Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Water Feature News

Readers of the blog will know that I have quite a fondness for water features (there's no property you can't improve with a good pond or waterfall) so it's a sorry duty for me to report the sad demise of the once magnificent fountain at Larkspur Landing Shopping Center.

The old fountain, pictured above, was once a glamorous spouting frenzy of water wonder that enthralled young and old and kept alive an army of potted shrubs.

Sadly, Marin's version of the Trevi Fountain is now is now a sad pathetic spurt that looks more like a sewage pond than the Bellagio it once was.
I guess the new fountain is more appropriate for the minimalist retailer-less and shopper-less shopping center as it goes through its transition to become the Marin Country Mart. But alas, the worst indignity for the poor fountain is yet to come; the unkindest fate for any water feature: replacement by a fire pit.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Retail sales jump

The volume of retail sales in Marin has finally turned upwards after 18 months of recording year-on-year declines.

Distributions of the 1% sales tax allocated to Marin's cities in March 2010 totaled $2.59 million, or +21.5% up on March 2009's $2.13m, and takes the county back to the same amount that was distributed in March 2008.

It's the first positive year-on-year change since the +1.5% increase in August 2008.

A reminder that taxes distributed to Cities in March represent retail sales that occurred over the 2009 holiday period.

Grocery Stores Gone Wild

This might sound strange, but the most dynamic sector of Marin's economy has to be grocery retailing. The transformation in this sector over the last few years has been remarkable and is set to continue this year with more new stores opening and - very likely - more old stores closing.

Ten years ago, the grocery scene in Marin was dominated by mid market regional chains such as Albertsons and Bell Markets that operated 15-20,000 sq.ft stores. By 2006 Albertsons had closed or sold all their stores. Also in 2006 DeLano's took over five Marin Bell Market stores, although the ones in downtown Tiburon and Novato have since closed.

Over the last couple of years we've seen new stores from Trader Joe's in Novato and Larkspur, a large new Safeway at Hamilton Marketplace, the discount Grocery Outlet opened in Novato and Paradise Foods took over the old Safeway store at Pacheco Plaza.

And the action is set to continue in 2010. First out of the blocks this year is Mi Pueblo, which opened March 20 in the old Circuit City store in San Rafael's Canal neighborhood. Of all the new supermarket openings in Marin, this one seems to make the most sense, providing a large format grocery store targeted precisely at the local Hispanic market and serving an area that didn't already have such a store.

But grocery retailing will get really wild in the next few months with the opening of two new Whole Foods stores. The first will be a 40,000 sf store in the new Millworks development in downtown Novato, which will open on April 22nd. This will be followed early June by the new Mill Valley store, which will occupy the 23,000 sf ex-Albertsons space at the Alto Center.

The Whole Foods in Novato will no doubt make life tough for other grocers in the local area, in particular those competing at the higher price points, such as Paradise Foods and Harvest Market. The smaller WF store in Southern Marin will pull customers from Tiburon and Corte Madera as well as Mill Valley, so any sales impact will be spread among several existing stores. Whole Foods will also provide some serious competition for the various farmers markets around the county, some of which are already under strain.

If any other grocers want to try their luck in Marin there are several vacant stores available, including those at Fair Anselm in Fairfax, the ex-Delano's in downtown Tiburon and The Square Novato, and Marinwood Plaza. Unfortunately, as the current crop of new markets get established, this list is more likely to get longer than shorter.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Retail sales yet to turn around in Marin

The San Francisco Business Times kinda missed the point yesterday when it reported that Bay Area cities got 1/3 more in sales tax revenue than they did in January. What they missed telling us was that sales tax distributions are always up in February because that's when they dish out the taxes that were collected during the previous year's peak holiday shopping season.

As the chart above shows, the real story for Marin is that February distributions (the purple line) were -5% down on the same period for 2009 (the green line), and -19% below the same month in 2008 (brown line). So we have not reached the bottom yet. Having said that, I'm hearing that market conditions are improving, so I don't think it will be long before we see the purple line cross the green to show the retail sector moving out of recession.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Trader Joe's to expand in Larkspur

A proposal before the Larkspur planning commission this week reveals that Trader Joe's intends to expand its Larkspur store into part of the adjacent unit which was recently vacated by Party America.

The grocer is seeking approval of a circulation assessment permit, which will allow it to take over a 2,600 square foot piece of the unit, which was offered to the market last month for $42 per square foot. The Larkspur store has proved very popular since opening last year, despite some fears of major traffic congestion at peak shopping times.