After years of delays, Hayes Valley is one step closer to getting a long-awaited grocery store, one that brings frozen gnocchi and 19-cent bananas.
The Planning Commission unanimously approved a new Trader Joe’s at 555 Fulton St. on Thursday, which will occupy a currently vacant space in a building of condominiums. The growing neighborhood lacks a full-service grocery store, limiting residents to smaller markets or trekking home from Safeway on Market Street with bags of produce.
The City, typically averse to chain stores, will now have its seventh Trader’s Joe’s, previously estimated to open in 2022 or 2023. Its location is in a neighborhood commercial transit district, just one of three that normally bans chain stores, known as formula retail.
In this case, a grocery store was a condition of approving the luxury condominium project at 555 Fulton, which was subsequently linked to a City Hall corruption scandal and built in 2019 after years of construction delays. New Seasons Market, a Portland-based grocery store, sought to occupy the space but canceled plans in 2018, citing construction delays, SF Weekly previously reported. Mayor London Breed, then a supervisor representing the area, said she was “devastated” by the New Seasons change of plans and called it a “big loss” to the community.
The Board of Supervisors in November 2019 passed zoning changes that would allow a grocery store chain at the site under conditional authorization. The grocery store was required to accept payments from food assistance programs and provide an analysis of food affordability.
“All other options have been exhausted and I really think this is the right place for the grocery store,” said Planning Commission President Joel Koppel.
Trader Joe’s is known for cheaper, healthy food with unique offerings, like Everything But the Bagel seasoning and Speculoos cookie butter, and walls covered in art tailored to each neighborhood. The chain’s popularity, particularly among millennials, has inspired dozens of blogs, cooking guides and Instagram accounts.
“I don’t think Trader Joe’s needs much of an introduction,” said Andrew Junius, of the firm Reuben, Junius & Rose, which represented the company in the planning proceedings. “This space has been vacant. It’s been waiting for a grocery store. … We’re here with a grocery store. Let’s move this one forward.”
Trader Joe’s included a community benefits package in the project to participate in a program to prevent wasting food, efforts to hire within the neighborhood with outreach at places like job fares, and affordability. The new Hayes Valley store, which will be 16,600 square feet, is expected to employ about 110 people.
While a few people expressed opposition in public comments regarding the chain approval, most were neighborhood residents supportive of bringing affordable food options within walking distance, as well as jobs.
“We really need an affordable grocery store here,” said Jennifer Laska, president of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association. “A lot of people think of Hayes Valley of being a higher income area. We have a high percentage of people here who are lower income and we really need the affordability Trader Joe’s offers.”
Knowing the congestion around a Trader Joe’s near her own residence, Commissioner Sue Diamond expressed concerns about traffic that would come to the area.
Commissioners ultimately approved the project with modifications to provide an informational update on traffic mitigation in one year, to extend parking limits to 90 minutes, and include right turn signs in the parking garage.