Supermarket chain Lucky California has signed a lease at the site of a former Walgreens in Bayview Plaza to provide a full-service grocery store in a neighborhood that sorely needs healthy and affordable food options.
Community leaders say the new grocery represents a major opportunity if the owners learn from the mistakes of previous operators and make a concerted effort to connect with local residents.
A handful of grocery stores have tried and failed in recent years, including locally-owned Duc Loi's Pantry, which opened in 2016 to great fanfare before shuttering less than three years later.
The space at 3801 Third Street has been vacant since Walgreens closed in 2019. The 9,500-square-foot space will be a smaller location for Lucky, whose stores average 30,000 square feet, and its third SF location. Even a small-format grocery is a boon for a neighborhood that has limited existing options and is characterized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a food desert.
The store fulfills a long-held goal for District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton, who has pushed for a new full-service grocery store in the neighborhood.
“Lucky has recently signed a lease for a vibrant new grocery store in Bayview Plaza,” said Bobby McDowell, vice president of store operations for Lucky California, in a statement. “We are in the early stages of preparing for permitting and developing a plan for a Lucky store that will provide the community with convenient access to fresh, quality groceries.” He did not say when the store would open.
Anietie Ekanem, chair of the Bayview Co-op, lives above the currently vacant retail space at 5900 3rd St. that previously held a Fresh & Easy grocery and Duc Loi.
What he sees as critical for Lucky is to come with an open mind toward partnership, rather than the idea they are a community savior.
“When some businesses come to less-affluent neighborhoods they have the idea that these people don’t have choice, but that’s just not true,” Ekanem said.
Joi Jackson-Morgan, executive director of the 3rd Street Youth Center & Clinic, said Duc Loi’s prices were a barrier for many working families in the neighborhood and suggested that Lucky connect with the community through events.
"Get some music out there and get people excited. Maybe a coupon or something to say, we're here, thank you so much for coming,” Jackson-Morgan. “The community is definitely going to be appreciative of a business, but they expect to be treated well too.”
She also stressed the importance of stocking “culturally appropriate” staples for a neighborhood that’s one of the most diverse in the city, with a significant population of Asian, Latino and Black San Franciscans.
Al Aloudi, the owner of the neighboring BayCopy SF in Bayview Plaza, said retail theft had been a problem at the Walgreens and worried Lucky could run into similar issues, particularly if it relies on self-checkout counters.
Linda Parker-Pennington, a Bayview resident and community activist, said the key for Lucky will be balancing security with a good customer experience. She said hiring from the neighborhood and being mindful of how best to engage with customers will be critical for success.
“It’s important for them not to treat folks like criminals but instead like customers deserving of respect. Are your asset protection people friendly and helpful or are they following you around the store?” said Parker-Pennington, a former executive with Goodwill San Francisco, which has a location in Bayview Plaza. “One of the things that I can't stand is when stores keep their products under lock and key.”
Lyslynn Lacoste, the executive director of BMAGIC, a network of community groups focused on supporting Bayview adolescents, said Lucky can take a page from Fresh & Easy, which was a thriving business prior to larger corporate machinations that led to the Bayview location’s closure and the chain’s Ch. 11 bankruptcy.
“They were really good about hiring community members, they were great about supporting community investment and outreach,” Lacoste said, adding that Fresh & Easy made sure that company representatives attended community meetings and events.
On a more concrete level, one regular complaint is the parking situation in Bayview Plaza, which was alternatively described as a “nightmare,” an “issue” and a “hot mess” by various community members. Simple fixes to make the plaza more accessible include enlarging existing parking spaces and creating a protected turn for the exit out to Newhall St.
Whatever the challenges, community leaders were hopeful a thriving grocery would help address food insecurity and related health issues in a zip code that has among the highest rates of respiratory chronic illness, cardiovascular disease and diabetes in the city, according to data from the San Francisco Health Improvement Partnership.
“I'm excited about it, it makes me see how my community is coming full circle,” said Jackson-Morgan, a Bayview native who's seen disinvestment hollow out the neighborhood in recent decades. “When I was a child, this was a valued community and businesses wanted to be here. So this is a sign to me that there's a turnaround in the works.”
Kevin Truong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org