By Ken Williams | Editor
Smart & Final’s successful bid in bankruptcy court to take over the Haggen supermarket in North Park has spurred a lively debate on Nextdoor.com about whether the warehouse store would be welcomed with open arms.
Paul Greshko’s initial posting on Nov. 11 via the hyper-local private social network asked if there was a way to stop Smart & Final from opening and suggested community members pack the next North Park Planning Committee meeting to voice their objections. His posting unleashed dozens and dozens of responses online, crossing the entire spectrum from full support to total opposition, and everything in between.
Vicki Granowitz, chair of the North Park Planning Committee, said last week that she spoke to Smart & Final officials and offered to broker a meeting between the warehouse store, the city and the community.
“We don’t want to become like South Park,” Granowitz said in reference to the brouhaha that erupted over Target Express.
Marisol Marks, the director of publicity for the Smart & Final company which is based in Commerce, California, explained that the North Park location would be a Smart & Final Extra! — a more upscale version of their traditional warehouse store.
“The Extra! store concept was introduced seven years ago,” she said.
In her interview with San Diego Uptown News, Marks echoed the company website description of the Extra! brand:
“Smart & Final Extra!, one of the company’s newest store concepts, is designed to enhance the household consumer’s shopping experience and also includes changes to benefit business customers. Smart & Final Extra! stores are much larger than a typical Smart & Final warehouse store and full of extra features. The stores carry a greatly expanded selection of products in key categories like produce, fresh meat, frozen foods, dairy, deli and grocery basics like cereal, yogurt, bread and snacks. Smart & Final Extra! combines the high quality fresh produce of a farmers market, the low prices of a discount grocer and the large club size products of a traditional club store. But you don’t need to buy in bulk when you shop at Smart & Final Extra! We also carry thousands of items in smaller, convenient sizes. In addition we have everything that small businesses, clubs and organizations need on a daily basis.”
Marks said the North Park location would employ “50 associates, although that number could be higher, depending on services offered.” The jobs will be non-union, she added.
Smart & Final is aware of the initial community reaction, she said, and as a result the company will be seeking community input about what residents want to see in the store.
“We try to look at each community differently and individually,” Marks said, noting that a downtown Los Angeles store had a coffee shop, which is not a typical service offered at Smart & Final. “We are open to feedback.”
Marks recommended community members send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The North Park store is expected to open by the end of June 2016, she said. Current plans do not include an on-site bakery, deli or butcher shop, although Marks said there would be meat-cutting on the premises.
Smart & Final will brand the North Park location with its Extra! signage, but Marks didn’t anticipate major changes to the exterior of the current building.
Uptown News asked Marks about two problems that bedeviled Haggen and Albertsons before that: shoplifters and the homeless. Marks said Smart & Final employs a loss-prevention team to tackle shoplifting problems and would look into the situation involving the homeless.
“Smart & Final is ultimately about making our customers feel safe, and that’s our No. 1 focus,” she said. “We will work with community leaders about what can get done about the homeless situation.”
Marks asked the North Park community to give the Extra! brand a chance before passing judgment, alluding to the criticism via Nextdoor.com.
“Our brand resonates with people in every community we serve,” she said. The Smart & Final brands — Smart & Final, Smart & Final Extra! and Cash&Carry Smart Foodservice — can be found in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona and northern Mexico.
“We are excited to be coming to North Park,” Marks said. “Once they see the Extra! brand, they will be pleasantly surprised by the expanded products. They won’t have to buy in bulk, although that will be offered. There are quite a few household products from national brands that are offered in individual sizes.”
Although Granowitz described Smart & Final Extra! as a “down-market Costco,” there is a major difference between the two warehouse concepts: Smart & Final does not charge a membership fee. Purchases can be made by cash, check, credit or debit.
The warehouse store is also known for offering office products, cleaning supplies, and bulk food services for restaurants and nonprofits.
“It feels like a grocery store,” Marks said. “One stop shopping for household or business.
“As our CEO says, value is the new normal.”
—Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and Mission Valley News and can be reached at email@example.com or at 619-961-1952. Follow him on Twitter at @KenSanDiego, Instagram at @KenSD or Facebook at KenWilliamsSanDiego.