The Berkeley Grocery Outlet is closing Aug. 20 to make way for housing. Photo: Emilie Raguso
The Berkeley Grocery Outlet is closing Aug. 20 to make way for housing. Photo: Emilie Raguso

It’s the end of an era in West Berkeley with Grocery Outlet closing later this month to make way for about 150 new housing units.

Grocery Outlet told Berkeleyside that its final day open in Berkeley, at 2001 Fourth St., will be Saturday, Aug. 20. That followed an email blast from the company to customers alerting them of the closure.

“We’re Sad to Go,” the email read. “It is with heavy hearts that we prepare to leave our Berkeley location. Please take advantage of our Liquidation Sale.”

Shoppers who visit the store now will find 20% sales in many departments.

“Thank you for being our customers in Berkeley. We’ll be opening more Bay Area locations soon,” the brief message reads.

One employee who said she was not authorized to speak with the media said store staff would be transferred to other locations. Berkeleyside has reached out to Grocery Outlet for confirmation.

Shoppers said Wednesday that they were sorry to see the store close.

“It’s kind of heartbreaking,” said neighborhood resident Sally Wright. “It’s part of the changing Berkeley and… damn.”

Wednesday she said that, despite having a medical condition that makes it difficult to walk, she had learned of the closure and had to visit one more time. She said she had loved how it was a place where “everybody shopped, one of the places where it was comfortable for all demographics.”

“It’s kind of heartbreaking,” said one neighbor about Berkeley Grocery Outlet’s closure. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Wright said it was always exciting to visit the store because “you never knew what you were going to find.” She had one memory of being invited into the back for an impromptu wine tasting, “back when there was a wine guy.”

Another woman, Marie Lindsay, said she and her family had been shopping at the Berkeley Grocery Outlet for years.

“We’re gonna have to travel now,” said Lindsay,” perhaps the locations in Richmond or Oakland. Lindsay said she would miss the discounts and good customer service.

One shopper said she would miss the discounts and good customer service. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Paul Dubbell was sitting on a bench outside the store eating some recently purchased jalapeño-flavored chips. He said he shopped at Grocery Outlet weekly, and also knew it to be the place where the Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley bought most of its fresh food for a weekly meal it cooks for the homeless. The church is now looking at making those buys at Smart & Final.

Dubbell said he liked Grocery Outlet’s “pretty good food” at inexpensive prices.

Now that the store is closing, he said, “I don’t know what to do.” He said he’ll likely end up at Trader Joe’s more often.

Inside the store, signs on nearly every aisle advertised the 20% off sale. Many of the shelves appeared well-stocked, but others were empty or disorganized.

The Berkeley Grocery Outlet is holding a liquidation sale before it closes on Aug. 20, 2016. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Stock is beginning to be depleted at the Berkeley Grocery Outlet which is closing to make way for a new housing development. Photo: Emilie Raguso
“It’s a sign of a changing time,” said one shopper on Aug. 3 about the closure. Photo: Emilie Raguso

One neighborhood resident, Helen Thornton, said she lives just a few blocks away and has been shopping at Grocery Outlet for years with her daughter. Thornton has lived in Berkeley for 40 years.

“It has the items I need for my cooking,” she said, “and the soaps and the toothpaste. All the items you need at your home, they have them here at a lesser price.”

Thornton said she’d heard about the closure earlier this year but had been told it would take at least a year for it to come. Then, her daughter had been shopping earlier this week and learned the store’s final days would be much sooner.

“That kinda got me,” she said. She said it will be difficult not to have a grocery store in walking distance with such good prices, adding that another nearby shop, on San Pablo Avenue, is much more expensive on many  of the items she buys.

Another man who walked into Grocery Outlet on Wednesday marveled at all the 20% off signs. He was not, however, pleased.

“It’s a sign of a changing time,” he said, noting that he has lived in Berkeley since the 70s. “The land is worth too much in Berkeley. It’s sad.”

Those concerns were echoed by Ryan M. Martin on Twitter: “Damn high density housing taking over W. Berkeley! Residents won’t have walkable grocery store.”

After the store closes, construction is set to begin in early September and take 24 months. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Morgan Read, of Read Investments, is spearheading the new project. His family also founded the Grocery Outlet chain. The Berkeley store opened in the early 90s, he said.

Read said Thursday that construction is slated to begin in early September, with a 24-month building period.

He said 152 units are planned in the project, including 12 below-market-rate affordable units. There’s also 13,000 feet of retail that could be broken up into anywhere from two to six tenants, depending on the interest.

Read said no leases have yet been signed on the retail spaces, though “there’s plenty of interest.”

Morgan Read. Photo: Read Investments

“Unfortunately, being 24 months away, it’s still hard for a retailer to commit,” he said. “Once shovels go in the ground and interested tenants can see the progress, we’ll start to get closer to having signed leases.”

Read said he’d like to see food-service uses, and that a neighborhood-serving grocer would be an excellent fit with the vision for the project.

Read said he’s looking forward to seeing the new project — designed by Trachtenberg Architects — built. Read’s firm is based in Berkeley, at Fourth and Addison, so he’ll have a front-row seat to everything to come.

He noted that a nearby 58-unit housing project that opened last year, “The Aquatic,” has been “well received” and has a “great tenant mix.” Its first phase is complete, and all of the units are full, but a second phase is underway that will add additional apartments.

“We’re really excited about the transformation,” he said. “We’re true believers in West Berkeley and what’s happening here.”

He continued: “The location is well suited to help alleviate the housing supply shortage that we are currently experiencing given its proximity to transportation and amenities..”

In recent years, West Berkeley near University Avenue has seen a spate of building and project proposals. New apartment developments have been built nearby at Fourth & U (171 units) and The Avalon (99 units), which opened in 2014. There’s also a commercial project planned on the Spenger’s block, with housing, retail and a garage planned across the street.

Nineteen live-work units have been approved on Second Street, and there’s been a spate of housing proposed on San Pablo Avenue as well. 

Update, 2:55 p.m. Grocery Outlet shared this statement. It appears below in full.

“Grocery Outlet has enjoyed being a part of and serving the Berkeley community. We’d like to thank all of our loyal shoppers and employees who have become a part our family. Though we are saddened that our lease has been terminated, we want our customers to know they can find the same great service and quality branded products at bargain prices at our nearby Oakland, Richmond and San Pablo stores.”

Proposed in Berkeley: 5 stories, 39 units on San Pablo (07.20.16)
Housing to replace Berkeley Grocery Outlet building (01.22.15)
5-story complex proposed on Grocery Outlet site (08.04.14)

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Emilie Raguso (senior editor, news) joined the Berkeleyside team in 2012. She covers politics, public safety and development. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...