Goodwill out, Pet Food Express in on Berkeley’s Solano Ave

After talk of a Goodwill moving in on Solano Avenue, it now emerges a pet store will come in instead

Goodwill Industries is no longer planning to open a store at the top of Solano Avenue, but Pet Food Express is now hoping to snag the 5,000 square foot space.

Goodwill could not come to an agreement with the landlord, but will still look for another location in that part of Alameda County, according to Kimberly Scrafano, the vice-president of development for Goodwill Industries of the East Bay.

“There were some logistical reasons not to open at that site but we are still looking to open in that area,” said Scrafano.  “We don’t have much of a presence there so we think it would be a good location.”

The expressions of concern from some Solano Avenue merchants that a Goodwill store would detract from the street’s high-end image had nothing to do with the decision to look elsewhere, said Scrafano.

“It appears a lot of folks have a misperception about who our donors and shoppers are,” she said. “Most of the folks who shop in our store are middle-class women.”

Pet Food Express, a locally owned chain that opened a store in Berkeley in 1990, is negotiating with the landlord for the spaces once occupied by Front Row Video and The World of Dance Studio, according to Michael Levy, who co-founded the company in San Francisco in 1980. Pet Food Express would have to do extensive remodeling of the space and is still working out details to make sure moving there is a viable proposition, he said.

“I think there is a need for our type of business over there,” said Levy.

Many people from north Berkeley now come to the Pet Food Express on San Pablo Avenue and University, he said.

While retail business owners on Solano Avenue would probably prefer a Pet Food Express over a Goodwill store, most people would probably prefer not to have a chain store in that location, according to Allen Cain, director of the Solano Avenue Association.

“In an ideal world it would have been nice to keep the businesses on Solano independently owned,” said Cain. “There is a built-in aversion to corporately owned businesses, but Pet Food Express would be a good anchor.”

Levy said that while his company has 40 locations around the Bay Area, it is still community-minded. Pet Food Express has a long tradition of philanthropy, and donated $1 million in 2010 to local shelters and pet rescues. For example, it donated $40,000 to the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society after a fire devastated its shelter in May 2010, according to the company’s website.

One business that might stand to see competition from Pet Food Express is Pugnacious Pet Provisions at 1820 Solano Avenue, across the street from the proposed store. It sells high-end pet products.

Levy said that, in some cases, his stores have actually attracted pet boutiques since the operations sell different products. Boutiques sell one-of-a-kind, high-end items, and Pet Food Express focuses on good quality practical things like food, collars, leashes, etc., he said. When Pet Food Express opened on Market Street in San Francisco, there were four pet boutiques nearby. Now there are seven, said Levy.

Solano Avenue has been struggling in the recent economic recession with numerous stores closing their doors. The east end of the street has 10 vacancies but recently got two new retail outfits, The Bay Area Spiritual Shop and Jacqueline’s Boutique at 1749 and 1751 Solano Avenue, said Cain.

Frances Dinkelspiel is co-founder and executive editor of Cityside. Email: frances@citysidejournalism.org.