Save Mart to close grocery store in downtown Modesto

gstapley@modbee.comOctober 1, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textGarth Stapley
    Title: Reporter
    Coverage areas: Regional water, growth, land-use and transportation; civil law, real estate fraud and special projects
    Bio: In his 19 years with The Bee, Garth Stapley has focused on city and county government
    E-mail: gstapley@modbee.com
  • Chronology

    1898 – Modesto’s second elementary campus, known as Lincoln School, opens at 17th and H streets.

    1949 – The school closes and eventually is torn down.

    1952 – Mike Piccinini establishes Save Mart in Modesto.

    1970 – City leaders buy the site with hopes of establishing a recreation center, an idea later abandoned.

    1988 – Save Mart opens as the anchor to the new Shops at Lincoln School retail center.

    Tuesday – The store will close Oct. 31, an advisory says.

— Modesto’s Save Mart grocery store on H Street downtown no longer makes enough money for the locally based chain and will close Oct. 31, the company said Tuesday.

“They’re all close to my heart, but I close them when it’s necessary,” said Bob Piccinini, majority owner of Save Mart Supermarkets.

The company has 225 stores under the Save Mart, S-Mart Foods, Lucky and FoodMaxx brands, making it the largest family-owned grocery chain in California.

But poor sales in recent times spelled the end for a store that opened 25 years ago at 17th and H streets as the centerpiece of City Hall’s first redevelopment project.

“Save Mart Supermarkets closes a store only after exhausting every alternative to draw more customers,” said Ed Popke, vice president of Save Mart Division Operations, in a release, calling the move a “difficult business decision.”

“Unfortunately, the slow economic recovery and the competition from other nonunion retailers have kept this store from performing at the level required to sustain it.”

Pharmacy customers will be asked to patronize a Save Mart at Oakdale Road and Scenic Drive, the advisory says.

A Lee & Associates Commercial Real Estate Services rental listing says Save Mart occupies 42,120 square feet in the center, known as the Shops at Lincoln School, named for a campus established there in 1898 and later torn down.

Piccinini’s father, Mike, founded Save Mart in 1952. Bob Piccinini bought out family members in 1985, three years before the H Street store opened.

City leaders since have proudly pointed to the shopping center as a redevelopment success. The city had bought the site in 1970 for $300,000.

The downtown Save Mart has anchored several other stores, including a Starbucks coffee shop and Mr. Pickle’s sandwiches. Save Mart customer Marianne Herzog wondered if some will suffer for lack of foot traffic drawn by the grocer.

“I will miss it,” she said.

“I will hate to have it shut down,” agreed Judy Gaut, service center manager for Arc, a next-door commercial printing company, which gets a minority of its business from foot traffic. “I go there almost every day for stuff. It’s convenient.”

The store is heavily relied on by hundreds of residents of the nearby Ralston Tower senior apartment complex, where the store’s impending closure was the talk of the day, Charles Zavalla said. Many don’t have vehicles and walk across the street for groceries.

“That’s the way it goes,” said Zavalla, 77, who retired from Save Mart 20 years ago after 14 years in its distribution system. “I helped Save Mart and they helped me.”

Save Mart employees were notified Monday. Tuesday’s advisory says the company will work “with union representatives to assist our associates through this store change.”

Mike Tokar said he has shopped at the downtown Save Mart since the day it opened, usually several times a week. Employees told him they would be farmed out to other stores, he said. “They’re good people, good friends,” Tokar said. “I know the new stores are prettier and nicer, but we’re not happy.”

Several of The Bee’s Facebook readers said they weren’t surprised, saying the downtown store seems dated and attracts homeless people. “The dirty, outdated store and panhandling make it unpleasant shopping,” Sarah Darpinian said.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or (209) 578-2390.

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