Revamped Safeway opens in heart of Gourmet Ghetto

The new store is one of Safeway’s “Lifestyle” stores and includes a Starbucks and an emphasis on fresh food. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Today sees the re-opening, after nearly one year of construction work, of the Safeway on Shattuck Avenue, right in the heart of Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto.

For one loyal customer, the unveiling of what the grocery chain refers to as one of its “lifestyle” stores is, as she put it, “mind boggling.” When Claire Alvarez moved to Henry Street in 1962, the spot now occupied by Safeway was a vacant lot. Alvarez watched the original store go up, and was first in the door when it opened in 1965. Yesterday, she was designated the new store’s official first customer and was asked to help cut the ceremonial ribbon.

Alvarez, like may Berkeley residents, and even Safeway employees, agreed the old store was in dire need of a makeover. “But I never dreamed it would be like this,” she said, after being presented with a bouquet of flowers by the store’s manager, Kimberly Davis. “I’ll be coming in every other day.”

The revamped store has been a long time in the making, and not without complications. What started out as a plan to rebuild — and at one point included first-story housing — turned into an extensive remodel, albeit one that saw all but one original wall maintained. And the community expressed many concerns about the project along the way.

Safeway VP of Operations Bernard Hardy, Store Manager Kimberly David, Claire Alvarez, the original store’s first customer, and Keith Turner, Safeway Director of Public Affairs, at the ribbon cutting for the newly unveiled Shattuck Avenue store. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Speaking at the preview event on Thursday, at which Safeway donated $5,000 to the Berkeley Public Education Foundation, Council Member Laurie Capitelli, whose district embraces the store, said he was pleased with how cooperative Safeway had been in dealing with the city and local residents.

“Their staff sat down with me and neighbors and worked out issues both large and small,” he said. “Virtually every neighbor signed off on this Safeway.”

Being located in arguably one of the most food-conscious neighborhoods in the country — it’s a stone’s throw from Chez Panisse, Michael Pollan lunches regularly at Saul’s Deli across the way, and it’s directly opposite the site of a weekly Berkeley Farmers Market — Safeway has strived to offer something a little special for its connoisseur customers. There’s a deli and seafood counter, a hot bakery and full-service meat counter, a full-service florist, as well as a Starbucks close to the store’s entrance.

Sushi chefs prepare food at the new Safeway’s deli counter. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Davis, who started her career at the Shattuck store in 1998, and has returned to manage its new incarnation from Martinez, said the chain is enhancing its organic and natural foods sections with a view to meeting the needs of its discerning clientele. “There’s also more variety of produce,” she added.

She said that a net total of 125 new jobs have been created at the new store, which has a significantly bigger footprint than the original, and was designed by Oakland architects Lowney Architecture. Some of the building’s original features, such as its curved ceilings, have been preserved, large clerestory windows provide natural light and, in keeping with the “lifestyle” concept, there are wooden floors and recessed lighting. From the Shattuck Avenue side, the store’s branding is discreet and an underground garage, accessible from Henry Street, provides spaces for parking.

Darlene Schoby is one of the new employees to join the 65 who were retained from the original store before it closed in February for eight months of remodeling. She said she likes the new building and the way it blends the 1960s architecture with contemporary aspects.

Darlene Schoby, an employee of the newly opened Shattuck Avenue Safeway, approves of the way the original 1960s architecture has been blended with the new parts of the building. Photo: Tracey Taylor

“Having sunlight inside always makes you feel good,” she said. She also relishes serving such a diverse local community. “We will be selling everything from popcorn to sit-down dinners,” she said. “I wouldn’t quite say we will be giving the Cheese Board a run for their money, but we have many great pizzas.”

Safeway has had a presence in Berkeley for 85 years. The unveiling of the redesigned Safeway on Shattuck comes not long after the Berkeley City Council unanimously made its opposition clear to the remodeling of the Safeway at the intersection of Claremont and College avenues just over the Berkeley border in Oakland.

Bike racks and a staggered facade are part of the design of the new Safeway which was devised by Lowney Architecture. Photo: Tracey Taylor

There is an extensive cheese selection at the newly remodeled store. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Safeway has enhanced its organic and natural food sections for its Gourmet Ghetto customers. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The new Safeway includes a Starbucks coffee shop located near its entrance. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The building design is staggered on the Shattuck side and branding is unobtrusive. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Related:
Berkeley Council unites in opposing Safeway project [07.18.12]
North Berkeley Safeway given green light to remodel [01.21.11]
New plans unveiled for Safeway store on Shattuck [07.27.10]

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  • chamelean75

    I love the remodel and the coupons were nice.

  • BerkeleyGal

    not a fan.  I find that their”affordable food” is cheap, processed crap.  I bought organic milk, eggs, lettuce and ketchup there the other day in a pinch and spent twice what I would have at TJ’s.  Their “values” have little nutritive value and only perpetuate the cycle of people buying food that is not good for them.  TJ’s and Monterey Market have my business, for sure. 

  • Howie Mencken

    My second visit confirmed my first impression; There’s a sizeable new segment in the clientele. They’re younger, better dressed, and not nearly as dazed as the regulars by the scale and variety. 

    One positive unintended consequence will be less VTR’s generated in the neighborhood. Whipping out the old Prius to drive 3 blocks, park in the Safeway lot and hang out at Peet’s, The Cheese Board or Chez Panisse for half a day – that’s over.

    Imagine the gross income necessary to support the new store and divide it by the number of parking spaces. You’ll see why; If you’re parking at Safeway, you’re shopping at Safeway. Viva Capitalism!

  • Mbfarrel

    “younger, better dressed, and not nearly as dazed as the regulars>>>”

    to cop a quote from a boomer activist on KPFA (don’t remember who,) “no one was ever supposed to be younger than us.”

    It’s the end of the world

  • iicisco

    Walked in there the other day and I gotta say the remodeled Safeway is excellent. Everything is more vibrant and cheerful. I love the addition of the Self Checkout now! Only thing that may cause trouble is the smaller aisles. You can barely get two carts past each other but eh what are you going to do!

  • Charles_Siegel

    I noticed that their “upscale” bakery features Orowheat bread and Sara Lee bagels.  Despite their new image, they are still featuring corporate food.

    I am wondering how well their new “lifestyle” image will work out.  Safeway became dominant in the era of moderate sized supermarkets selling mass-produced corporate food, and I don’t think they are doing a very good job of moving beyond that era. 

    They can’t compete with Costco or Walgreen on the price of mass produced foods.  They can’t compete with Whole Foods and many other chains on upscale image.  I think they are doing a clumsy job of finding a new niche for themselves – trying to combine fresh baked goods with Sara Lee bagels. 

    Supermarkets in this neighborhood have always been very busy, and this Safeway is no exception.  Whether Safeway corporation as a whole is positioning itself for success is more dubious.

  • Howie Mencken

    Beautiful!

  • Howie Mencken

    I am always amazed by the number of instant experts we have in Berkeley.

  • Howie Mencken

    Anyone who thinks families, even affluent North Berkeley families, can afford to live on organic artisanal foods is seriously misinformed. Safeway is good at giving most people what they want, at prices they can afford. The rest shop elsewhere. I can’t think of a more profitable positioning.

  • serkes

    I liked it … and am intrigued that they can slice the bread to different widths.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/serkes/8065883686/in/photostream/lightbox/

    The sidewalks along Shattuck seemed fairly narrow when I drove by; they seemed to be OK when I walked along them.

    Ira 

  • Charles_Siegel

     I buy the artisinal whole wheat bread at Trader Joes, which costs about as much as Orowheat at Safeway. 

    I think Trader Joes has the best niche: high quality food at low prices.  Better than Safeway’s national-brand food at the same prices.

    I trust Trader Joes bagels to be more authentic than Sara Lee’s.  Sara Lee bagels!  It is hard for me to believe that this is what “most people want.”

  • Charles_Siegel

    “Why else would the store’s sales capacity have increased so dramatically.”

    Safeway is shifting to these “lifestyle” stores, because their old model (moderate-size stores selling mass-produced food) is obsolescent.  The old model can’t compete with the larger Costco and Walmart stores on cost, and can’t compete with Whole Foods and others on quality, so it is being squeezed out.

    Lifestyle stores are an attempt to find a new niche to replace their old niche.  As I have said, I think it is a rather clumsy attempt, combining a little bit of upscale with a large helping of national-brand mass-produced food.  We will see if it succeeds. 

    The world does change, and the fact that Safeway was the most successful chain 50 years ago does not mean that it will be the most successful going forward.

  • Guest

    We are a family of two working adults and a toddler living in a small house near downtown Berkeley and I can confirm that it is possible to live on organic foods on moderate income.  We cook most foods from scratch, eat lots of beans, vegetables and fruit which can be very affordable when in season.  So no organic blueberries in the winter…  We shop mostly at Farmer’s Market, Monterey Market and Berkeley Bowl and cook lots of tastey meals at home.

  • Howie Mencken

    Those with time to cook mostly from scratch are truly blessed. As I recall it was when our second arrived that we seldom had the thyme.

  • Howie Mencken

    Most people want choices. Nowhere are there more choices than at Safeway.

  • Castilloanamary

    Anamary  que lindo quedo isieron un buen trabajo los felicito

  • guest

    I’m guessing that Trader Joes is the last place you want to go if you value local food, and I’m guessing that a lot of the low prices have real costs caused by the economies of scale that make the low prices possible.

  • guest

    I remember our old Safeway experimented with smaller carts. I loved them, and they actually worked, but they were soon gone.

  • guest

    Cheep processed crap is fine for you in moderation.