A new Save Mart will sit at the heart of revamped center

January 30, 2008 

TB North Pointe 2

Cost Plus World Market anchors a section of NorthPointe Shopping Center, which is slated to expand in northwest Modesto.

TED BENSON — Modesto Bee

A major expansion of NorthPointe Shopping Center in northwest Modesto will be anchored by a new Save Mart store.

That store, which will be 55,000 to 60,000 square feet, will replace the existing one near Sisk Road and Pelandale Avenue, less than a quarter of a mile from the new construction site.

Save Mart Chief Executive Officer Bob Piccinini said the new store could be a flagship for the Modesto-based grocery store chain, and definitely will be an upgrade over the existing store, which is about 45,000 square feet.

"I suspect it'll have all the same bells and whistles as any new Save Mart, and maybe a little more," Pic-cinini said of the new store.

The larger store will have space for more specialty foods, a coffee bar, expanded wine selections and sushi, Piccinini said, along with a deli, bakery, meat counter and pharmacy. The store will employ about 150 people, he said.

NorthPointe's developer, Modesto entrepreneur Dan Costa, said Save Mart is a strong anchor for his center's expansion, which will happen in two 10-acre phases.

"If you look over the last 10 years, there's a pretty systematic wave of grocery anchors at shopping centers," said Costa, who would not disclose what other stores will join Save Mart as part of the expansion. "Regardless of the economy, we've still got to have our Cheerios."

Costa said he has no plans yet for the project's second phase. Both phases will be on the northeast corner of Pelandale and Chapman Road, east of the existing 34 acres of NorthPointe that have Lowe's and Costco as anchors.

Costa and Piccinini said they're hopeful the store and the center's first phase will open by late this year, pending city approval.

That will coincide with the closure of the store that opened in 1992 in the Wood Colony shopping center at Sisk and Pelandale.

Piccinini said Save Mart has an active lease at Wood Colony. He said he would help find another business to fill the vacancy: "It's too good a location to stay empty."

Seven years ago, Wal-Mart proposed a 225,000-square-foot store in NorthPointe, but ultimately dropped those plans because of traffic and other planning concerns.

Moving to NorthPointe, Piccinini said, is unrelated to Wal-Mart's latest proposal for Mo- desto, transforming a vacant 100,000-square-foot building into a supercenter on McHenry Avenue north of Standiford Avenue.

"It's about having an assortment of goods that are attractive to customers," Piccinini said, adding that a grocery store with every possible item for sale would have to be about 200,000 square feet.

The store at NorthPointe will be similar to the Save Mart scheduled to open soon in Riverbank, Piccinini said.

Related to the Riverbank store's opening this year, a Save Mart in Modesto at Oakdale Road and Briggsmore Avenue will close within a month.

Piccinini said that store, one of three Save Mart locations along Oakdale, is an outlet that's expected to see a drop in business when Riverbank's store opens.

"It's old and a little tired," said Piccinini, who added that the store was formerly a Lucky outlet that Save Mart acquired in the 1990s.

Shoe's on the other foot

For Costa, having Save Mart as a tenant at NorthPointe is nearly a role reversal of a business idea he had nearly 40 years ago, while he was a junior at Davis High School.

Costa said he approached Piccinini in 1970 about opening a record store in Coffee Plaza, an east Modesto shopping center then anchored by a Save Mart.

Piccinini, who was leasing other sites in the center, said he listened to Costa's proposal. He then began asking how Costa would make the store profitable.

"He asks me, 'How are you going to crack that nut?' " Costa recalled. "I think he really wanted to know how I was going to make any money to afford the rent there!"

Piccinini said he told Costa to find an accountant and create a "P&L" -- profit-and-loss statement -- for his store, then come back to Piccinini.

Costa never did. But Piccinini met him again six years later, when Costa opened the first Velvet Creamery restaurant in Modesto. Piccinini attended the opening.

"I was in admiration of this kid that was 16 and wanted to get into running a business," Piccinini said. "I always had a soft spot for the guy who wants to open his first business."

Both men said, laughing, that Costa didn't ask Piccinini for a P&L statement for the new Save Mart at NorthPointe.

"I thought, 'Aha, now he's going to be a tenant of mine!' " Costa said. "But I was wrong if I thought I was the boss. He's still the hammer."

Bee staff writer Ben van der Meer can be reached at bvandermeer@modbee.com or 578-2331.

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