The new store is one of Safeway’s “Lifestyle” stores and includes a Starbucks and an emphasis on fresh food. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Today sees the re-opening, after nearly one year of construction work, of the Safeway on Shattuck Avenue, right in the heart of Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto.

For one loyal customer, the unveiling of what the grocery chain refers to as one of its “lifestyle” stores is, as she put it, “mind boggling.” When Claire Alvarez moved to Henry Street in 1962, the spot now occupied by Safeway was a vacant lot. Alvarez watched the original store go up, and was first in the door when it opened in 1965. Yesterday, she was designated the new store’s official first customer and was asked to help cut the ceremonial ribbon.

Alvarez, like may Berkeley residents, and even Safeway employees, agreed the old store was in dire need of a makeover. “But I never dreamed it would be like this,” she said, after being presented with a bouquet of flowers by the store’s manager, Kimberly Davis. “I’ll be coming in every other day.”

The revamped store has been a long time in the making, and not without complications. What started out as a plan to rebuild — and at one point included first-story housing — turned into an extensive remodel, albeit one that saw all but one original wall maintained. And the community expressed many concerns about the project along the way.

Safeway VP of Operations Bernard Hardy, Store Manager Kimberly David, Claire Alvarez, the original store’s first customer, and Keith Turner, Safeway Director of Public Affairs, at the ribbon cutting for the newly unveiled Shattuck Avenue store. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Speaking at the preview event on Thursday, at which Safeway donated $5,000 to the Berkeley Public Education Foundation, Council Member Laurie Capitelli, whose district embraces the store, said he was pleased with how cooperative Safeway had been in dealing with the city and local residents.

“Their staff sat down with me and neighbors and worked out issues both large and small,” he said. “Virtually every neighbor signed off on this Safeway.”

Being located in arguably one of the most food-conscious neighborhoods in the country — it’s a stone’s throw from Chez Panisse, Michael Pollan lunches regularly at Saul’s Deli across the way, and it’s directly opposite the site of a weekly Berkeley Farmers Market — Safeway has strived to offer something a little special for its connoisseur customers. There’s a deli and seafood counter, a hot bakery and full-service meat counter, a full-service florist, as well as a Starbucks close to the store’s entrance.

Sushi chefs prepare food at the new Safeway’s deli counter. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Davis, who started her career at the Shattuck store in 1998, and has returned to manage its new incarnation from Martinez, said the chain is enhancing its organic and natural foods sections with a view to meeting the needs of its discerning clientele. “There’s also more variety of produce,” she added.

She said that a net total of 125 new jobs have been created at the new store, which has a significantly bigger footprint than the original, and was designed by Oakland architects Lowney Architecture. Some of the building’s original features, such as its curved ceilings, have been preserved, large clerestory windows provide natural light and, in keeping with the “lifestyle” concept, there are wooden floors and recessed lighting. From the Shattuck Avenue side, the store’s branding is discreet and an underground garage, accessible from Henry Street, provides spaces for parking.

Darlene Schoby is one of the new employees to join the 65 who were retained from the original store before it closed in February for eight months of remodeling. She said she likes the new building and the way it blends the 1960s architecture with contemporary aspects.

Darlene Schoby, an employee of the newly opened Shattuck Avenue Safeway, approves of the way the original 1960s architecture has been blended with the new parts of the building. Photo: Tracey Taylor

“Having sunlight inside always makes you feel good,” she said. She also relishes serving such a diverse local community. “We will be selling everything from popcorn to sit-down dinners,” she said. “I wouldn’t quite say we will be giving the Cheese Board a run for their money, but we have many great pizzas.”

Safeway has had a presence in Berkeley for 85 years. The unveiling of the redesigned Safeway on Shattuck comes not long after the Berkeley City Council unanimously made its opposition clear to the remodeling of the Safeway at the intersection of Claremont and College avenues just over the Berkeley border in Oakland.

Bike racks and a staggered facade are part of the design of the new Safeway which was devised by Lowney Architecture. Photo: Tracey Taylor
There is an extensive cheese selection at the newly remodeled store. Photo: Tracey Taylor
Safeway has enhanced its organic and natural food sections for its Gourmet Ghetto customers. Photo: Tracey Taylor
The new Safeway includes a Starbucks coffee shop located near its entrance. Photo: Tracey Taylor
The building design is staggered on the Shattuck side and branding is unobtrusive. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Berkeley Council unites in opposing Safeway project [07.18.12]
North Berkeley Safeway given green light to remodel [01.21.11]
New plans unveiled for Safeway store on Shattuck [07.27.10]

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...