MODESTO — Ben Zuidema has been living at Ralston Tower in downtown Modesto for the past seven years.
Its the best place to live, he said. Everything is real handy around us.
Or it was, at least, until Save Mart closed its supermarket at 17th and H streets at the end of October.
It left us all in the dark as far as groceries, Zuidema said. We do need to eat, and many of us cant get around just anywhere.
The Modesto Bee ran a story in early October about the closure of the 42,120-square-foot store, which had been at that location for 25 years. Save Mart owner Bob Piccinini said the store no longer made enough money to keep it open beyond the end of its lease. The company now has 221 stores under the brand names of Save Mart, S-Mart Foods, Lucky and FoodMaxx.
Closing it was a difficult business decision, said Ed Popke, vice president of Save Mart Division Operations.
Difficult especially for the seniors living at Ralston Tower, Zuidema said. He had a few questions about the property and about the possibility of getting another grocery store planted there in the future. He wanted to know who owns the property, and whether Save Mart moved out because its lease would have increased or if taxes had anything to do with it. He wanted to know if Save Mart would provide transportation to its store on Oakdale Road, which is where many Ralston Tower folks now get their prescriptions.
The whole thing is a mystery, he said. Theres talk about a lot of different stores going in, but nobody knows. It could even be a shoe store. It would be nice to see the parking lot full of cars and seeing groceries carried out. People here would again be very grateful for a grocery store.
I checked with Alicia Rockwell, a spokeswoman for Save Mart, and with Chris Sill of Lee & Associates, the real estate firm trying to find a new tenant for the property.
Rockwell said Save Mart understands the impact to this neighborhood and so is trying to mitigate its closure in a couple of ways. The prescriptions that used to be filled at the old Lincoln School site in downtown Modesto now are filled at the Save Mart store on Oakdale Road and Scenic Avenue and delivered to Ralston Tower residents. And the company is helping with the cost of transporting residents to the other store for groceries.
We know this cant replace the convenience of a full-service store, but hope it will be helpful until other options become available, she said. We are always saddened to close a store in any community, but particularly stores like H Street with such longstanding service in the area.
Sill said his office is in very preliminary talks with a couple of potential tenants for the site. Were not focusing on grocery stores, but also on drugstores and soft goods retailers such as clothing or discount stores, he said. However, he added, I think the chances are pretty good that another grocer could go into the building. Its a turnkey grocery building, so its a good site.
He declined to say how much Save Mart had paid for its lease and said there is no set asking price for the property, but noted that the owners a group called SLS Modesto Investors, which is made up of Bay Area investors want to re-tenant the anchor space, so theyre not pushing for a premium lease.
Part of the challenge, Sill said, is that the commercial real estate market in Modesto is still sluggish because of the slow economy.
These properties can either go very, very quickly or sit for years, he said. Its hard to say, but Id probably say (finding a new tenant) would take six to 18 months.
Zuidema and his fellow residents at Ralston Tower are hoping for the shorter time frame and for a tenant that provides groceries.
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2012.