Stocking just two racks and some bins with fresh produce at his corner store, Satwinder “Bill” Multani is a rare shopkeeper in the Tenderloin.
His few racks of lettuce, apples and bananas, sandwiched between rows of chips and cheap beer, mean that residents in one of the poorest and most diverse neighborhoods in San Francisco don’t have to leave the neighborhood to purchase healthy food.
There are no full-service grocery stores in the Tenderloin — just a handful of corner stores that have in recent years begun to offer produce, grains and eggs.
But space is limited at the 1,800-square-foot store on Taylor and Eddy streets, and Multani has little room to grow the produce section at Daldas Groceries and Delicatessen unless he can move into a larger retail space under development across the street.
“Especially on the healthy options, you could have a whole section of them,” Multani said at his store on a recent Wednesday, envisioning a bigger space as he stood near his produce, flanked by junk food. “Organic and everything.”
With help from city officials, the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corp. is expected to break ground on an affordable housing project in June that includes a 5,700-square-foot space on the ground floor reserved for a market, kitchen, restaurant or food hall.
“We want to do something that addresses food justice,” said TNDC Executive Director Don Falk. “This is a food swamp. There’s not a lot of healthy food.”
There are about 70 shops that sell food in the Tenderloin but no full-service grocery stores like a Safeway, according to the TNDC’s Tenderloin Healthy Corner Store Coalition project. The coalition found that just 15 of the stores stocked fresh fruit and produce in 2015, including Daldas Groceries.
The TNDC is still deciding what to use the retail space for.
Forty percent of Tenderloin residents surveyed over three recent months have favored opening a market or bodega there, according to the TNDC. Residents were also interested in affordable food, a safe and clean environment, and jobs or training at the site.
While 268 Tenderloin residents were interested in the idea of a market, another 150 wanted a food hall with multiple vendors and communal seating. The market could be a for-profit, nonprofit or cooperative store.
Back in 2008, the retail space was the Tenderloin’s best chance for a full-service grocery store.
But hopes were dashed around 2010 after Gov. Jerry Brown eliminated California redevelopment agencies.
A slimmed-down version of the affordable housing development now includes 113 units instead of 150 and just a third of the retail space previously reserved for a grocery store.
“It was always intended to be a food-security use related to food justice,” Falk said. “When we initially envisioned it, we definitely intended it to be a grocery. As we scaled down the project … we thought a little more broadly about what goes there.”
The project is slated to cost $74.4 million — $44.4 million from the state and Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, and $30 million from private sources.
The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee voted in favor of the agreement between MOHCD and TNDC’s development group Thursday. The proposal is expected to reach the full board in the coming weeks.
Seeking input on the retail space, the TNDC has interviewed more than 700 Tenderloin residents. May 9 was the culmination of their outreach, when about 100 neighbors packed into St. Anthony’s Dining Hall to have their say.
“The market was the most popular but we’re trying to figure out how to best meet the community needs,” said TNDC Community Organizer Ryan Thayer. “It’s a false assumption that just bringing a new food space in the neighborhood is going to meet the needs here of people in the neighborhood.”
“This process is really important,” he added.
At St. Anthony’s, neighbors separated into groups to highlight their issues of concern.
“A lot of these businesses around here tend to turn us away from the restrooms,” said one speaker.
“Healthy food and low costs come in as a winner for our group,” said another.
Ward Loggins, a security guard who lives in a single-room occupancy unit above Daldas Groceries and Delicatessen, said the most convenient grocery store for him is the Foods Co. at 14th and Folsom streets.
“Either you have to take a taxi back or I have to make two trips,” Loggins said.
Loggins is one of the community members who wants Daldas to move.
“He’s not the kind of merchant that wants to sell just liquor and cigarettes,” Loggins said. “He just needs a larger retail space.”