When the Andronico's on Telegraph closes, city officials are hoping the building's owner will rent to another grocery store

City officials are lobbying the owners of the soon-to-be-vacated Andronico’s on Telegraph to rent the building to another grocery chain rather than a pharmacy.

Mayor Tom Bates sent a letter on Dec. 1 to the Conference Claimants Endowment Board, the fund that owns the property at 2655 Telegraph, urging its administrator to find a tenant that will “serve the Berkeley community.”

The endowment board had been ready to sign a lease with CVS pharmacy, but agreed to consider an offer from a grocery chain, said Bates.

“I indicated to them it would be wonderful to have a grocery store there,” said Bates. “They indicated to me they had concerns about the viability of a grocery store in that location because of the competition from Berkeley Bowl and Whole Foods. They … told me they would consider it.”

City officials think that a grocery store at the south end of Telegraph will have a better chance of drawing students from UC Berkeley than a pharmacy, and that the student traffic can help improve business all along Telegraph Avenue.

To make that point, Bates argued in the letter that the population in the census tracts right around the site on Telegraph had grown dramatically in the last 10 years and could support a grocery store. The census tract population right around the store went from 5,047 people in 2000 to 5,569 in 2010, and the adjacent tract increased from 5,475 to 8,368 people in that same period, Bates wrote.

“In a recent survey conducted by UCB graduate students of more than 1,800 students, 78.5% expressed a desire for a grocery store on Telegraph Avenue,” Bates wrote. “Most undergraduate students at the University of California do not own a car and having an affordable grocery store within walking distance fills a real need.”

Representatives from Fresh & Easy, a British grocery chain, which is a lower-priced chain than Andronico’s, have expressed an interest in the site, said Bates. He thinks that kind of store would be more attractive to students than Andronico’s proved to be.

Since Berkeley does not have any big-box stores, the pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreen’s have been rapidly opening new outlets throughout Berkeley, sometimes even across the street from one another. As soon as one store opens, its competitor seeks to open another nearby. Rather than bring additional tax revenue to the city, officials thinks the plethora of stores just cannibalize one another.

Pharmacies now sell much more than just cosmetics and medicine. The trend is to offer items that will entice people to come by often, such as fresh food and milk. A number of pharmacies in Berkeley are either selling or are trying to sell, alcohol.

The Walgreen’s on Oregon, right across the street from Berkeley Bowl, was denied a permit to sell alcohol. It appealed that denial but withdrew the appeal last week, said Bates.

The reverse is also true. Large grocery stores, such as Safeway, are installing pharmacy departments. The Safeway on College near Claremont recently purchased the family owned Chimes Pharmacy on College as part of its long-term strategy to increase the size of the store.

Bates has asked city staff to look into drawing up a measure that would prohibit new pharmacies from opening up within 1,000 feet of an existing pharmacy.

Bates is not against pharmacies, he just wants to lure in new business, if possible. He would prefer to see a CVS store at the old Andronico’s location rather than leaving it vacant, he said.

The Conference Claimants Endowment Board, which was set up to support retired Methodist clergy. Its mission is to maximize revenue from its properties.

Infusion of money should spiff up remaining Andronico’s [11.30.11] 
Andronico’s on Telegraph Avenue to close [11.25.11]
As Andronico’s on University closes, huge sale in progress [10.25.11]
Andronico’s to shutter University Avenue store [ 10.17.11]
Andronico’s and A.G. Ferrari saved from the brink [10.12.11]
Andronico’s files for bankruptcy [08.22.11]
Safeway buys Chimes Pharmacy to consolidate [07.12.11]
Andronico’s plans recapitalization with new lenders and investors [05.25.11]
Four Berkeley Andronico’s face difficult conditions [05.24.11]
A.G. Ferrari closes Berkeley store, company bankrupt [04.05.11]
Will pharmacy war lead to new restrictions in Berkeley? [04.18.11]

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...