“It’s the last thing I wanted to do,” said A.G. Ferrari Foods’ CEO Paul Ferrari. “We love Solano Avenue and we were hoping we could ride out the recession. But the street needed a certain vibrancy to make the business viable, and upper Solano has been horribly hit by the economic downturn. We weren’t making any money.”
The Solano store had its last day on Sunday. Ferrari said all of its employees have been given jobs elsewhere in the company. High rent was also an issue, Ferrari said. “We were paying way over market rent.” Ferrari believes that, eventually, the neighborhood will come back, but that rents will have to come down.
With the closure, A.G. Ferrari now has a total of 12 stores across the Bay Area, including its College Avenue deli in the Elmwood, which Ferrari said he has no plans to close. All 12 stores are operating as usual, although Ferrari said the company may close more stores in the South Bay.
“The Solano Avenue Association is highly concerned about the closing of A.G. Ferrari,” said Allen Cain, Executive Director and Events Manager of the Solano Avenue Association and Stroll. “We are concerned for A.G. Ferrari as a company and hope that the effects on its workforce are minimal. Solano Avenue, primarily on the west/Berkeley end has been hit hard with vacancies. Filling them will be difficult and, like a virus, vacancies only spread without ‘treatment’. Rents are high, landlords do not want to risk devaluing their property and so they stay vacant. The Association feels that without significant, immediate action, Solano Avenue as we know it is in jeopardy.”
The loss of A.G. Ferrari from Solano is a blow to a street where there have already been many departures: Sarber’s Cameras moved from its upper Solano site to a new location down the street in Albany just a few days ago; and the Oaks Theatre went dark, perhaps for the last time, in January. And not everyone was happy with the news in February that Goodwill might move into vacant retail space on Solano.
Residents are concerned about the direction the street is taking. Jane Tierney, President of the Thousand Oaks Neighborhood Association (TONA), said: “We are working with representatives of the city to streamline requirements for entrepeneurs, in hopes that the Solano Avenue business district remains a vital neighborhood resource which adds to the quality of life for residents and visitors alike.”
City issues such as permitting, quota systems, and rent and parking regulations are seen to compound the problems caused by the financial downturn. Late last year, councilmember Laurie Capitelli conducted a poll among Solano Avenue residents and merchants which led him to propose to the city what he called a “mini economic stimulus plan” on behalf of the shopping district.
But any such move came too late for A.G. Ferrari. “I knew this was in the works. And it might have made a difference had it worked,” said Ferrari. “But right now the street is just too quiet.”