After receiving building permits from the city and approval for a $5.4 million construction loan, backers of a long-planned grocery store in West Oakland now hope to open before the end of this year.
If all goes to plan, People’s Community Market will start serving shoppers at 3105 Myrtle St., on the corner of San Pablo Avenue, sometime in the fall, said CEO Brahm Ahmadi. Even with delays, he said he still hopes to open by the holidays.
Ahmadi said he started working on it full time in late 2011, shortly after finishing business school, and even then, he was continuing the work of an existing nonprofit, People’s Grocery.
By the end of 2013, People’s Community Market had raised $1.2 million, but the search for a location was complicated by a booming real estate market. Some property owners were asking for twice or three times the market value of their land, Ahmadi said.
Finally, the company acquired a 16,000-square-foot parcel in March 2016 and expected to open several months later, but extensive delays and mounting expenses in the permitting process made that impossible.
Ahmadi ’s vision is to open a 15,000-square-foot full-service grocery store with a robust prepared food section, including a café that would serve as a social hall and event space. The social hall would have workshops and classes during the day, and potentially, live music in the evenings.
The grocery will have an emphasis on fresh, affordable fruits, vegetables and meats. Ahmadi said the lack of access to fresh ingredients is a main concern for neighborhood residents, many of whom travel outside of Oakland to do their shopping.
West Oakland is classified as a food desert by the US Department of Agriculture, and other projects have struggled to get off the ground. A 99 Cents Only store near the West Oakland BART station closed last year, but the Mandela Foods Cooperative has announced plans to take over the space.
Meanwhile, an effort to open a grocery store in the Jack London Gateway plaza at Seventh and Market streets was scuttled after partner Thomas Henderson was sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly exploiting the project as part of a scam to defraud investors.
Ahmadi said the community organizing People’s Community Market will help to make it successful.
"I think the main thing for us is we have longstanding roots in this neighborhood, and we've been building a lot of community support for this project since 2002,” he said. “For me, that's our most important asset... we have that longstanding support."