Noe Valley Voice September 2007

Whole Foods Could Be Coming to Bell Market

By Corrie M. Anders

News Flash: Whole Foods Market is in negotiations to take over the Bell Market grocery store on 24th Street and bring its natural and organic food products to Noe Valley.

But in late August, neither the Austin-based grocery chain nor Bell's commercial landlord would discuss details of the sensitive talks, which have been under way for some time.

"It's not a done deal as yet. I'm not going to verify one way or the other," said Mark Campana, a broker who represents Bell's property owners. "They're going through due diligence, and I don't want to comment beyond that."

Whole Foods failed to return several phone calls that the Voice left with the public relations department seeking a company response.

However, the upscale grocery telegraphed its intention to expand into Noe Valley by posting a notice on its web site. On a page titled Stores in Development, the company said a Whole Foods Market was coming to "San Francisco (Noe Valley),...opening date to be announced." The web page did not identify the exact location of the new store, but noted it would have 16,790 square feet of space.

Bell, which company executives have been trying to sell for two years, is the only Noe Valley location that approximates the square footage indicated on the Whole Foods web site.

Two vacant commercial sites in the neighborhood--the former Mikeytom Market on Church Street and the former Rite Aid drugstore on 24th Street--are considerably smaller than the Bell store.

Both sides in the talks are understandably guarded. Earlier this year, for undisclosed reasons, a purchase agreement fell through between independent grocer Harley DeLano and Bell's corporate parent company, Cincinnati-based Kroger Co.

Whole Foods is well known around the country for its--some say costly--gourmet groceries. The company has 21 stores in Northern California, including two locations in San Francisco--on California Street near Franklin, and on Fourth Street in the South of Market area.

Setting up shop in Noe Valley would continue the firm's expansionist mode. In June, it opened a store in Sonoma, and last month it cut the ribbon at a Cupertino location.

Noe Valley has been without a grocery that caters primarily to health-conscious shoppers since the Real Food Company shuttered its doors four years ago. The operators of Real Food--located just across the street from Bell (3950 24th Street)--contend that they plan to reopen at some unspecified date in the future.