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Since It’s Not Amazon Fresh, What will the Bay Street Grocery Store Be?

4 mins read
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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.

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.

The Amazon Fresh building in Elk Grove is visually reminiscent of the Bay Street design. It’s sat vacant for over a year (Photo: egcitizen.com)

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.

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.

Signage, shelving, even carts were all in place before the New Seasons Market at the Public Market abruptly pulled the plug.

Possible Alternatives

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.

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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

5 Comments

  1. I continue to think the idea of a grocery store at Bay Street is simply bizarre. How could they possibly implement a system for helping people get groceries to their cars, where parking is akin to going to Costco? I can’t imagine they’d let people take carts to their cars, because how could they possibly manage that between the space and personnel needed?

    Living close to Powell & Vallejo, I like the idea of being able to walk to a real grocery store (sorry, TJs), but I’m not going to walk all that way with the kind of weekly shopping I do, so I know I’m not going to patronize whatever it is all that much, and I can’t imagine there are a lot of people who will use it enough to make the investment worthwhile. If I’m going to Bay Street at all, I’m only doing it after making peace with with dealing with how bad the parking situation will be when I get there (inconvenient, poorly arranged, and ridiculously not free). I just don’t get the attractiveness of this idea at all.

    PS whatever it is, I’m glad it’s not going to be a WFM or Amazon Fresh, as I try not to patronize either because of the way they treat their employees. Yeah, Safeway is no better, I’m sure, but they don’t pretend to be any better than what they are. WFM in particular needs to live up to the values it espouses.

    • I imaging it would be a lot like the Adam’s point Whole Foods with the rooftop parking. I’ve only been there a handful of times but it seemed reasonably orchestrated. The bottleneck that is Shellmound would be a bigger barrier to shopping for those that need to drive IMO.

      What metric are you using to evaluate employee satisfaction? Trader Joe’s is always ranked very high of course.

      https://progressivegrocer.com/trader-joes-costco-among-retailers-forbes-ranking-best-employers-new-grads

      What metric are

      • It’s not about employee satisfaction per se, it’s actual neglect of employee well-being. WFM removed health benefits in 2020 for part-time workers who work 20 hrs/week, despite Jeff Bezos easily being able to afford it. (Other companies, such as Costco, take much better care of their employees.) Then there was the very selective action against its employees who wore masks with a BLM message, claiming its corporate rules prevent wearing clothing with messages but not enforcing it until the BLM moment.

  2. I would be really cool if it were a Nugget.
    I’d also love a Berkeley Bowl location, but it seems unlikely.

    I agree that a grocery store in that location seems unintuitive, but it’s certainly possible to do. The busiest Costco in the world is in one of the densest urban areas of Seoul South Korea. They have a three floor store and a four floor parking garage. Cart-friendly ramp-style escalators everywhere. It can work. Will they try something like that in Emeryville… doubtful.

    But they could…

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