Tam Valley Abuzz Over Hardware Chain’s Possible Arrival

Residents appear divided between those who want to fight for a grocery store in the former DeLano’s space and those who are content to have Orchard Supply Hardware revive the long-vacant space.

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, .

Janet L Crawford April 13, 2012 at 01:12 PM
I strongly support continuing to look for a solution for the empty Delanos space that better serves the needs of the community, A big box store is out of character for our neighborhood and locks us into a fundamental direction for the only community center we have. Yes, we are dealing with a private land owner, but all property comes with zoning restrictions. I can't open a grocery or hardware store in my house. Leasing the building to OSH requires a change in the use permit, so we are all within our rights to oppose that use if we so choose. We have no guarantee that OSH will develop the area in a way that serves the community. There is an opportunity for our input in the master planning process, but the final decision over what they will and won't do to improve the area is not up to us. We are simply hoping and speculating that improvements will happen and that they will in line with what the community needs. Frankly, I have no problem with the building sitting idle for another year or two if that's what it takes for the owner to lower the rent to a rate that's reasonable in the economy we live in today. The owner has refused to consider subdividing the space, but perhaps that will change if they aren't able to rent it within their current use permit restrictions. Final note: Delano's didn't go out of business because the area can't support a grocery store. It wasn't well run. I stopped going because of frequent freezer failures, expired products, etc.
Rico April 13, 2012 at 05:17 PM
I agree Janet, Delano's did not go out of business because the area can't support a grocery store. The Delano's corporation failed and didn't pay the rent on all of it's stores. I don't live in Tam Valley, but I have good friends there and I use highway 1 to go to my house in Mill Valley quite often. I often stopped at Cala-Bell for groceries on my way home, rather than go into Mill Valley. I also would buy gas at Yates Chevron, I knew the people that worked there and they were always very helpful. The Arco station on the corner is a pain in the a for ingress and egress. I think if you asked most people that live in Tam Valley, they would say that having a grocery store would be the best choice, but it doesn't necessarily have to be a supermarket. Super markets are most often run by large corporations, and given the square footage, they have to sell a very high volume of goods to make it. There are a lot of losses and waste in some of these supermarkets, but the corporation can subsidize some stores with profits from better performing stores. A really nice grocery store could fit easily into a quarter of the former Delano's space, and like you said Janet, perhaps if the space sits vacant for a few years, maybe the owner will wake up one day and decide that the only way to keep the property is to subdivide to smaller businesses that the community would support. We definitely don't need any high density transportation apartments there.
Virginia April 14, 2012 at 01:08 AM
I have lived in Tam Valley since 1967, and have NEVER seen a petition for the hardware store issue. I am strongly oppose a Hardware store going into that space. It does not help the local community at all. The people who live in West Marin need a grocery store that is closer than Safeway or Wholefoods, not forgeting the folks who live in Marin City. I for one would like to WALK or ride a bike to do my shopping rather than DRIVE to Traders Joes. We need a supermarket. It would cut down on traffic, and benifit several connunities.
Jonah April 14, 2012 at 11:33 PM
I love the free market. Whoever rents the space will likely contribute to the needs of the community with their product line and business style. If they don't the space will be available again, i.e. the demise of Delano.
Rhonda J. (Smith) McCormick April 15, 2012 at 11:48 PM
My brother and I were born and raised in Tam Valley, at the top of Marin Drive, and my aunt and cousins lived on Spring Drive for many years, too. We always shopped at Shoreline Market, which was owned by the Santos family. The staff was always friendly and helpful. We went on road trips every summer, and always bought groceries there for the trips, filling two or more baskets for $100 or less!! We also frequented Yates Chevron (one of our cousins worked there for years) and the other gas station on the corner (I think it was a 76 station then), owned by the Theile family. For many years, my father, Woodley B. Smith, owned the building between the Theile's station and Shorline Market. His construction company was there, and then much later he ran the small coin-operated laundry and rented space to the real estate office, owned by Max and Ida Ramos. In 1961 we moved to Throckmorton in uptown Mill Valley, but still shopped at Shoreline Market often, as well as buying from the gas stations. I agree with others that another big box store should not move into the space. There are enough of those in Marin City, Corte Madera, and further North. I vote for the building space to be split, utilizing a portion for a grocery store, not a super market, and other smaller businesses that will benefit residents of Tam Valley and the surrounding areas. I would really hate to see Goodman's go out of business, if Orchard moves in. My father bought all his construction supplies there.


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