Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 30, 2013

Its future uncertain, JJ&F Market to close

Long-planned redevelopment of College Terrace block leaves grocer scrambling

by Sue Dremann

Palo Alto's 65-year-old JJ&F Market has been given a 30-day notice to make way for the long-stalled College Terrace Centre development, owners of the grocery store have confirmed.

The Khoury family, which has owned and operated JJ&F since 2011, received a notice from developer Adventera Inc. that their month-to-month lease of the 520 College Ave. site is up. They must leave by Sept. 19, according to a letter from Patrick Smailey. The developer plans to use the premises as a meeting space after the store closes, the letter states.

While the Khourys were aware they would need to leave at some point, the notice has left them scrambling, Ronnie Khoury said. The store is fully stocked, and more inventory is coming in that cannot be returned.

Store employees, including some family members, are likely to lose their jobs, he said. Given a longer notice, the family possibly could have found a nearby location for the store, he added.

The market became a community rallying point several years ago, when Adventera (formerly Twenty-One Hundred Ventures LLC) sought planned-community (PC) zoning in order to create a mixed-use, dense development at the corner of College and El Camino Real.

Because planned-community zoning requires the developer provide a "public benefit" in exchange for permission to build more densely, the Palo Alto City Council required the redevelopment to house an 8,000-square-foot grocery store. The new space is to be leased at a subsidized rate.

The Khourys, however, have had no communication with Adventera regarding a possible move into the new building, Ronnie Khoury said.

The city must approve a signed lease between the developer and the grocery store before it can issue any building permits for the site, and the grocery store must be occupied before tenants can move into the office portion of the building, Chief Information officer Claudia Keith said this week.

Adventera has informed the city that it now has financing to move ahead with the project, which received the council's OK in 2009. But the developer has not submitted a lease with a grocer for city approval, Keith said.

The block-long development will include 40,000 square feet of office space, the grocery store, 5,580 square feet of other retail space and eight units of affordable housing.

Despite a relatively brief ownership of JJ&F, the Khourys, who also operate grocery stores in Half Moon Bay and Windsor in Sonoma County, say they have built strong relationships with their customers. They've watched kids grow and traded stories about schools and births and Little League games, they said.

"Papa Joe" Khoury would sit at an outside table and shoot the breeze with former San Francisco 49er Steve Young, whose children attend school in the area, Ronnie Khoury said.

"We're going to miss a lot of people. There's a lot of really nice people here and we'll miss a lot of that," Chris Khoury said.

The youngest of seven children, he said most of the family members are involved in the grocery business. The stores support most of the family members, and the Palo Alto business "is a big help," he said.

Shopper Louise Stephens said she will miss the store.

"I like it because I live 10 minutes away and I don't have a car. I really like to cook, and they have more ethnic foods that you wouldn't normally find in a small corner grocery store," she said.

The immediate termination of the market's lease will be a premature loss to the community of its market of 60-plus years, said Fred Balin, a College Terrace Residents Association board member, who emphasized that he was speaking for himself and not the association.

The Khoury family took a calculated risk when purchasing the market. The family "has provided a welcome environment to clientele ... and they have persevered despite the continued deterioration of the building," Balin said, referring to a leaking roof and lack of property upkeep.

The Khourys give every indication of being just as committed to the neighborhood as were the original and longtime owners, the Garcias, he said.

"At a minimum, they should be provided sufficient time to transition out of the space without incurring hardship. Beyond that, the market should be allowed to continue in operation as long as possible and as long as the Khourys are willing. No other non-retail use should be permitted within the market space prior to demolition," Balin said.

He has asked Adventera to give appropriate consideration to the Khoury family regarding future tenancy of the new market.

Smailey did not return the Weekly's repeated requests for comment.

Around the corner, at 2121 Staunton Court, another business is also leaving due to the planned demolition. World Centric is moving to Petaluma, owner Aseem Das said.

"Since the block was up for redevelopment, we didn't know when the ax was going to fall. We were proactive. We started looking two to three months ago," he said.

World Centric employs 14 to 15 people in Palo Alto, and some will not be relocating. Others can work remotely. Although he had "very good rent here," Palo Alto's generally high rents were a factor in leaving the area, he said. The business will move to the Foundry Wharf, which houses alternative businesses such as Cowgirl Creamery and Traditional Medicines.

He learned of Adventera's plans to move him out after notifying the developer that World Centric would leave at the end of September.

"They said, 'That's good timing,'" Das said.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.

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