A long-simmering debate over the future of the in Tam Valley has boiled over in recent weeks, as the Orchard Supply Hardware (OSH) chain has inked a preliminary deal to move into the 23,000-square-foot space in the heart of Tam Junction.
On the heels of the news, first reported in the Marin Independent Journal, one resident has created a pair of online petitions, one invoking the community’s need for a grocery store in the space at 209 Flamingo Road and the other urging one prospective grocery tenant to move into Tam Valley. The petitions have garnered more than 300 signatures to date.
But Tam Valley leaders are cautioning against a firestorm of opposition, saying that the leasing agent for the space has made extensive outreach to a variety of grocery chains to no avail, and that OSH is better than the massive retail space remaining vacant since .
“People are all over the map on their opinions with this one,” said Robin St. John, the co-chair of the Tam Valley Vision Group.
Mark Marinozzi, a marketing executive who lives on Lowell Ave. and can see the long-vacant building from his hilltop home, was a frequent DeLano’s customer. He said he created the petitions because his busy job didn’t allow for him to do the kind of time-intensive grassroots outreach needed to get the community involved.
Since the petitions went live, Marinozzi said he’s been thrilled with the response from supporters. He’s also been taken aback by some local residents who “would like to see that I don’t do this” and have discouraged his campaign. Marinozzi declined to say who has done so but said he suspected that some had “beyond just the community’s interest” in mind.
“I’m in marketing – I can smell a rat,” he said.
Robert Knez, CEO of HL Commercial Real Estate in San Rafael and the agent for the building's owners, the Parrish Trust, said no lease has been signed with the San Jose-based Orchard chain. The building has been home to a grocery store since the late 1950s, when the original Shoreline Market opened. It morphed into a Bell Market and then Cala Foods in the 1970s before becoming DeLano's in the 1990s. The Tam Valley DeLano's was evicted in December 2010 along with four other DeLano's in the Bay Area for falling behind on rent.
“A lot of people would like to have a grocery store but we have not been able to find one that wants to go in there,” Knez said. “If it’s not going to be a grocery store than OSH is a good alternative. We want to bring something that’s positive to the community. But if anyone has a grocery store suggestion that we haven’t contacted, we’d be happy to listen.”
In a letter to Tam Valley residents, St. John acknowledged that not landing a grocery store and the “big box” nature of OSH were unfortunate.
“On the other hand, long term vacancy is a real possibility,” she wrote. “The Delano's Tam Valley market closed almost 18 months ago. The longer a vacancy goes the more it tends to depress an area.”
A number of residents have noted that the shift from a grocer to a hardware store could have a silver lining. The change of use triggers a public hearing process for a Use Permit and a Master Plan for the property, which is owned by the Parrish Trust and extends from the market south to TJ’s Crossfit Gym. The process goes to the county Planning Commission and could give residents a chance to lobby for improvements like landscaping, according to Curry Ecklehoff, the chair of the Tam Valley Improvement Club.
“We could come out of this with a very nice building and improvements around it,” she said.
Marinozzi is convinced that it’s not too late to lobby Fresh and Easy Neighborhood Market, a subsidiary of the British-owned conglomerate Tesco, to consider the Tam Junction space. The chain launched in the U.S. in 2007 and has 18 stores in the Bay Area.
Marinozzi said he was encouraged that Fresh and Easy is taking over the former DeLano’s space at the Cove in Tiburon, and thus one of his petitions specifically focuses on lobbying that company’s execs to consider the Tam Valley space.
Knez said he’d reached out to Fresh and Easy but was unsuccessful, though he wouldn’t elaborate on the response. Fresh and Easy spokesman Brendan Wonnacott said the company appreciated the sentiments expressed by neighbors and was still analyzing the merits of the Tam Valley site. he declined to comment further.
Several residents have said that Knez also reached out to Trader Joe's, Paradise Market and Woodlands Market, among others. Knez declined to talks specific grocers, but said he made “hundreds” of inquiries to grocers and they all rejected the site. Residents said the size of the space, its location, required tenant improvements and high rent – reportedly as high as $45,000 a month – were reasons grocers cited for not wanting to move into the space.
Tam Valley resident Kathy McLeod said she wishes that the property owner was willing to split the massive space in half, allowing two mid-sized local-serving businesses, including a grocer, to occupy it. Such a move would be a good fit with Tam Valley’s approximately 2,500 households, she said.
Residents are also eyeing the possibility of finding a small grocery store to move into the adjacent properly formerly home to a Chevron gas station. That property is also owned by the Parrish Trust.
“There’s so much going on around these issues right now,” McLeod said.
For more on Orchard Supply Hardware's potential impact on Mill Valley's hardware and garden-oriented businesses, .