Nobody wants to see Wal-Mart in San Francisco — except Fresh & Easy

AP File PhotoWal-Mart is reportedly looking into buying Fresh & Easy’s locations in San Francisco.

AP File PhotoWal-Mart is reportedly looking into buying Fresh & Easy’s locations in San Francisco.

At a dinner party Tuesday night, some friends and I were discussing the possibility of a Wal-Mart store in San Francisco.

“I don’t see what the big deal is,” said an Orinda resident. “We like our Wal-Marts out in the East Bay.”

A native San Franciscan responded: “Yeah, we like them out there too.”

For many San Franciscans, the prospect of a Wal-Mart in our fair city is unthinkable, and yet as Tesco — the parent company of the Fresh & Easy grocery chain — looks to sell off its stores, Wal-Mart may attempt to fill the void.

In December, the U.K.-based Tesco admitted it was considering offers to buy some or all of its stores in the U.S.

There are three in San Francisco — one at Clement Street and 32nd Avenue, one at Silver Avenue and Merrill Street, and one at Third Street and Carroll Avenue. That last location is in District 10, which is represented by Supervisor Malia Cohen.

“I have heard that Tesco is having conversations with Wal-Mart and that Wal-Mart has expressed interest in purchasing Fresh & Easy locations,” Cohen said.

While Wal-Mart denies it has “plans regarding the former Fresh & Easy locations in San Francisco,” Ellouise Patton, the special projects regional, political and community coordinator for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 5, is suspicious.

“We have very good reason to believe that Wal-Mart is looking to purchase one or more Fresh & Easy locations in San Francisco,” she said.

The union has been battling with Wal-Mart for years, and is predictably nonplussed at the prospect of the store’s expansion here or anywhere else.

Under The City’s planning code, because the Third Street location isn’t in a special commercial district, when one formula retail store that is smaller than 50,000 feet (like Fresh & Easy) gets purchased, the new owner can move right on in and operate — no special permission required.

When stores in special commercial districts (like the Fresh & Easy on Clement Street) shut down, the new tenant usually has to get a special authorization to operate. But if the new company has purchased the old company, no authorization is required.

One could hardly blame Wal-Mart for seeing the sale of Fresh & Easy locations as a golden opportunity to open the smaller, grocery-heavy version of its stores — called Neighborhood Markets — in San Francisco.

Planning code or not, the town that has been fighting for six years over putting turf on a soccer field and five years fighting over tree frogs in Sharp Park Golf Course would generate serious opposition to any whiff of a Wal-Mart.

Cohen made her position clear, saying, “I have no desire or interest in seeing Wal-Mart come into District 10 or any other part of San Francisco.”

If they try, changes to the planning code won’t be far behind.

Melissa Griffin’s column runs each Thursday and Sunday. She also appears Mondays in “Mornings with Melissa” at  6:45 a.m. on KPIX (Ch. 5). Email her at mgriffin@sfexaminer.com.

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