Miki's Farm Fresh Market might be closing, but one local grocer is looking at potentially taking over the spot.
Joe Khoury, the patriarch of the family that owns JJ&F Market, told the Weekly he is considering opening a store at the Alma Plaza site.
Miki's opened to great fanfare in Alma Plaza last October, following seven years of blight at the plaza since Albertson's left in 2005. But Miki's announced it would close as soon as Wednesday, leaving a hole in the city's "public benefits" requirement for the site and a $1 million debt for owner Michael "Miki" Werness. The customer base he envisioned never materialized, he said.
Khoury has had his own troubles. His family purchased JJ&F, a neighborhood fixture for nearly 65 years in Palo Alto, in 2011. Previous owners Emerald Market purchased the store from longtime owners Lloyd, Dennis and John Garcia in November 2010.
JJ&F, which is located at 520 College Ave., was to be part of the planned College Terrace Centre, a development filling a city block at College Avenue and El Camino Real. The center would include 40,000 square feet of office space, 5,580 square feet of other retail and eight units of affordable housing. The plan won Palo Alto City Council approval on Dec. 7, 2009, after months of public controversy. Residents rallied to keep the market but were opposed to dense development.
But the economic downturn brought the project to a standstill, according to people close to the development. Project architect Tony Carrasco said in March that developer Adventera Inc. is "still trying to get it financed."
Adventera president Patrick Smailey did not return requests for comment in the March 26, Weekly story about the delay.
But city officials said many promises had been made that financing was about to come through, but never materialized. Officials have given the project a one-year extension to submit plans for a building permit, said Curtis Williams, the city's director of planning and community environment.
Khoury said on March 26, that he is dissatisfied with the situation. There is garbage around the abandoned adjacent property, the roof leaks and the business is not getting adequate customers to make money, he said.
So now he is considering the Alma Plaza site for a potential JJ&F-style market, he said. Whether he would close the College Terrace store remains to be seen. If conditions stay as they are, "we'll have to leave. We're wasting our time here," he said.
When it comes to the College Terrace Centre redevelopment, "I don't think it's happening," he said.
The Khourys looked over the Alma store last Thursday. Given that news on Friday, Werness sounded interested.
"If I had a million dollars, I'd be back in business," he said enthusiastically. Since announcing the closure, Miki's is finally doing the kind of sales he'd hoped for all along, now that people are aware the store is closing, and they can purchase gourmet products at a deep discount, he said by phone.
"I wish we'd had the volume that we've been doing recently -- we'd really be rocking. There's been a phenomenal amount of people in the store," he said.
But Werness said he was cautious about the chances of success regardless of whether his million-dollar dream comes true. He questioned whether the volume of business would be sustainable if he wasn't having a 30-percent-off sale.
"That's what scares me," he said.
He also isn't sure any other operator would be successful in the space, he said. The store's struggles were in part based on the Alma Plaza project itself, and the political climate in which it was built. People didn't like the project, and some were resolved not to shop there, he said.
Now another operator might also have to contend with Miki's legacy, he predicted. People now expect a high level of quality at that site, he said.
"If Miki's leaves and another comes in, I don't know who's going to duplicate what we have. Now people are no longer going to shop here because it's no longer Miki's," he said.
Miki's shelves were nearly empty on Tuesday afternoon. Werness perused the merchandise and picked out a few edible mementos to take home: large slabs of roast beef and herbed turkey breast from the deli section. The hopefulness he expressed by phone on Friday seemed to have disappeared.
Asked if any deal had materialized between him and the Khourys, his answer was short and to the point.
"No. I'm finished," he said, shaking his head.
Property owner John McNellis said in an email that he hasn't heard anything about the Khourys' interest.
"Even if I had, I wouldn't comment on it, as we never comment on leases or potentials until a lease is actually signed -- bad luck to do otherwise," he said.