With the pending closure of Haggen on Lincoln Boulevard, community activists, city planners and staff are talking about future opportunities for the property.
The grocery store located at the corner of Ocean Park and Lincoln Boulevard is scheduled to close in about two months following an announcement that Haggen is abandoning the local market.
Albertsons and Safeway merged in 2014 and regulatory approval of the sale required the combined company to sell about 146 stores. Haggen, then a small grocery chain based in Washington state, purchase of those stores expanded its footprint from 18 stores with 16 pharmacies to 164 stores with 106 pharmacies; from 2,000 employees to more than 10,000 employees.
The newly expanded company struggled outside its native territory. In the face of stiff competition, Haggen filed a lawsuit against Albertsons (which then filed a suit against Haggen) and the company filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. Haggen revised its Chapter 11 filing last week with a plan to sell or close all stores outside the Pacific Northwest, including the Santa Monica location on Lincoln.
Neighbors have expressed concern about the future of the site and everyone has an opinion about what should fill the space.
Roger Swanson is part of the Lincoln Boulevard Task Force, a volunteer group supported by nearby neighborhoods that has long advocated for improvements along the road. He said grocery stores are a tough business but he hoped another company would fill the local need.
“It’s not a simple thing,” he said. “I know the kinds of difficulty those merchants go through just to hold things together, it’s a very complex operation, there’s a lot of work that comes into it. It’s a very complex business, most people don’t realize that.”
He said the location is vital to the surrounding neighborhood and said residents want to see another grocer on site. He said the location might be too large for a single store given sites constraints and said he’d like to see a concept he called “Lincoln Central Market” that has outlets for known stores in the area, such as Trader Joe’s, Bob’s Market (meat department), Bay Cities (Deli, cheeses, etc.) and Santa Monica Seafood.
Planning Commission Chair Richard McKinnon said Santa Monica is a strong market for grocers and that site in particular is valuable to other companies.
“There are plenty of other operators out there that would welcome a site like that so it will be a supermarket and it won’t take long to fill that site,” he said.
He said he’d like to see the now vacant store prompt a larger redesign of the entire shopping center.
“On a wider sense that whole market down there really needs to focus on the community,” he said. “It’s a static, old style ’50s set up with an apron of cars parked out there. It’s a poorly designed traffic island at corner of Lincoln and Ocean Park … It looks and feels exactly like the day it opened. That space hasn’t moved with the way people’s needs have moved.”
McKinnon said the key to any future success at the location would be maintaining useful services in a way that satisfies residents.
“It’s got to work with the way people live,” he said. “It’s got to meet the needs of the community.”
Economic Development Administrator Jennifer Taylor said it’s too early for companies to file proposals for the site but in general, her office regularly fields requests from the kind of businesses that would be interested in that location.
“From a business retention and recruitment standpoint, we have a lot of interest from grocery and food market operators that want to establish a presence or expand their presence in Santa Monica,” she said.
“We’re always advocating for neighborhood serving uses that also help to create jobs for our residents. The size of space and existing building footprint helps to support both of those objectives.”
Peter James, Special Projects and Communications Administrator at the City of Santa Monica said he has spent a lot of time with nearby residents and businesses while working on the Lincoln Neighborhood Corridor Plan (LINC). He said the placement of a grocery store at that particular site has value beyond just buying food.
“This is where Sunset Park and Ocean Park come together, and one of the few places where they can come together, just because of the primary resource of the market,” he said. “The location continues to serve as a neighborhood center. The street, at the current moment, is not providing opportunities for friends and neighbors to meet, talk and build community but a lot of that happens at the market. Everyone wants a place where they can come together and this is an opportunity for a new tenant to come in and enhance what Albertsons and Haggen were trying to do.”
The LINC advocates for a more pedestrian friendly roadway and James said there is a lot of support for updating the center, perhaps with a fa√ßade remodel, improved parking lot and some improvements to the way the lot interacts with Lincoln Blvd.
While the community has no shortage of opinions, what goes into the building will ultimately be a decision for the property owners. James said it’s actually a good time to evaluate uses on the site given the residents’ interest in improving the area.
“It’s also a great opportunity for the property owner to take stock of the conversation that’s happening in the community,” he said.