N. Beach shop wants to drop groceries in favor of booze

A North Beach business might be forced by The City to start selling products that its owners say are doomed to rot on the shelves: Groceries.

Piazza Market opened in 2007 on Vallejo Street at Montgomery Street inside a prominent retail space left vacant since a grocery store went bust several years earlier.

Before opening, the market’s owners secured permits from The City needed to sell alcohol and groceries and operate a small restaurant.

Last year, following dismal recession-era sales, the proprietors pulled groceries off the shelves and focused on bottled Californian and Italian wine, bar trinkets, snacks and the bistro.

The market also hosts events, serves glasses and tastes of wine and operates a catering business.

“The groceries didn’t work,” part-owner Sal Chiavino said.

Locals buy gourmet goods from established North Beach specialty stores, meat from a butcher across the street, fruit and vegetables from bustling Chinatown markets and a wide variety of items from Safeway, Trader Joe’s and Walgreens nearby, according to Chiavino.

But following an anonymous complaint, city officials visited the store earlier this year and told the business operators they were violating permit conditions by failing to sell groceries.

Surrounding neighborhood groups, including the Telegraph Hill Dwellers, typically oppose applications for alcohol- or entertainment-based businesses.

That’s because North Beach has grown into an entertainment district that suffers from a shortage of neighborhood-serving stores and an abundance of alcohol-related businesses.

But Chiavino and his partners say they could be forced to cut staff or be driven out of business if they are required to dedicate floor space to perishable products that they can’t sell.

A Sept. 16 Planning Commission hearing will consider a request by Piazza Market to change its permit conditions and allow it to continue operating the way that it does today.

Such hearings were mandated by legislation passed by the Board of Supervisors in 2006 in response to a citywide string of
grocery-store closures.

“We’re pretty much at the mercy of The City,” Chiavino said. “I think what they’re trying to do is bring back the 1960s.”

jupton@sfexaminer.com

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