After nearly four years of being dark, an abandoned San Jose building that attracted rats, crime and blight will finally reopen after residents piled pressure on the landlord and City Hall.
The shuttered Nob Hill store at 7076 Santa Teresa Boulevard will reopen as a Grocery Outlet next fall.
“There hasn’t been anything there for a long while,” said Gwen Pina, who works at a neighboring Italian restaurant. “It’s good that something is going into that space.”
Grocery Outlet confirmed plans to move into the space, which is expected to open sometime between August and September. Since the announcement, construction to remodel the store’s interior has begun.
In 2015, the building that anchored a sleepy shopping center was home to a Nob Hill. When the grocer moved out, Raley’s, the parent company of Nob Hill, renewed its lease but kept the space vacant. Some speculated the retail giant did that to avoid competition with its other grocery store a mile away.
Over the next two years, the abandoned building would attract loiterers, graffiti artists and pests. Not only was it an eyesore, but the pests threatened nearby businesses.
As community pressure mounted, the building’s owner, Retail Opportunity Investments Corporation (ROIC), scrambled for a solution, unsuccessfully pushing its tenant Raley’s to sublease the space.
The two sides faced off in multiple public hearings, fielding a mob of angry residents who demanded answers about the shuttered building that plagued their neighborhood. And that building wasn’t the only one — a handful of other corporations, including Safeway on E. Capitol Expressway and Silver Creek Road, kept their buildings vacant.
Sprouts recently purchased the lease for the Safeway building, bringing new life to that shopping center. The store will open in June.
But the growing problem spurred a response from Councilmember Sergio Jimenez, whose district includes the former Nob Hill store, to explore measures to compel businesses to either give up their leases on vacant buildings or sublease to other retailers. In Nov. 2017, Jimenez supported the Vacant Storefront Initiative, which requires any property owners in the downtown area not actively trying to sell their vacant property to pay a quarterly inspection fee of $202. Still, the initiative is restricted to vacant buildings located in the downtown area.
Jimenez is still exploring ways to reach companies who renew leases on empty buildings to prevent such situations, said his Chief of Staff Vanessa Sandoval.
“Companies don’t want this and we don’t want this,” said Sandoval. “We need to work with them to fix these vacant locations. We can use incentives… or we can ‘wave the stick’ and be aggressive with fines.”
Sandoval sees Grocery Outlet moving into the building as a win for a community that helped push for a new tenant.
“Raley’s kept paying the low rent to ROIC — then ROIC had no incentive to fight for the lease,” said Sandoval. “Until the community fought back.”
Plans to locate a church to the retail site fell through, and so did talks with Trader Joe’s, a top pick for area residents. It was only in Sept. 2018 when Raley’s finally sold the lease to Grocery Outlet.
While Pina isn’t sure that a Grocery Outlet was exactly what the community was expecting, she thinks it will be beneficial for residents to have a grocery store nearby.
“Grocery Outlet may not be as nice as what some people were expecting,” said Pina. “But that Nob Hill wasn’t the best quality either.”
Others in the community are anxious for the new grocer to start on the right track.
Greg Peck, president of the Los Paseos Neighborhood Association, and one of the biggest advocates for bringing a new retailer to the boarded-up building, has attempted to bring Grocery Outlet representatives to meet their future shoppers. The long vacancy had a negative impact on the community, he said, and he wants to to establish an early relationship with the new retailer.
“I’ve invited the owners to meet the neighbors,” said Peck. “If they talk, the new operators of the store will get to know the needs of the local people, and maybe stock the food that they want.”
Contact San José Spotlight intern Yale Wyatt at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @yalewhat on Twitter.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the address of the Safeway store that’s been taken over by a Sprouts. We regret the error.