The old Mervyn’s building, located at 2840 Geer Rd., could soon be home to a 24-hour discount food and beverage grocery store, rumored to be Walmart Neighborhood Market.
The Turlock City Planning Commission on Thursday approved repurposing the approximately 61,000-square-foot building, which has sat vacant since Mervyn’s chainwide bankruptcy in 2009. The commission action clears the way for development of the building as a grocery store, and allows any grocery tenant to move in without further approval.
Site owner Retail Properties of America does not have a tenant lined up, representative John Reynolds said, but has seen interest from “a number of grocers.”
The prospective tenant has been widely rumored as Walmart Neighborhood Market, a grocery-specific chain operated as a subset of Walmart. Additionally, building elevations presented Thursday depicted the former Mervyn’s repainted in shades of brown and tan; Walmart Neighborhood Markets employ that color scheme.
Since opening its first site in 1998, Walmart now operates 168 Walmart Neighborhood Markets, each employing about 95 people. A typical 42,000 square-foot store stocks fresh produce, meat, dairy, frozen foods, a deli, bakery, pharmacy, photo supply, and general merchandise as traditionally found in grocery stores.
A Modesto Walmart Neighborhood Market was announced earlier this year, planned for an empty anchor spot at the corner of Coffee Road and Orangeburg Avenue. No opening date for that development has been announced.
Turlock ordinances have previously barred Walmart Supercenters, which combine grocery and retail under one roof. Turlock’s ordinances would not affect a stand-alone grocery store, developed in addition to an existing Walmart.
Walmart on Friday declined to confirm or deny plans for a Turlock Neighborhood Market.
“Walmart is always looking for opportunities to serve our customers better and improve access to affordable groceries and general merchandise,” said Walmart spokeswoman Delia Garcia. “While we don’t have plans to announce for Turlock, we are very excited about having begun construction on a Walmart in Patterson and a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Modesto. These stores will help stimulate the local economy through job creation and give residents an option for affordable, healthy food as well as general merchandise.”
Grocery store transition needed, developer says
Though historically a retail space, the former Mervyn’s building isn’t appealing to today’s retailers, Reynolds said.
“We’ve been aggressively trying to market this space, and we really haven’t had much interest in this one,” he said.
Many major big box retailers have closed with the recession. Others that survived are interested in stores either larger or smaller than the former Mervyn’s, Reynolds said, and few wish to locate in a residential area.
The only interest Retail Properties of America has seen, Reynolds said, has been from large 24-hour grocery chains.
Despite the interest, Planning Commissioner Victor Pedroza questioned whether another large grocery store was a good fit for Turlock. Past reports to the commission have suggested that Turlock already has ample grocers to supply needs.
“Do we actually need another grocery store?” Pedroza asked.
“I hope that’s the case, because if not we’re going to be left with a vacant box for who knows how long,” Reynolds said.
Nearby resident Lori Sheridan expressed similar reservations about a 24-hour discount grocery store’s affects on the neighboring community.
“It could be competition is a good thing, or it could be its driving out businesses that are longstanding in our community,” Sheridan said. “… I would rather see a retailer there, but if there are no retailers coming there’s nothing that can be done about it.”
Hours biggest concern
The development was supported by all Turlock Planning commissioners except for Soraya Fregosi, who opposed the hours of operation.
“I have to say, I am concerned about a 24-hour operation,” Fregosi said. “If this goes through does that mean the other grocery stores would want to have the same extension of hours?”
Both Safeway and FoodMax are 24-hour grocery stores already located in Turlock, though not in residential areas. Walgreens and CVS Pharmacy both operate 24-hour stores on the Geer Road corridor, but are not grocery stores. None have had noise complaints, city staff said.
The operating agreement also stipulates measures to reduce noise impacts on nearby residents. Whatever grocer eventually takes the space will be barred from accepting deliveries, stacking pallets, or making outdoor noise between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. daily. Customers would arrive only from the west, with the northern door being closed, allowing the building to buffer some sound.
Additionally, 10-foot high sound walls would be constructed between the grocery store and nearby residences, with a 16-foot high sound wall surrounding the loading dock.
Reynolds also noted that the future tenant may decide not to operate 24-hours per day.
Commissioners also addressed issues of smell and cleanliness before approving the development, requiring that organic waste bins be moved away from residences, and stipulating that the parking lot be regularly cleaned.
The decision to convert the former Mervyn’s to a grocery store may yet be appealed to the Turlock City Council for a final decision.