Ever since CenterCal Properties unveiled their plans to build a grocery store at Bay Street over two years ago, neighbors have been actively asking “what’s it going to be?!”
All signs seemed to be pointing toward an Amazon Fresh or Whole Foods based on the assertion that the store would be a “cashierless” experience and the previous collaboration between CenterCal, the architect of the project and Amazon (CenterCal owns at least two properties where Whole Foods is a tenant). The airtight secrecy is also a signature strategy of Amazon.
The “anchor” grocery tenant is the center of CenterCal’s $75 million revitalization efforts that thus far includes a revamped dining terrace and other new food & drink tenants including Philz Coffee, Tipsy Putt, Fogo de Chão and Copper & Malt.
The nearly complete “The Emery” 500-unit housing project and South Bayfront bridge connecting the two fractured “neighborhoods” has buoyed the appeal of the shopping center that is now walking distance for potentially more than 1000 additional residents.
This speculation of what the grocery store would be reached a fevered pitch when construction crews recently revealed a distinct bright green and grey color scheme.
Trim being painted on the still not officially named Bay Street Emeryville Grocery Store but the color palette looks very “Amazon Fresh-y” to us! 😉
Photo: Jordan Potier pic.twitter.com/VOpDqAm8a7— The E’ville Eye News (@TheEvilleEye) November 15, 2023
Alas, SF Business Times staff reporter Alex Barreira was able to verify that the store would not open as an Amazon Fresh or a Whole Foods in a recent report. “Amazon Fresh will not be opening a store at Bay Street Emeryville,” CenterCal’s vice president of development Scott Bohrer stated in the piece. Bohrer refused to acknowledge who and wether any tenant would open in Spring 2024 as planned.
It’s certainly possible that the building was slated to be an Amazon Fresh at one point and was the victim of unfortunate timing. Amazon put a pause on opening new stores earlier this year placing several stores in the Sacramento area in limbo.
Over the summer, Amazon Fresh announced that they were laying off employees signaling that they were experiencing difficulty permeating the grocery store space.
Secretiveness leading to Skepticism?
Why CenterCal is being so secretive about any tenant boils down to them either really wanting to make a splash, avoiding blowback if its a less desirable tenant (say, a Walmart Neighborhood Market) or they no longer have a tenant.
Because of the secrecy and delays, many in the city are beginning to assume the latter.
According to a poll we posted on our Facebook, X and Threads platform channels, followers are growing increasingly skeptical that a tenant is currently locked in with “They don’t have a tenant” winning handily in all polls.
Since the Bay Street Grocery store is NOT an Amazon Fresh or Whole Foods, what will it be? (Add other choice in replies).— The E’ville Eye News (@TheEvilleEye) November 27, 2023
New Seasons Market “PTSD”?
Emeryville residents are all too familiar with having the rug pulled out from under them in regards to new grocery tenants. In 2018, the Public Market space slated to be a New Seasons Market appeared days away from opening when the northwest-based grocery chain abruptly withdrew.
The Marketplace owners claimed they solicited the space to 37 potential grocers before giving up and adapting the space for biotech (the site ultimately opened as the Upside Foods “EPIC” facility in 2021).
Demolition of the previous building at Bay Street to make way for the grocery tenant displaced several reliable tenants including Old Navy, Kara’s Cupcakes and EQ3 Home furnishings.
Construction on the exterior of the store looks nearly complete but the interior is completely vacant.
Construction workers, security guards and employees of the surrounding businesses we spoke to are all in the dark as to what will open.
All we currently have to go on is the bright green and slate grey color palette which is not uncommon in the grocery space. A Sprouts, Andronico’s or even a Nugget Market seems reasonable based on the appearance of their stores. It is certainly possible that the green accent is merely a “placeholder” (or even a decoy).
E’ville Eye readers & followers have suggested the possibility and desire for other chains like Asian specialty grocer H Mart or German-based Aldi but neither of these have this distinct green/grey color scheme. Many readers have expressed the desire for a Berkeley Bowl at the space but this seems unlikely considering the proximity to their Berkeley Bowl West location.
While it could very well be a new player in the Bay Area Grocery market, it seems unlikely to be a “one-off” as grocers tend to open in clusters to leverage distribution centers.
So when will we know?
An ABC license (Alcoholic Beverage Control), required to sell alcohol at the store, has not been applied for at the address. This process can take between 2-3 months so if indeed they intend to open in spring, this paperwork will have to be submitted by early next year.
Many media clues come from the city’s monthly progress reports that provide information on business permitting and signage submitted to the city. The city has gone dark on the subject and are currently four months behind on publishing these reports.
Outgoing 2022-23 Emeryville Mayor John Bauters declined to comment in the SFBT report whether he knew the space still in fact had a tenant.
Don’t count out CenterCal
CenterCal properties has an impressive track record and have thus far done an admirable job of turning around the decaying mall and weekend crowds are beginning to return.
According to a piece published today in SF Gate, Year-over-year traffic at Bay Street has increased by 12% and visitation from daytime workers within a mile of the mall has increased by 64% YOY.
Bay Street expects to be 95% leased by the end of the year according to Bohrer.