges built cannot decide what to with the train tracks etc. your council members past and present couldn’t fill a thimble with their accomplishments. They are ego driven and are so wrapped up in your process that nothing gets done.
Did you read the story? The owner has had enough. 40+ years in the business.
Thanks for the revisionist history JR, but we know how to run our city— that is probably why Palo Alto residents flock to MV to eat and shop.


17 people like this
Posted by psr
a resident of The Crossings
on Mar 19, 2019 at 6:42 pm

psr is a registered user.

@ Dramabarometer
Castro isn't bad as far as having some good stuff but I seldom go there because it is impossible to find parking much of the time. The place is only set up if you live downtown or can bike or hike in, none of which apply to me.

I'm sad to see the Mail Pail go (a place I CAN walk to), but I understand the situation. Thankfully there are places in Los Altos to cover most of what will be lost. However, yet another reason not to spend money in MV. Every day it feels more like the Death Star around here. High rise buildings with no character. "Progress" isn't always an improvement.


2 people like this
Posted by zap
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2019 at 8:08 pm

> probably why Palo Alto residents flock to MV to eat and shop.

Yeah, some real choice venues on Castro, like the Monte Carlo. Only the most exclusive clee-en-telle from Palo Alto in that joint.


6 people like this
Posted by Holdouts
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Mar 19, 2019 at 9:25 pm

Steve should have sold when MG offered to buy him out. He wanted to hold out. MG and the city spent a lot of resources to provide parking rights for MP. Now the small lot is surrounded by new development and is worth far less. The site is too small to develop. Sometimes stubborn people fail to see the writing on the wall.


5 people like this
Posted by EA
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2019 at 10:02 pm

You have an opinion without having actual information. Milk pail site will be developed into an 8 story 250,000 SQ ft office tower together with the adjacent parcel.


5 people like this
Posted by Corporate Sell Outs
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 19, 2019 at 10:14 pm

Small Business Owners get locals to champion their small businesses at the City Council meetings (e.g., Steve/Milk Pail) but locals don't follow through with their words by actually purchasing their staples at the Milk Pail...they buty at Costco/Walmart but say just the opposite!

We had the same issue with a grocery store on Castro even though an excellent Asian Market existed, locals still complained and we got Walgreens that does not appear to be doing well. So please stop with all the hypocrisy!


16 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2019 at 10:44 pm

To everyone trying to blame this on high density construction: have you ever been to NYC? There are unique local shops on every block of every corner. The trick is to actually build when there's demand and have mixed use buildings, residential on top, businesses on the ground floor. When you fight all construction and let nothing get built then there's nowhere for those local businesses to move to and they get pushed out.


2 people like this
Posted by Sad
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2019 at 10:58 pm

I used to shop at Milk Pail, sorry to see it leave. But then, The Market on Embarcadero Road/Hwy 101 at Edgewood Plaza in Palo Alto opened. Best meats, produce, gourmet items! Such a clean store with all the necessities and just the right size store. Try it, you'll love it.


2 people like this
Posted by old mv resident
a resident of North Whisman
on Mar 20, 2019 at 8:39 am

I am very sorry to see the Milk Pail close. I shopped at this market from the time it first opened, and they have provided quality product for our area, at very good prices. I spoke up for them when MG tried to bulldoze them to obscurity, and the Mountain View City Council sat on their hands, refusing to step in. But things happen - Felipe, who now owns markets in Sunnyvale and Los Altos, used to work at Milk Pail. James, who was a whirlwind at the store, was killed, along with his son in 2014. I would have thought that traffic would pick up now that the new construction next to Milk Pail was completed, but there's now new construction going on across the street. It's a physically exhausting life, and I guess that Steve took a hard look at that vs. what his land is now worth. Best of luck to Steve and his family.


17 people like this
Posted by Jim Neal
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 21, 2019 at 1:00 pm

Jim Neal is a registered user.

It is both sad and sickening to me that some of the commenters are downright gleeful at the demise of the Milk Pail and/or saying that Steve should have sold sooner to get more money.

In my opinion, only people who have never run a business would say something so uninformed and ridiculous. As someone who has run my own small business, I know how heartbreaking it can be to give up and walk away from your dream; especially if you have spent more than half your life doing it as Steve has!

I am sure that Steve also feels a huge obligation to his employees as well as to the Community that showed him overwhelming support. I am also sure that many of his customers (like me) have been run out of Mountain View by the spectacularly high cost of living there.

I also know that the construction surrounding the Milk Pail didn't help one bit. The last few times I went to shop there before I moved out of Mountain View, I had to wait 15 to 30 minutes just to park in the parking lot or to find a nearby space. No business could have survived that kind of disruption.

I fought the City Council as hard as I could to help save the Milk Pail and other small businesses because I could see that the city was trending toward replacing small businesses with office space. To hear that the Milk Pail will likely be replaced with yet another office that Mountain View does not need is sickening and heart-breaking.

It is amazing to me how many of the people on City Council got elected because they promised 'balanced growth" and yet the amount of offices approved continued (and continues) to far outstrip the amount of housing available to support it. There is no longer any doubt that the city of Mountain View is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the tech companies in the North Bayshore; and that affordable housing in the city will never again be anything more than a pipe dream.

I wish all the best to Steve, his family, and everyone at the Milk Pail. Live long and prosper.


Jim Neal
Modesto
(Formerly Old Mountain View)


Like this comment
Posted by MVtaxpayer
a resident of Shoreline West
on Mar 21, 2019 at 7:15 pm

MVtaxpayer is a registered user.

Sorry to hear this. The Milk Pail is a longtime MV treasure.


Like this comment
Posted by smalla
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2019 at 11:56 am

smalla is a registered user.

I am really sad. Milk-Pail has been my favorite place to shop for grocery for 20 years. I love shopping there with my daughter. I hope we can all band together and request City of Mountain View to come to rescue. I don't think I am alone in evoking this sentiment. I know people from as far as Stanford come to shop here. It has huge following. Where will get my fresh produce, breads, chocolates and nuts?:( Maybe Facebook and Google can help.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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