Whole Foods likely to open second store in Berkeley

Whole Foods on Gilman Street would be the grocery chain’s second Berkeley store. The other is on Telegraph at Ashby. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Whole Foods looks set to open a second store in Berkeley after pulling out of negotiations to build a new store in Albany in September. The site would be at 1025 Gilman St., in the location currently occupied by Office Depot.

Read more about the new Gilman shopping district on Berkeleyside.

Office Depot is slated to move across the street to the Gilman District, which will give it about half the space of its current 30,000-square-foot store. “That’s as much space as it needs,” said Doug Wiele of retail developers Foothill Partners, who is about to close on buying both properties this week in partnership with Marin-based property management company The Pratt Company.

Wiele would not confirm Foothill was in talks with Whole Foods specifically, but he said he was in negotiation with grocery stores and “expected the next tenant to be a grocery store.” Although the lease has not yet been signed, sources close to the deal say the real estate arm of Whole Foods has given the go-ahead to the Gilman site.

A Whole Foods spokesperson said: “We are actively looking in the area but cannot comment on any specific location at this time. We announce all new store locations on our quarterly earnings calls – the next one is scheduled for February 2013.”

The site Whole Food has earmarked at 1025 Gilman Street, currently occupied by Office Depot. Photo: Google Street View

Sites that can accommodate a large grocery store are scarce in Berkeley. The only other potential location is the spot formerly occupied by the shuttered McNevin Cadillac/Volkswagen dealership on San Pablo Avenue and Cedar Street. Whole Foods is known to have considered and rejected this spot. The shuttered Andronico’s on University Avenue might have been another option, but it is to be taken over by Savers Thrift.

Wiele said the decision by Office Depot to downsize was made at a corporate level. Business like Office Depot have seen much of their business go online and therefore don’t need as much retail footprint as they used to. Gilman Village is vacant after tenants including Trove and Ethnic Arts moved out.

Whole Foods’ one Berkeley store is on Telegraph Avenue and Ashby. In September, Whole Foods terminated a lease agreement it had with UC Berkeley for a grocery store and senior housing project designed to be built at University Village in Albany. The decision came in the wake of lawsuits filed against the city that sought to delay or cancel the project, for which negotiations had already been ongoing for five years.

Although 30,000 square feet is considered small for a chain like Whole Foods, the Austin, TX-based retailer is pursuing a strategy of opening smaller stores with a view to reaching a target of 1,000 — it currently has 340 units and aims to open around 50 a year soon. Reporting on Whole Foods’ plans last month, Supermarket News said that stores measuring in the 38,000- to 40,000-square-foot range cost less to build and are highly productive. “Smaller stores are more nimble and require fewer employees. Shelf space is limited, so they only stock the best sellers. Likewise, their smaller prepared-foods departments center on self-service areas such as the salad bar, which operate at higher margins than the more labor-intensive departments offered in larger stores,” it wrote.

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  • Completely_Serious

    Never going to be able to park at REI again.

  • Alina

    Exciting news! I’d support it.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I’m glad to see that Whole Foods is moving toward smaller stores.  It is the opposite strategy from Safeway, which is moving to larger “lifestyle” stores, and I think Whole Foods has a better sense than Safeway of its niche in the industry.

    Of course, smaller stores tend to be more locally oriented, while larger stores tend to draw customers from a larger area, generating more traffic.

  • AlanTobey

    If true, this will make it more difficult to fill the would-be grocery slot in Albany half a block away — who’d want to be that close to Whole Foods?  Perhaps Fresh & Easy would fit.

    And a shame that we can’t be more visionary than merely refilling the Office Depot site — the lot and its location without neighboring residences would be perfect for a denser mixed-use development with housing above and parking underneath — more of the “complete communities” approach that we are supposed to be adopting as part of SB375′s Plan Bay Area process..

    Nevertheless, a positive addition to making the Gilman corridor even more walkable, even as it pulls more shoppers off the freeway.

  • Charles_Siegel

    As part of that Albany Village project, are they planning to remove the fence that blocks access to Tenth St at the Berkeley/Albany border?  Removing that fence would make it easier for Albany Village residents to walk to this Whole Foods store.

  • Thompson

    This is great news.  We live just down the street from here, and our grocery options tend to be somewhat of a drive — either El Cerrito’s TJs (because the University Ave location typically has heart attack-inducing parking), or BBW.

    This location should fill a nice geographic hole for full-service grocery stores in the area.

  • Tired

    The Savers Thrift store is currently scheduled to have its grand opening June 13, 2013 (as long as there are no construction related set-backs) at 1414 University Ave (old Andronico’s).

  • Gastarbeiter

    As someone who has often used the Little League fields for practice/play over the years, on various occasions I have been grateful that that fence was in place and locked when serious “crazies” who use the creek trail tried to penetrate it. 

    I recall one instance where we were doing batting practice and a ball hit the fence maybe 30/40 feet away from where one of these loose cannons was walking.  He went absolutely crazy like he was being attacked by us (PTSD?) and was raging at us, screaming threats and profanities.  Only that fence saved an ugly confrontation with small kids around when he tried to open it to get at us.

  • Gastarbeiter

    Wunderbar!  The sooner the better.  I live in this general area.

  • PO’d Albany Resident

    Thanks a lot, OTF’rs, Ruckus and other “activists” who have no stake or interest in the future of Albany – as long rumored, the Whole Foods is going into Berkeley and could derail another grocer from going into the nearby Albany space (too competitive).  

    I’m hoping the Albany project will succeed for the sake of Albany residents (Tax revenue, a draw for shoppers from nearby areas into Albany and Solano Ave for more services, cleaning up that stretch of San Pablo, etc.), but from what I’ve seen, not too optimistic (why wouldn’t the aforementioned groups try to disrupt ANY development again and scare off potential tenants???)

  • Charles_Siegel

     But isn’t the field being replaced by more urban style housing?  That housing should be able to support the urban style street pattern, with small blocks to make it walkable.   The housing provides eyes on the street, which helps to control crime; and the kids are no longer there.

    I have an occasional crazy drifting into my neighborhood from downtown Berkeley, but no one has suggested putting a chain-link fence around the neighborhood.

    I can see that the fence was needed to control stray baseballs, but that is the past.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/RECDFG624DO7FWRCCST25Y62PU Linda Brand

    Fresh and Easy would be a great choice for the Albany site. Lower cost quality foods which would appeal to students, families, seniors.  

  • Charles_Siegel

     Incidentally, there is a through street (unfenced) two blocks to the west on 8th St, and I have never heard of it causing problems.

  • Annie Painter

    I’d love to see a Whole Foods in that location, and hope this finally prompts some traffic improvement plans for Gilman Street, which is a major east-west corridor from I-80 to North Berkeley residential areas and to UC Berkeley. At a bare minimum, a rethink of the Gilman-San Pablo Avenue intersection which includes left-turn lane signals in all four directions please! 

    BTW I see REI as too distant from the proposed WF site to cause any parking lot problems. Imagine having to negotiate crossing Gilman on foot carrying a heavy bag of groceries! And I seldom see enough customers inside Office Depot even to fill five parking spots.

  • Albany resident

    Fresh and Easy is part of UK-based Tesco, the 3rd largest retailer in the WORLD   http://finance.yahoo.com/news/expect-worlds-three-biggest-retailers-165623057.html  They have ambitions to surpass Wal Mart and have had problems in the past w/ quality control, sanitation, etc. in the UK.  For those who criticized WF for being a non-local for-profit “corporation”, F&E is owned by a monstrous multinational w/ $115 billion in annual sales – makes WF look like the local mom & pop store.

    I personally wouldn’t shop there – not necessarily because of its parentage, but b/c the products do not appeal to me (pre-packaged so-so quality produce, lots of highly processed foods, etc.), but it might work for some.  I’d would have rather had a Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowl, etc. for the better quality goods (the pricing is generally higher, but in some cases is on par w/ Fresh and Easy – and certainly higher quality) and onsite freshly prepared foods (vs. everything prepped in a Fresh & Easy food plant somewhere).  But WF, BB, etc. ain’t gonna happen b/c the location is too close to this new WF Berkeley spot.

  • emraguso

    The current research field is zoned for open space and recreation, not housing. 
    Via UC: “The 2004 University Village Master Plan describes a proposal to eventually convert the 10-plus acre agricultural research parcel between Marin Avenue and Village Creek  to open and recreational space for the community. As of now research projects are continuing and the university has not taken any steps to implement the Master Plan on the parcel.”
    http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2012/04/27/uc-berkeley-issues-open-letter-concerning-occupy-the-farm/

    You can learn a lot here: 
    http://albany.patch.com/articles/column-2012-uc-gill-tract-and-university-village-faq-updated#pdf-9701131

  • Charles_Siegel

     I am talking about the ball field, not the research field.

    Looking at the map of the proposed development at http://www.berkeleyside.com/2012/11/20/officials-push-uc-berkeley-mixed-use-project-forward/ I am talking about a pedestrian connection from the road in front of the Senior Living over the creek and connecting with 10th St. in Berkeley.   That would allow people from Albany Village to walk along 10th St to Whole Foods, rather than taking a more round-about route to get there.

    There is a little arrow in the map, which seems to indicate that they are planning this pedestrian connection.  Planners nowadays generally understand the need for this sort of walkability.

  • emraguso

    Ah — sorry about that. We haven’t heard too much in the discussions of the past few years about the plans for that space because it was supposed to be (I think) at least 10 years off before the fields moved. But now that the development agreement has been halted it’s not totally clear what will happen there. Albany Little League reps have told me in the past that they are comfortable with the UC’s commitment to them though. 
    There are more of the proposed transit paths / routes on p. 22 and beyond here – http://www.berkeleyside.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/San+Pablo+Village+Center-10-17-11-City-Council-presentation-only.pdf

  • TN

    I’m surprised that you can park there now.

    Because I only buy small things that I can hand carry at REI, I always walk or bike the 2 miles there.

    It would be more difficult if I were buying bigger things there like skis.

  • Petsitter101

    Nonsense!

  • berkeley reader

    Yay for my property value!  Hopefully this will cancel out the negative that will be the new thrift store occupying the old Andronico’s in the other direction.

  • Robertjm

    You can’t park there now anyways, so WF will have nothing to do with that. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/aavellar1 Anna Avellar

    Now you will be able to park at whole foods and to to REI

  • guest

    The article says Foothill is about to close on buying both properties.  I wonder what will happen to the property tax bill.  Office Depot seems to be this parcel  http://www.acgov.org/MS/prop/index.aspx?PRINT_PARCEL=60-2355-8-2  with a taxable value of 7,350,000.00

  • Howie Mencken

    Albany resident…Thanks for the heads up. I didn’t realize our ‘Dennis the Red Menace’ activists had cast non-local for-profit corporations as the new villainy.

  • Cammy

    This would be nice, although I am very loyal to the Natural Grocery stores, as they have more of a “mom and pop” feel. I rarely (maybe once a year) go to the Whole Foods on Telegraph because it’s kind of far but more importantly parking is usually tight. So this would be nice for those who are in the are of Berkeley closer to San Pablo/Marin/Gilman area.

  • Rchaim

    I wonder how the folks at Berkeley Natural feel about the presence of WF so close. Also, does University need more discount Thrift Stores?? Would have welcomed WF to the old Andronicos site.

  • Guest

    It seems like these smaller grocery stores do well even when large stores are nearby.  One example is the awesome Berkeley Produce Center near Cheeseboard between Safeway and Andronico’s.  The produce is usually very fresh and nicely displayed, prices are competitive and the owners are very nice.  One can shop here for most needs and visit the larger stores for items they don’t carry from time to time.

  • EBGuy

     I’m putting both the Berkeley (1/2 mile) and El Cerrito (2 miles) Natural Grocery stores on death watch if this comes to pass.

  • Noda_G

    A full service grocery store in this location would be great for both my West Berkeley neighbors and Albany Village residents. Obviously the issue that will come up, and has to be addressed is traffic and parking. Not an easy one but can be solved. I actually think local businesses will thrive with the addition of a strong anchor like Whole Foods who generally makes a fairly strong commitment to the local community and will draw shoppers who look for quality.

  • Hfidek

    cool a new whole “pay check” foods 

  • ang1390

    Between F&E’s store coupons, emailed product coupons for frequently bought items, 50%-off bin, and Friends program, I’ve saved a ton of money since they came to my neighborhood. Last time I walked out of there with $55 of already reasonably priced food for $35. Their house brands are of consistently high quality (read the Chron’s taste comparisons — F&E often does as well or better than Trader Joe’s) and, except from the viewpoint of the health food fanatic, very healthy.

    Unfortunately, F&E has cut its capital spending program to the bone, and they are opening few new stores.

  • Berserkly

    One upside: DJ Dave has another location for a new video…making it real in the Whole Foods Parking lot…

  • David D.

    There is all this talk of Whole Foods, but as a neighborhood resident, I must say that a Whole Foods would do little to meet the neighborhood’s grocery needs. It’s just another specialty retailer…no better than the former Andronico’s on University. When can we get a more traditional store? A Fresh & Easy or Sprouts would fit perfectly in the Office Depot location because of the available square footage. Leave Whole Foods to the Village, please. There is one of those smaller Whole Foods not too far from my office in San Rafael, and it’s a terrible parking mess with an extremely limited selection. Nothing at all like the Whole Foods at Harrison & 27th in Oakland, which is what we’re all probably hoping for if Whole Foods does come to this part of town.

  • David D.

    I’d much rather see a Fresh & Easy or Sprouts move in, but at least Whole Foods will be a nice addition to the neighborhood. Can’t say the same about the thrift store moving into the old Andronico’s. Sigh.

  • NB

    Here’s a Salon article from earlier this year on the “Whole Foods Effect” — including an average 17.5% increase in neighborhood home prices:

    Whole Foods is coming? Time to buy
    Forget Starbucks: It’s the gourmet grocer that lands just before neighborhoods really explode

    http://www.salon.com/2012/05/05/whole_foods_is_coming_time_to_buy/