Berkeley residents struggle with Safeway expansion

A rendering of the proposed expansion of Safeway.

BERKELEY, Calif. — Safeway’s expansion plans have come up against an active resistance in Berkeley, where volunteers organized as FANS, Friends and Neighbors of Safeway, passed out leaflets and collected more than 1,000 signatures objecting to the size of the renovation on College Avenue. Those were presented to the Oakland Planning Commission last week.

In the two weeks that the Observer has been working in Berkeley, the staff met with residents and organizers to talk about what would work or not work at the end of the street near the Berkeley-Oakland line. Tory Griffith, who said she appreciated that Safeway was a union store that paid its workers well, worried that the impact would “threaten independent merchants.” She said, “They (Safeway) have the financial heft to lower their prices substantially to compete with the small stores.” Safeway recently bought Chimes, a 100-year-old pharmacy,  across the street from the store and retained the owner to run it as a Safeway pharmacy.

Griffith said what the community now has on College Avenue “seems village-like in an American car culture,” with shoppers able to walk to and from independent produce and meat stores as well as a bakery and still shop at Safeway. She cited the size of the remodeling as the biggest problem, as well as added stoplights proposed in the plan. Safeway plans to remodels 13 stores in the Bay Area. Kurt Schroeder, president of Safeway’s Northern California division, told the Berkeley Voice last week that the economy has turned and “that has opened up more opportunities in urban areas.”

The staff at the Teen Observer informally surveyed shoppers strolling down College Avenue as well as store owners and employees to see what people had to say about the Safeway expansion; the review period for the project runs until Aug. 15.

“It’s like a cozy atmosphere. People like to window-shop. But this expansion will make it more like a mall and less a neighborhood.” — Aponi O’Keefe

“I’m against it. I prefer smaller stores and support the smaller businesses.” — Katy Williams

“I have mixed feeling about it … it’s good business for me since I work here … I guess it’s bad for the shops around here.” — Charles Lovely, who works at the former Chimes pharmacy, purchased recently by Safeway

“It goes both ways for me, really … we benefit because of the foot traffic so we get more business. But as a fan of the small stores, I am sad as a consumer … I am sort of nervous for the mom-and-pop stores.” — Carmelita Lombera, works at About Face and Body

“I don’t see the need for this huge expansion … of course it needs renovation, but not to this extent.” — Lauren Middleton

“I like the store the way it is now. It doesn’t need to be any bigger. If anybody wants a bigger Safeway to go to, they can go down the street.” — Quincy Jacobsen

“A little expansion is better than the whole expansion.” — Ramana Napit

“I love Safeway. I will continue to shop there if it expands. … I am committed to buying from small stores. I get my major supplies at Safeway, but it won’t affect my purchasing.” — Elaine Jackson

“I am with the camp that remodeling is OK, but expansion is not.” — Sarah Ristine

Yael Heiblum, Lydia Katrin, Carly Maltzman, Aidan McGarrigle, Emmett McKinney, Jack Muldoon, Lynne Perri, Luis Valle and Haylee Wasson contributed to this report.