Thursday, December 10, 2009
Omar Corres dropped the W-bomb at the Dec. 3 Seaside City Council meeting.
Speaking on behalf of two dozen Hispanic-owned bakeries, restaurants and groceries, Corres, whose father owns La Chiquita Market, asked the council to prohibit Mi Pueblo from operating within city limits.
“In the Hispanic context of grocery stores, it’s like a Wal-Mart,” he said. “They are able to monopolize the businesses around them.”
But unlike the goliath retailer, which has more than 2,500 U.S. stores, Mi Pueblo’s empire consists of 14 franchises in a two-hour driving range between Oakland, Modesto and Salinas. Four more are in the planning stages, including the one in Seaside.
Mi Pueblo proposes to remodel the building that now houses Kragen Auto Parts on Fremont Boulevard. The 20,000-square-foot store – about half the average franchise size – is set to open in fall 2010 at the earliest, with a bakery, deli, tortillería and produce section.
“We’ve been in contact with the residents about it, and they’re very excited to have a full service store within walking distance,” says Mi Pueblo spokeswoman Perla Rodriguez. “Communities are bettered by competition.”
Not everyone agrees. While Mi Pueblo claims it will bring 120 jobs to the city, Corres says the chain could cause 168 job losses as smaller grocers shut down.
Seaside-Sand City Chamber of Commerce Board Member Jorge Covarrubias, who’s not a member of Corres’ group and doesn’t speak on behalf of the chamber, thinks that’s too steep a risk. “[Mi Pueblo] may bring in x amount of dollars, but you drive out the blue-collar businesses that are still trying to thrive in this economy,” he says. “It’s not worth it.”
Seaside Planning Services Manager Barbara Nelson calls family-owned businesses “the soul of Seaside” and says Mi Pueblo might serve them by attracting more business to the downtown area. But while she sympathizes with the concerns of Corres’ group, she says they come too late.
No one objected to the project at a Sept. 23 Planning Commission hearing, she says. Mi Pueblo now has its use permit, building permit, and most of its water allocation and design approval. Because the project is consistent with the city’s zoning and General Plan, the City Council isn’t expected to weigh in.
“I wish we’d heard from some of these folks earlier. I don’t think it would’ve changed the outcome,” Nelson says. “It is a permitted use, so we’ve got to follow the regulations.”