Update, Sept. 1: People’s Local Market resumed selling beer and wine in mid-July after being unable to make enough sales as a grocery store. Abdulla said the store has reduced its shelf space for alcohol by 60% from its previous iteration as a liquor store.
Original story: The owner of Crafts & Grapes will reopen the Berkeley bottle shop as a grocery store called People’s Local Market this month in an effort to provide the Southside neighborhood with healthy, local offerings, especially during the pandemic.
Anson Abdulla, who also owns People’s Cafe in downtown Berkeley, is continuing his partnership with House Kombucha owner Rana Lehmer-Chang for the new venture. Abdulla and Lehmer-Chang originally planned for People’s Local Market to be a zero-waste grocery store, where customers would bring in reusable containers to fill with bulk goods. Due to current health and safety guidelines restricting customers from bringing in their own containers, the business partners have had to tweak their original vision. While it will not initially be fully zero-waste, People’s Local Market will still prioritize sustainable practices and healthy foods sourced from local suppliers and farmers.
Abdulla has previously owned several convenience and grocery stores over the years, including Supermercado Mi Pueblo and Food King Market in Oakland, both of which he sold. He bought Crafts & Grapes about seven years ago to run as a family business, and although alcohol sales have increased since March, he said the last few months of the pandemic have convinced him to step away from liquor sales. Not only is he troubled with seeing more people buying alcohol, but with witnessing a handful of violent or near-violent incidents that stemmed from people being too inebriated. Mostly, he’s concerned about the well-being of his regular patrons.
“Normal people that were coming in before, now all of a sudden — coming in without no shoes. You could just see it in their face. A lot of people were coming in trying to purchase alcohol that just didn’t look right,” Abdulla said. “I didn’t want to take advantage of the situation. A lot of people are drinking now, and [alcohol] sales are getting better.”
From 11 years of running her craft kombucha business, Lehmer-Chang has plenty of expertise and connections to local suppliers, but she is among many East Bay business owners who’ve had to adapt to the sharp drop in business when the pandemic hit. A large portion of her sales used to come from social drinking spaces that sold House Kombucha on tap, like cafes, shared office spaces and company cafeterias, but she’s lately had to rely mostly on sales of bottled kombucha at grocery stores and direct-to-consumer platforms like Shopify.
Lehmer-Chang said her heart is still in a zero-waste model for the future, but with that on hold for the market, the shift away from liquor sales is still in line with her values. A member of the Bahá’í Faith community, Lehmer-Chang doesn’t drink alcohol and even founded House Kombucha with the hopes that it could become an alternative to alcohol in social settings.
Abdulla envisions the market as an indoor version of the Berkeley farmers market, but open every day and with shelves stocked with locally produced broths, soups and snacks, and dairy from nearby farms. Along with House Kombucha, other local vendors will include Bread SRSLY, Marin Living Foods, Starter Bakery, Boichik Bagels, Formosa Chocolate, Alexandre Family Farm, Don Bugito and Wooden Table Baking Co.
With the focus on locally made foods and healthier options at People’s Local Market, Lehmer-Chang sees a potential for growth.
“We’re going to open a lot more grocery stores, it’s our first store so we’re building these relations with our local vendors,” Lehmer-Chang said. “We have a robust backyard, so we can really do local buying.”
A soft opening for People’s Local Market is planned for July 15, with a grand opening Aug. 1. The grocery store will initially carry a mix of local and non-local items based on the neighborhood’s needs, but Abdulla’s ultimate goal is to transition to a fully locally sourced stock. The shop is still open during its transformation and most of its former stock is still available for purchase. In order to remove all the alcohol off his shelves as fast as possible, though, Abdulla said he donated all the products to charity.
“I don’t want to be that person who toxifies the neighborhood, I’d rather detoxify it.” — Anson Abdulla
Abdulla originally purchased Crafts & Grapes in Berkeley as a way to create jobs for his family members, but he said he’s rethought that choice now.
Abdulla also hopes People’s Local Market will serve the community by offering the type of customer service you can’t get from buying groceries online. He stressed the importance of people interacting with their grocers at a neighborhood market.
“The alcohol business is not the right thing to be in this time and this era, and I consciously wanted to get out of it, and It wasn’t the right time for my kids to be there,” he said, calling it a “purification” process. “I don’t want to be that person who toxifies the neighborhood. I’d rather detoxify it.”
While the partners work on People’s Local Market, Abdulla is still figuring out the future for People’s Cafe (61 Shattuck Sq., Berkeley), which has largely been closed during the pandemic. His family-run cafe wasn’t able to get funding from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, and Abdulla said there’s hardly been a “pulse” in the downtown neighborhood since the shelter-in-place order came down in March.
A new chef is currently working on a healthy Mediterranean and Egyptian-inspired menu, which may debut at the cafe in a couple weeks. Abdulla described it as “a four-dollar sign menu, but you’re getting it on a two-dollar sign pricing.” He’s considering reopening in short bursts over the next few months to test the waters. And if that doesn’t attract many customers, People’s Cafe may consider other options, like operating in a different format like a food truck.
“We’re trying to stay alive right now, because downtown Berkeley — there’s no foot traffic at all,” he said. “This new way of life now, it’s not really easy for eating out.”