Supermarket Sweep | February 29, 2008 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - February 29, 2008

Supermarket Sweep

What lengths grocery stores are going to bag the competition

by Jeb Bing and Janet Pelletier

Grocery shopping in Pleasanton keeps getting better.

Supermarkets here are planning new stores, major expansions, more product and service offerings and innovative marketing techniques.

Safeway Corp. and South Bay Development Company have submitted a site plan to city planners for a 65,000-square-foot prototype supermarket at Interstate 680 and Bernal Avenue that is being designed to compete with Whole Foods Market.

Raley's on Sunol Boulevard is moving aggressively to expand its customer base with curbside service, self-checkout stands, more organic foods and a larger pharmacy.

Tesco, Europe's supermarket kingpin, is considering a grocery store as part of the Regency Gateway Center at Bernal and Stanley Boulevard, across from McDonald's, where a Home Depot store was once being considered.

Only Kroger, which owns Ralph's Supermarkets and is a dominant grocer in the eastern U.S., has yet to open a Pleasanton store.

It's all part of a recognition that as the economy slows and as families seek more organic and healthy foods for their dinner table, the local supermarket that has the widest selection is the place to go.


For Pleasanton-based Safeway Corp., which has turned its retail business around with its upscale "lifestyle" format, its larger stores in Dublin and Livermore followed similar improvements in Pleasanton, where its only store is at Valley Avenue and Santa Rita Road.

With Whole Foods just announcing its plans to open a 50,000-square-foot store in Dublin, across from Hacienda Crossings, Safeway's planned store across Valley Avenue from Jack-in-the-Box will be larger and more competitive.

The plans, which were submitted to the city's planning department last summer, also include a gas station. The state's new interchange at Bernal and the freeway also will make it more accessible for both commuters and Pleasanton residents and with less traffic congestion than Whole Foods.

City Manager Nelson Fialho has said that the city expects the Safeway plans to be formally considered and processed in public hearings early this year. Both stores could be open by 2010.


Lucky, located on West Las Positas and Hopyard roads, is a relatively new arrival.

That's because the Northern California Albertson's stores were bought out last fall by Save Mart Supermarkets of Modesto. Ironically, Albertsons took over Lucky stores in 1999 and renamed them.

To roll out the change, the Pleasanton Albertson's was restored to the vintage Lucky name and incorporated practices used by Lucky and Save Mart stores.

Raley's, Nob Hill

In the coming weeks, Raley's on Sunol is planned to get an extensive makeover that will put it in closer competition with already remodeled stores such as Safeway. Raley's has been in the Oak Hill Shopping Center in south Pleasanton for nearly two decades.

Among the highlights of the remodel include an "e-cart" shopping service, four self-checkout stands, an expanded and updated pharmacy department, a larger natural foods section, a Peet's Coffee & Tea and expansion of the wine and liquor department. To cater to those with a diverse palette, a "gourmet cheese island" will also be added, an artisan trend that is spreading to all supermarkets.

The store remodel is expected to be completed by late summer, according to Raley's spokeswoman Amy Johnston.

Many of the features, including the e-cart service and the installation of a U.S. Postal Service department inside the store, are aimed toward customers with limited time.

The e-cart program is similar to what Safeway offers online, where the store will deliver groceries that you've selected online to your house. While Raley's customers will shop online, instead of home delivery, they will go to the e-cart section of the parking lot where store clerks will deliver groceries to their car.

The Raley's corporation also owns Bel Air Markets, Food Source and Nob Hill Foods, which has a location on Santa Rita Road. No future plans have been confirmed for the Nob Hill, according to Johnston.

Vintage Hills Center

The only supermarket east of Sunol Boulevard, Raley's serves the expanding Vineyard Corridor as well as the heavily populated Vintage Hills and Kottinger Ranch. The smaller Romley's Supermarket that anchored the Vintage Hills Center closed shortly after Raley's opened in the late 1980s and other smaller stores have decided against moving there. Trader Joe's, often filled to near-capacity at its store on Pimlico Drive near Hopyard, chose instead to open a new store in Livermore at the old Kmart center across from Valley Memorial Hospital.

Mayor Jennifer Hosterman said recently that efforts to find a grocer to move to the Vintage Hills Center have so far failed and that it's likely another use will have to be found for that site.

Fresh & Easy

Tesco has started opening its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets in the Bay Area, part of a $2-billion investment the British company has under way here and in Southern California, Phoenix and Las Vegas. Slightly larger than Trader Joe's stores and with a modern, futuristic look, Fresh & Easy markets are generally under 10,000 square feet and offer a selected range of their own branded products as well as national brands at prices considered quite competitive to the larger supermarkets.

City officials have contacts with Tesco and are working with Regency to include Fresh & Easy as part of its revised plans for the former Home Depot site.

Gene's Fine Foods

While other grocery stores are in the midst of one-upping the competition, one local independent market is doing what it does best by continuing to provide what customers are asking for. Gene's Fine Foods opened in a shopping center at Hopyard Road and Valley Avenue in the 1990s, where an Alpha Beta grocery store was formerly located. Owned and operated by the Giomi family, the market has been served by three generations of Giomis. They also own a location in Saratoga.

Longtime General Manager Don Smedjir said he isn't too concerned with what the big supermarket chains are doing because Gene's has continued to follow a successful model, one that the chains appear to be moving toward.

"We've been doing this all along--natural food, gourmet food, organic food in our store all along," he said. "We were the Trader Joe's before Trader Joe's came."

Customers who shop at Gene's do so because of a wide variety of everything from local wines to organic fruits and vegetables. Smedjir said the store is in the process of expanding the produce section to offer even more choices. Another difference between the chain stores and Gene's is that Gene's only sells U.S.-certified angus beef--the highest grade beef--what Smedjir said is the type of meat you'd expect to be served at Hap's or McNamara's steakhouses.

And despite what Smedjir said is a misnomer that Gene's is more expensive, pricing is competitive with the chain stores.

The 26,000-square-foot store is small compared to some of the newer stores being planned such as the 65,000-square foot Safeway or the 50,000-square-foot Dublin Whole Foods, but it is still twice the size of neighborhood markets such as Trader Joe's. The Saratoga Gene's has been remodeled and Smedjir said they hope to do the same with the Pleasanton store, although a timeframe isn't certain.

Trader Joe's

Shoppers of Trader Joe's enjoy the quaint "corner market" feel of the grocery store. And similar to Gene's, customers who frequent the store, located at Santa Rita Road and Pimlico Avenue, can satisfy their appetite for imported cheeses, organic produce and other specialty products, but in a downsized setting. Trader Joe's is popular with the younger crowd and busy families because it offers a number of frozen and fresh meals that are already prepared and assembled as well as a number of groceries in its own brand name, similar to Fresh & Easy.

The Pleasanton store is a popular stop for commuters along Interstate 580.

Cole's Market

For a nostalgic experience, downtown residents forgo the supermarket experience and instead frequent Cole's Market in the vintage Pleasanton Plaza shopping center on First Street.

It may not be the most well-known or have the highest traffic volume, but the smaller, neighborhood market is a close distance for residents of downtown and those who live in the Vineyard Corridor.

The market, considered the oldest in Pleasanton, got a facelift along with the center in 2006 to restore the retro 1950s look.


Like this comment
Posted by Sam
a resident of Country Fair
on Mar 15, 2008 at 8:32 am

Gene's is competitive with Whole Foods? Give me a Break. The place is dirty, old, and they have very old, overpriced merchandise on their shelves. I purchased a six-pack of Diet Pepsi in there and to my horror the expiration date was 6 months past its due date.

I will commend them on their meat department but that's about it. What's next? Discovering cobwebs on the shelves?

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Mar 15, 2008 at 9:15 am

Why isn't Tesco considering the old Vintage Hills shopping center location?

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Posted by Shelley
a resident of Downtown
on Mar 16, 2008 at 1:21 am

Tesco should open one of their quickie marts on Main Street. Preferably in places that are now occupied by nails salons or spas. Do we really need like 10 health spas downtown?!?!?!? An AFFORDABLE shop downtown would be a relief. Why does downtown Pleasanton suck compared to downtown Livermore now? WTF happened?

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Posted by Shelley
a resident of Downtown
on Mar 16, 2008 at 1:26 am

Noooo!!! Bring Tesco Fresh & Easy to Main Street, not Bernal and Stanley! Turn Bernal and Stanley into a park. Get rid of all those stupid spas and nail salons that eat up the real estate on the north side of Main Street and bring some valuable retail there like south Main Street!

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Mar 16, 2008 at 9:14 am

Sam, speaking of overpriced, Safeway is rather pricy now ever since their "lifestyle upgrade". I got nice fresh kiwis from Nob Hill for half the Safeway price last year. Plus, there's certain times of the day you can't go to Safeway because everyone and their mother is there standing in line.

Shelley, NOOO not Main Street! The Tesco store would probably generate the same kind of traffic as Trader Joe's. Main Street can't handle that. But yea, a little affordable general market downtown would be neat.

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Posted by rick
a resident of West of Foothill
on Mar 16, 2008 at 12:58 pm

Vintage Hills can't support a shopping center because of lack of traffic. Retailers prefer busy intersections.

Gene's is wacky.

Tesco dontown would be cool. But that wouldn't work unless
it offered nail or spa service like every other store on Main ST.
Would somebody do something to revitalize the downtown for cryin out loud!

Like this comment
Posted by Karen
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Mar 17, 2008 at 12:30 pm

What is happening right now at the Vintage Hills Shopping Center. Looks like they are starting to re-model. Anyone know??

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Posted by John
a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Mar 17, 2008 at 1:37 pm

I was wondering, too, what is being done at VH Shopping Center. Looks like they're putting on a new roof. I wish some kind of grocery store would open there so I could walk instead of drive.

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Posted by Leslie
a resident of Dublin
on Mar 17, 2008 at 5:00 pm

Tesco's coming too Pleasanton- Whhoopppeee! I loved this place to shop for groceries when I lived in the UK. Good quality at very competitive prices

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Posted by Karen
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Mar 17, 2008 at 5:32 pm

John - I agree, a grocery store would be perfect! When we moved to the area about 3 years ago we were told that there were plans for a Whole Foods type store. However, it looks like that never went through. It's too bad, but I hope at least some sort of grocery store (or even a drug store) would go in there. I think there is enough traffic to support such a store (although I'm not a fan of the traffic), and it is so sad to just see the property remain vacant.

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Mar 17, 2008 at 7:19 pm

It isn't a Tesco hypermarket. It is a new store called Fresh N' Easy by the Tesco company. It is intended to be like a Trader Joe's. Tesco is planning on opening many of these types of stores all around the Bay Area.

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Posted by frank
a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Mar 17, 2008 at 7:36 pm

Vintage Hills shopping center. Grocery stores there have failed, not one but at least two in the last 15 years. Other businesses like the Baskin-Robbins bit the dust also, quite a few years back. For a while there was even a country dance club renting space, but they are gone. So are the Chinese restaurant and various martial arts clubs. I think the property owner is just waiting for the day to get it rezoned for high density apartments or something like that.

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Mar 17, 2008 at 7:43 pm

The Weekly actually had an article several years ago regarding the Vintage Hills center. It said something about the current businesses being strung along month by month on their leases with no long-term contracts. The article also talked about whether the property was becoming blighted. Wonder what ever happened with the uncertainties mentioned in that article.

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Posted by Frank
a resident of Birdland
on Mar 18, 2008 at 9:02 am

Where's the LUNARDIS Supermarket. Those guys and gals really know how to do it right, love their Danville store! Full service meats, deli, and bakery, not to mention the best produce anywhere and you don't even need to take your groceries out of the cart for checkout.

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Posted by Mary
a resident of California Reflections
on Mar 22, 2008 at 11:57 pm

I find Safeway a little strange. Because this is where Safeway's headquarters are located, you would think the store would be a model one, but it isn't. There are always employees smoking at the tables by one of the entrance doors, so you have to inhale cigarette smoke on your way in. The carts are filthy. One of the doors to the milk shelves doesn't close all the way, so cold air isn't kept in The top shelf of the freezer that has pints of Ben and Jerry's is corroded with frost, all the ice cream containers have thick coatings of ice. Their selection is very limited. I have to go to Raley's for many everyday items that Safeway doesn't carry. I could go on and on..

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Posted by Patricia
a resident of Amador Estates
on Mar 24, 2008 at 11:16 am

I would write a letter to Safeway Corp. about the problems you are finding Mary. I know in previous cases with me, at other grocery stores, if you simply ask for a manager and request an item- they may even go to another store for you and get the requested items!

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Mar 24, 2008 at 11:22 am

Safeway stopped selling many items ever since they started their rewards card program.

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Posted by Jenny
a resident of Castlewood
on Mar 24, 2008 at 6:16 pm

Safeway in Pleasanton is absolutely horrible, and I agree with you Stacey. They have pulled many of my favorite items off the shelves, they've cut back on staff (go in there early morning.... you're lucky if you can find someone to ring up your groceries and once they do they have major attitude) and I almost gagged the other day when this obnoxious employee was SMOKING A CIGAR at one of the front tables. Get a clue, Safeway. Once you get some competition in Pleasanton you're toast.

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Posted by PToWN94566
a resident of Walnut Grove Elementary School
on Mar 25, 2008 at 5:26 pm

Wow- I've never had a bad expereince at Safeway except for waiting 20 minutes to get a sanwich at noon. But that's expected since many people go there. If you guys honestly think our Safeway is horrible looking or poor service, go over to Castro Valley or Hayward or even up in Santa Rosa. I lived in all these areas and those stores look like old Safeways. Our's isn't that bad and if a door doesn't close all the way to the milk, be a respectful person and tell a worker. Obviously that is something that the managers of the store would want to fix right away; common sense would tell anybody to do that. As for not as many checkers- everytime I go in at least half of the check out stands have employees ringing up people; morning, noon, or night. I think Safeway is an alright place to buy food- remember how it looked years ago when it was on the other side of the lot? That was a true dump. Anybody remember the "Bag Lady" going in and wondering around the bakery isle? (Whatever happened to her?)

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Posted by Lena
a resident of Alisal Elementary School
on Mar 30, 2008 at 7:12 am

Ptown, that's the problem... sounds like you haven't ventured out of the tri-valley to another area that offers a wide variety of wonderful supermarkets..... get out of your "Ptown bubble" and go down the freeway a bit to experience what a real grocery store should offer.

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Posted by Rick
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Apr 2, 2008 at 5:19 pm

There is a checker at Safeway who is always really cheerfull and borders on euphoric. Does anyone know who I'm talking about?
She gas long black straight hair and she looks young.

I always go to her line because she makes me smile and that's not easy.

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Posted by AL
a resident of Highland Oaks
on Apr 3, 2008 at 9:36 am

I am glad she makes you smile because I find her Uber-annoying, especially when she gets on the P.A. system. Her voice...OMG! it gets on my nerves. She does seem like a nice person, though:)

As for local stores, I wish either Dublin or Pleasanton would get something like a Food Maxx. We need a store besides Trader Joes that doesn't gouge us on prices!

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Posted by angela
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2008 at 6:44 pm

I came upon this site while looking for a specialty cheese shop or cheese counter in Pleasanton. I recently moved here and have been disappointed with the selection? Does anyone have any suggestions?

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Posted by Jim
a resident of Birdland
on Apr 16, 2008 at 11:30 am

(portion of comment removed by PW staff)

Safeway has cut everyone elses products beacuse they dont make money on them. with a 40% mark up your only making 10 cents on some items. If its their brand they put more money in thier pocket. They could care less what pleasanton or their own workers want or need they just care if they made a buck.

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Posted by Frank
a resident of Walnut Grove Elementary School
on Apr 16, 2008 at 11:31 am


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Posted by Rusty D
a resident of Las Positas
on Apr 20, 2008 at 7:23 pm

I know most of y'all are from Pleasanton but I'm over the border in Livermore. Does anyone know if and when a Fresh & Easy is coming here? I hear there's one going in Dublin too but don't know when or where there either. What's the big secret?!

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Posted by jim
a resident of Birdland
on Apr 21, 2008 at 11:28 am

weekly, how dose my remark regarding mini mouse offend anyone, thanks for the 1st admendment rights! if it were Cholo is still would be there

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