City Beat

Grocery chains skirmish in central city

A rendering shows what a Whole Foods complex in midtown would have looked like. The grocery chain backed out of the plan last week.
A rendering shows what a Whole Foods complex in midtown would have looked like. The grocery chain backed out of the plan last week. Pappas Investments

Sacramento leaders argue you can’t have a great city without a vibrant urban core. But can you build one without kale and organic quinoa?

As you’ve probably heard by now, Whole Foods has withdrawn its plan to build a large store at 20th and L streets in midtown. The Austin, Texas-based chain known for its organic goods – and mocked by some as “Whole Paycheck” for its steep prices – cited delays by the project developer as the reason it pulled out.

A midtown Whole Foods had been rumored for years before the chain finally announced two years ago it was coming. The 41,000-square-foot store was set to anchor a six-story building with 97 condos.

Construction of a parking garage on 21st Street linked to the project is starting anyway. Scott Rose, a spokesman for the 20th and L development group, said “we are actively evaluating options for Phase 2 of the project,” referring to the Whole Foods site.

So where does this leave the city’s plans to make midtown and downtown more attractive to new residents by providing the kind of amenities you can find in suburban neighborhoods?

First, there’s word circulating in local development circles that Raley’s has explored spots downtown, perhaps near Fox & Goose Public House along the R Street corridor. No firm grocery store plans have materialized for that area, one of the most active development neighborhoods in the city.

Raley’s had been mentioned as a possible tenant of a renovated complex in the former Greyhound station at Seventh and L, but “is not in ongoing conversations with the developers” of that site, company spokeswoman Chelsea Minor said in August.

Another local company, Woodland-based Nugget Markets, is publicly being recruited to the 20th and L block. Steve Hansen, the councilman who represents the central city, posted on Facebook last week it was “Time to bring Nugget to Midtown!” while linking to The Sacramento Bee’s story on Whole Foods’ departure from the plans.

A spokeswoman for Nugget did not return a phone call seeking comment.

All of this is happening as an existing urban Sacramento grocery store with some of the same attributes as Whole Foods is about to greatly expand on the grid.

After years of work, the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op is nearly finished with its new store at 28th and R streets. The 46,000-square-foot store could open as early as Oct. 12, depending on when the Co-Op receives its certificate of occupancy from the city. It will have a much larger kitchen and grocery area – and a lot more parking – than the the current store on Alhambra Boulevard.

Steve Maviglio, a Co-Op board member, gloated a bit on Facebook when Whole Foods backed out, writing simply, “Schadenfreude,” a German phrase meaning to derive pleasure from someone else’s misfortune.

In an interview, Maviglio, a veteran political consultant, stopped short of bashing Whole Foods. But he did say, “Obviously, (the chain’s retreat) removed a major competitor just at a time when we’re almost opening.”

As the city tries to recruit thousands of new city dwellers, Hansen said he believes there’s room for everyone.

“Raley’s is a great local company, the Co-Op is awesome,” he said. “Everybody loves Raley’s and the Co-Op – I don’t think it’s a question of one or the other.”

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