Grocery veteran buys S.F. stores

Residents of the Richmond have been hoping rumors that supermarket veteran Harley DeLano was close to buying their neighborhood grocery store were true. On Wednesday, they got their wish.

DeLano, who runs DeLano Retail Partners and was the president of Cala Foods and Bell Markets in Northern California until 1999, said he has reached an agreement to take over eight Cala/Bell Foods from Ralph’s Grocery Co., including three stores in The City, located on 18th Street, Geary Boulevard and South Van Ness Avenue.

He said he plans to keep the stores open despite a recent trend of grocers leaving The City. Earlier this year, two Albertsons and Cala Foods closed their doors.

“I feel what’s happened in many instances is many ethnic groups and the areas change in The City. … I look at it and say it’s exciting to see what comes next, and if you don’t change this industry you start losing customers,” DeLano said.

David Heller, president of the Greater Geary Boulevard Merchants and Property Owners Association, said the neighborhood was “really nervous because we lost Albertsons and we were about to lose Cala.” He said that a Geary grocer is vital to the neighborhood’s large population of seniors, who have a hard time traveling on public transport to other groceries.

Additionally, Heller said the local store provided local jobs. “We know there were people working there for a long time and they were laid off and they were devastated,” he said.

The news was also welcomed in Noe Valley, where residents have been worried about not having a nearby food mart.

Diane Barrett, of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professional Association, said she feels DeLano will be able to better serve residents’ needs since he is not limited by a corporate structure that dictates what he can sell.

“I think we’re pretty optimistic because the DeLano family used to own it and they seem very interested in talking with the community about what our needs are,” she said.

DeLano, who has been negotiating with Ralph’s for a year and plans to run the stores with his son, said customers could expect to see changes on the shelves within a year.

“We will do a lot more in the natural and organically raised food,” he said. “We will have a policy that whatever it is our customers want, we will go out and find it at a price they want.”