New Leaf Community Markets, a natural foods grocer, is considering opening a store inside a large space at the Vintage Hills Shopping Center that has been empty since Romley's Market left 15 years ago.
The 19,000-square-foot location would be the popular grocer's seventh store – the others are on the Central Coast and Half Moon Bay; a San Jose store is currently under construction.
“We would like to be in Pleasanton — we think it’s a great community,” said Rex Stewart, general manager of the Santa Cruz-based New Leaf Community Markets, which he co-founded with business partner Scott Roseman.
The city confirms that talks have begun.
“There has been some interest and the city has been approached about a possible market there,” said Pamela Ott, Pleasanton's Economic Development Director.
Regarding a New Leaf Market here, Ott said, “We think it’s a great use of the space and I know a grocery store, Romley’s, was there many years ago.
"We’ve heard residents in the area suggest that they would like to have another market back in that plaza.”
Because New Leaf and the leasing manager have not yet confirmed an agreement, neither Stewart nor property manager Richard Hong could offer a date when the market would open in the shopping center at 3550 Bernal Avenue (at Tawny, near Vineyard).
“It’s a complicated process because of the long-term vacancy of the property,” Stewart said.
“But we know that we’re interested in coming to Pleasanton. We just have to surrender to the process.”
The spot is the anchor at the center, which has more than 300 parking spaces and is owned by Sim & Yoon LLC.
City permit records show that in recent years, Sim & Yoon LLC has upgraded significant storefront space within the Vintage Hills Shopping Center, most notably with the addition of , , , Koryo Martial Arts, , and in addition to longtime tenants , , and Gold 'n Time jewelry and watches.
“I’m really hoping that the lease does get executed and that we’ll finally have a grocery store there,” said Hong.
“I know there’s a strong demand.”
In addition to New Leaf's possible entry into Pleasanton, other grocers have either opened recently, have broken ground, or are in discussions with shopping centers around Pleasanton.
A new 58,000 square-foot “lifestyle”-concept market, which is currently on the Bernal properties, will be the next to join a growing number of markets in Pleasanton.
A current trend, said Ott, is to build “smaller-footprint” stores to serve as neighborhood grocers. They may not provide all the amenities of a larger national chain store, but are meant to be used by a specific neighborhood, she said.
“From the city’s perspective, we would want to think holistically about all the different grocers,” said Ott, who mentioned some larger grocers in town.
“And then we also have stores like (and ) that bring something different to the market.”
Stewart said his company conducts a feasibility study on any market they consider for a new store.
“We did one on that particular site in Pleasanton and it came back in a favorable enough position for us to pursue the property," he said.
Two other small or specialty markets in Pleasanton — and — opened on Santa Rita Rd. in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
Asian-style 99 Ranch Market is owned by Los-Angeles- based Tawa Supermarket, Inc. Fresh & Easy is owned by U.K.-based Tesco.
Ott also confirmed that a lease application has been filed with the city for a grocer in the former Nob Hill Foods space on Santa Rita Road, an action that garnered immediate community response from residents concerned that Wal-Mart was the applicant.
"We have not been specifically told that it’s Wal-Mart," said Ott.
"But when they need to execute the lease, they have to get the zoning certificate" at which time the name of the lease applicant will have to be included, she said.
New Leaf Community Markets
Stewart described New Leaf Markets as “competitive,” in general terms, to other healthy food markets.
“I generally think that we’re very competitive in the center store, where grocery items are, and more competitive on the perimeter,” said Stewart, referring to the fresh-foods, meat and produce sections.
“We’re more of an organic retailer,” he added, saying a vast majority of the foods sold at the store are organically produced.
“For produce, we work closely with local organic farmers,” he said.
“Local produce is variable by season. We participate in the 'Buy Fresh Buy Local' program, so in the summer season it’s 65 to 70 percent local, and trails off in winter to 30 to 40 percent.”
“We really focus on what’s in season here,” he said.
“And this would be our seventh store, so we can leverage our buying power.”
New Leaf Markets, said Stewart, tries to focus on the local season with produce carried at its markets.
“But we work on primary relationships with people that we feel have the integrity and credibility of product in the marketplace."
The chicken, for example, comes from Nebraska, he said.
“But you can argue that the corn (the chickens eat) comes from California.”
The closest comparison to what a Pleasanton New Leaf Markets would resemble, said Stewart, is one of the company’s newer locations in Half Moon Bay.
He said that each store tries to foster relationships with local producers.
“Anyone who’s a baker and wants to sell at their local market can come to us.”
In addition, if New Leaf Markets does open a Pleasanton location, Stewart said that the company would extend its commitment to be involved in the community.
“We would get involved with local non profits,” he said. The company’s website claims that local stores give 10 percent of profits to non-profit organizations in the communities they serve.