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What's Cooking Behind The Scenes At Cole Valley's New Grocery Store?

In online parlance, brick and mortar refers to physical spaces where goods are sold—a reference to how business was done in the last century. In Cole Valley, however, the phrase evokes the places neighbors visit several times each week to shop, chat up merchants and run into friends. When Alpha Market closed in September after three decades, that social dynamic was somewhat diminished.

Which is why many residents are eagerly awaiting next month's planned opening of Luke's Local, the first physical location of an online company that delivers healthy groceries and prepared meals. 

The new Luke's Local awning went up last week, but a sign is coming soon.

In recent weeks, the 2,900-square-foot space has been stripped to the walls; then, owner Luke Chappell took down the walls as well. A new concrete floor brings the building up to code, along with an ADA-compliant entryway and bathrooms under construction. If the current timeline doesn't branch, he said he expects to open the store in time for Hanukkah/Christmas cooking.

The butcher/deli counter along the store's north wall has been scooted east several feet to create space for a coffee kiosk that will serve customers from 7am to 9am; the full store will operate from 9am to 9pm. Like Alpha Market, Luke's Local will also carry wine, beer and spirits.

A new floor, ADA-compliant bathrooms and renovated stock and prep rooms are just a few of the changes.

Instead of three large aisles, the market is being reorganized into grocery islands "you can weave in and out of," said Chappell,  which include tiers of fruit and produce on casters. Luke's Local is reusing Alpha Market's aluminum shelves as well as its refrigeration cases, which will house an expanded cheese selection, as well as prepared meals.

Alpha Market in July 2016.

Five miles away, at the Luke's Local commissary near Cesar Chavez St. and 280, workers have already staged the intended layout with modular shelves coded to individual products. When workers have finished building the interior at 960 Cole, the commissary team will pack it up, drive it over, and re-stage everything according to plan.

A new coffee kiosk will serve customers from 7am to 9am, when the full store opens.

Built in 1925, the store at the corner of Cole and Parnassus has always operated as a market. By the 1950s, it was one of several Mission Pride markets, but Chappell said it was later partitioned to create a butcher shop and grocery store.

When Abe Saba opened Alpha Market three decades ago, he removed the wall to open the space back up. Although not considered historic by the Planning Commission, it is age-eligible.

Chappell said the new market will open before Hanukkah/Christmas.

Chappell, whose parents founded Tom's Of Maine, generally buys from producers who use sustainable, organic techniques. "It's about knowing and trusting the people we're sourcing from and understanding their practices," he said, noting that most items will be obtained regionally.

If possible, Chappell said he wants to get more people from the neighborhood to work in the store, and has been in contact with several already. "It's a lot of hiring, and it takes time, so that's our big priority for the next two weeks," he said, adding that he plans to do a soft opening before throwing the doors wide open.

"We want to do something special for the neighborhood before it's an official grand opening," said Chappell, who lives nearby. "I think the first day, we'll just open the doors and not tell anyone."

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