Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Fair-Anselm Plaza: needs something Fresh & Easy?

Seeing the news about Fresh & Easy opening stores in the Bay Area started me thinking about where they might find a site in Marin. One place that comes to mind is Fair-Anselm Plaza, which I had a quick look at when I was in Fairfax last weekend. This is a grocery-anchored center which lost its grocer when Albertsons closed just over a year ago. On the face of it, a large vacant retail site in affluent, anti-development Marin should be snapped up pretty quickly, right? Obviously Albertsons couldn’t make a dollar there, but then Albertsons isn’t exactly the world’s leading retailer.

As the name suggests, Fair-Anselm Plaza is located between Fairfax and San Anselmo. The center straddles Center Boulevard approx 0.5 miles from Fairfax, with the vacant grocery store on the north side of the road and a strip mall on the south side. Each side has adjacent parking and there’s a crossing for pedestrians right outside the grocery store door.

The first thing you notice is what an ugly sight the grocery store is. It’s an old (1970s?) box, which looks particularly bad when you drive by on Sir Francis Drake, which borders the north side of the store and is slightly elevated, giving you a great view of the nasty concrete walls and roof.

The site itself is nicely located, with great exposure to passing traffic and easy access. Despite the closure of the anchor store, most of the other tenants are still trading, so there’s clearly a customer base remaining for the center. Other stores that draw people to the center include the US Post Office and Iron Springs Pub & Brewery. There’s also a health club, video store and cycle shop.

The center’s primary trade area includes the whole of Fairfax, Sleepy Hollow and parts of western San Anselmo. Woodacre, San Geronimo and Lagunitas make up a smaller secondary trade area. The map below shows these areas. Total population probably hasn’t changed much since the last census in 2000, when 18,000 people lived in the primary and 4,000 in the secondary sectors. Total trade area retail spending on food to take home is estimated at $52.6 million in 2008.

An estimated 65% or $34.2 million of this spending is directed to supermarkets, with the remainder going to independent food stores, convenience stores, farmers markets etc. The majority of this $34.2 million is currently shared between five supermarkets: Delano’s and Good Earth in Fairfax, Safeway at Red Hill, Andronico’s and Quick ‘n Easy in San Anselmo, and United Market on the eastern side of San Anselmo.

A 10,000 square foot Fresh & Easy supermarket at Fair-Anselm should be able to capture a market share of approx 10%, or $5.3 million of trade area food spending. Add on another 15% for sales to people living beyond the trade area, and 10% for sales of non-food items (alcohol, household consumables etc) and total store sales would be approx $7 million per annum, or $700 per square foot, which is a viable sales intensity for a small supermarket like this.

Fresh & Easy has been pushing its green credentials, with organic produce and support for local communities. This should please the eco-warriors of Fairfax. If Catlin Properties, who are believed to be buying the Plaza, can make it work, it’ll please everyone to see the old Albertsons store demolished and something less nasty built in its place. There might even be room for some additional stores. Starbucks, anyone?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Retailer comings and goings

News that Liz Claiborne are closing their Sigrid Olsen chain of upmarket womenswear stores, with the brand's stores expected to be all closed by mid year, including the one at The Village at Corte Madera.

As the remix of tenants continues at The Village at Corte Madera, one new sign last week announced that Martin + Osa are due to open there soon. It will be the second Bay Area store for the American Eagle-owned brand, which opened its first local outlet last year at Westfield's San Francisco Center. The store's namesakes - Martin & Osa - were aparently a couple of adventurers who explored the world in the 1900s. So the brand is all about casual, outdoors gear; more upscale than American Eagle. Trendy but safe in a Banana Republic kinda way.

Talking of BR, a big goodbye to the Banana Republic store in Mill Valley, which closed its doors for the last time today. As you probably know, Mill Valley is where Banana Republic first started, sometime in the 1970s. They moved into larger premises in the town many years ago, but it is still a loss for the town. Although the lack of public outcry suggests BR won't be missed as much as Sweetwater, Village Music or even Jenny Loews, which closed last year.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


We took a drive up to the little town of Fairfax today. Here are a few photos of some of the shops in the village center. Note the sandbags around some of the doors: there was a flood warning last night, but it looks like the water levels in the creek fell before any damage was done.

Fairfax is approx 3 miles northwest of San Anselmo and is a great little town – well worth a visit for the local hiking, cycling or just to pass an enjoyable hour browsing the local stores in the village.

The main retail strip is easily walkable and is centered on the intersection of Broadway and Bolinas Road. Here you’ll find plenty of cool local shops, with practically no chain stores to spoil the fun.

People here take their cafes, bars and eateries seriously and there’s a great range to choose from. Favorites include Sorrella, Barefoot Café, FairFix Café, Koffee Klatch, Siam Lotus, Perry’s Deli, Coffee Roastery, Grillys and Café Lotus.

Other stores we liked are: Culture Shock, Fairfax Variety store, Good Earth organic market, Bookbeat bookstore and café, Tela D organic clothing, The Potting Shed, For Paws – an organic pet grocery and boutique and Sherman’s General Store.

In the evening there's live music at Neve’s, 19 Broadway or Peri’s Silver Dollar.

The main supermarket is DeLano’s IGA on the western side of the town. The former Albertson’s supermarket at Fair Anselm Plaza, approx 0.5 miles east of the town center, is still empty after Albertson’s moved out last year.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Trader Joe's to open at Cost Plus Plaza

Reports that Trader Joe’s is planning to open a store at Cost Plus Plaza in Larkspur is welcome news to all TJ fans in Southern Marin. As much as we love shopping there, the trek up to the crowded San Rafael outlet, never sure if you are going to get a parking space, can be more pain than pleasure.

Okay, the Cost Plus Plaza isn’t that great a location. Easy enough to get to from the south (Lucky Drive exit), but more difficult when leaving, having to loop around and under the freeway and requiring a left turn out of the car park that the Larkspur city planner will want to take a good look at. Parking should be okay – there are approx. 200 spaces in the car park, which also features some great palm trees sitting in shopping bag-shaped concrete planters.

The extra traffic that Trader Joe’s will bring should be good news for the other tenants at the center. Cost Plus and Bevmo will face increased competition for the liquor trade, but this should be outweighed by new business from additional customers brought to the Plaza by the Trader.

The other stores at the center are Vitamin Shoppe, Mens Wearhouse and Party America, each occupying fairly large units. If TJs is successful the Plaza’s owners may look to re-lease some of these stores to higher-paying tenants, possibly subdividing into smaller units, which gross more rent on a per square foot basis. Think coffee shop, drugstore, bakery, etc.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Corte Madera Town Center

The Town Center at Corte Madera is a familiar sight to anyone who regularly drives south on 101 through Marin County. There’s the Container Store, REI and Barnes & Noble - all clearly visible from the freeway. But unless you stop to visit you might miss the attractive pedestrian mall, lined with boutiques, gourmet merchandise stores and eateries, that is tucked in between the shops that face the freeway and a Safeway and Rite Aid on the other side.

The Town Center is a shopping mall that serves several different purposes: it’s a neighborhood center that provides everyday shopping for the local population; it’s a destination mall that draws people in from the wider region to shop the Container Store or REI; and it’s a lifestyle mall that people visit to stroll, browse and eat in the elegant architectural setting that the owners claim is modeled on an Italian hill town.

Because of these contradictory personalities it has taken several years and a few false starts for the Town Center to establish itself. A few years ago the center was updated with the help of a Feng-Shui design guru, who introduced fountains, wall artwork, plantings and lots and lots of tables and chairs, all carefully positioned to promote a feeling of peace and harmony.

The leasing team has also been at work on the tenant roster, replacing down-market stores with more upscale brands. Last year a Barnes & Noble bookstore was brought in to replace Marshalls at the southern end of the center. More recently, the popular PF Changs restaurant and two up-market home furnishings stores: Harvest Home and Napa Style, were added.

The Details


Located just west of Highway 101 at Corte Madera, approximately 3 miles south of San Rafael and 7 miles north of San Francisco. Access from the Tamalpais Boulevard, Paradise Drive exit (northbound) and Madera Boulevard exit (Southbound).


The Town Center contains 350,000 square feet of retail space clustered around a north/south pedestrian mall. Approximately 70,000 sq.ft of professional suites are located above the stores at the southern end of the mall. Car parking is provided around the perimeter.


Retail sales estimated at approximately $500 per sq.ft, or $160 million per annum in total.

The center’s share of trade area retail spending is estimated at 19.2% in the primary sector (Corte Madera and Larkspur) and 5.1% in the secondary sector (remainder of Southern Marin).



  • The West entry, with ugly fixed seating outside McDonalds.

  • The South entry, with vacant ex-Good Guys unit, Charles Schwab, entry to professional suites providing little interest.

  • The South mall, sunk below the level of the shops, makes access difficult and deters browsing.