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Would Pavilions Invigorate Fair Oaks by Upgrading and Moving Closer to the Street?

The city’s betting on the potential $30-million investment in the supermarket. Are you, too?

Pavilions in South Pasadena.
Pavilions in South Pasadena.

You can bring water to the horse but you can’t make the horse drink it is an old saw. But what if you remodel a supermarket and bring it the edge of a major street instead of letting it languish behind an expansive parking lot? Would that get more people to shop in the reconfigured business?

Pavilions, the supermarket located on the northwest corner of Fair Oaks Avenue and Monterey Road, is betting on just such an idea. It’s thinking about moving the store closer to Fair Oaks, while creating a parking lot behind the supermarket.

And not just that. Safeway, the company that owns both Pavilions and the land on which the Fair Oaks store is located, could spend as much as $30 million on the upgrade. (Safeway also owns the neighboring Vons, but not the land on which it’s located.)

To some people, the plan just doesn’t make sense, even allowing for the fact that Pavilions isn't exactly a high-visibility business bordering one of South Pasadena's busiest thoroughfares. After all, would mere street appeal really bring in more shoppers?

Whether or not a reconfigured Pavilions will attract more people, the idea is a winner for South Pasadena, and the first city official to publicly mention it was Councilmember Michael Cacciotti at the most recent city council meeting in December.

“If a company is willing to invest $30 million in a store in South Pas we certainly welcome it,” says City Manger Sergio Gonzalez, who has been in touch with Pavilions’ representatives regarding their proposed plans. 

“They do have an outdated store and are looking at improving its appearance," adds Gonzalez. "That is going to have a ripple effect in that area of South Pas, which doesn’t really have an anchor—no defining characteristics.”

For its part, Safeway has yet to draw up any detailed plans, let alone make any formal announcements. Any talk about moving its South Pasadena store closer to Fair Oaks is therefore the result of “very preliminary discussions with members of the City Council and staff outlining only the macro parameters of plans for this site,” says Vons Director of Public Affairs and Government Relations Carlos Illingworth. “The purpose was to solicit feedback from the city and gauge their level of support.”

A community meeting aimed at getting residents’ views is expected to be scheduled later this month or in February, Illingworth told South Pasadena Pach.

In any case, this wouldn’t be the first time Pavilions has reconfigured a store. The Pavilions on 2355 E. Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena was also updated and brought closer to the sidewalk, according to Gonzalez.

The city manager acknowledges that some people have mixed feelings about changing the current Pavilions’ layout in South Pas because it has plenty of high-visibility parking in front and it’s easy to get in and out.

“But that sends a message that it’s a car-dominated kind of area,” argues Gonzalez. “And what we’ve always tried to push here in South Pas is that we’re a very pedestrian, bike-friendly community. When you have a store that’s built up to the sidewalk, you get an increase in people walking there and shopping at the business." 

Pavilions also wants to put some distance between the store and the residential area behind it in an effort to reduce noise levels, points out Gonzalez. The store’s proximity to Fair Oaks would move the supermarket’s loading and unloading operations away from residences located in the rear. 

Yet another bonus from reconfiguring Pavilions? “We understand that they would also be introducing two or three new tenants to the site,” says Gonzalez, hastening to add that he hopes none of them will be massage establishments or hair and nail salons, which bring zero taxes to the city. 

In fact, Pavilions’ representatives “weren’t surprised to hear what we wouldn’t like to see there,” says Gonzalez. “We want to look at the complete experience—a place were you shop, eat, read a book. They received the same kind of feedback when they did the remodeling in Pasadena—they’re sensitive to that.” 

Paula January 09, 2014 at 03:07 PM
It needs an upgrade and a better selection of foods and organic produce, I hope they do upgrade. Vons is the worst market and the deli is ridiculous and sorely lacking in customer service skills. It would be nice to have another book store in town but any local business is good, minus what the article states about nail, hair or massage parlors.
np93 January 09, 2014 at 04:55 PM
It would be great to see Fair Oaks upgraded from its current strip-mall feel to be an attractive pedestrian-friendly shopping area with wide sidewalks and parking hidden behind the stores/shops/cafes (along the lines of the South Lake area between Del Mar Blvd and California Blvd in Pasadena). This approach doesn't detract from parking convenience, but greatly improves the shopping environment (people don't tend to stroll through a strip mall parking lot to browse the shops, sip a coffee, and enjoy the atmosphere). I hope Pavilions is thinking along these lines and that their investment would spur further dramatic improvements to the feel of Fair Oaks Avenue south of Mission. Imagine these blocks some years from now with the Rialto lights on again. Would I be more likely to shop at Pavilions in this scenario? You bet.
Justanotheropinion January 10, 2014 at 01:52 AM
Looks aside, how about a new store altogether? Kind of redundant to have 2 of the same stores basically next to each other. Have never seen this anywhere else. I realize that many grocery stores went out of business so there aren't a ton of choices, but why not provide another alternative so residents can spend their money here rather than in a neighboring city? Bring in Ralph's, Albertson's or even Whole Foods? My guess is that the City see's the dollar signs of a remodel as easier than courting a new store.
Paula January 10, 2014 at 10:58 AM
@justanotheropinion, thats what they should do with the von"s site, I totally agree. Since Pavilions owns the land where they are built I doubt they would agree to that. :) But the city, if they can should do something about getting Von's out of that spot!
Justanotheropinion January 11, 2014 at 01:39 AM
@Paula - I agree. But I won't hold my breath that the City will do anything to change this - suggest you don't hold your breath either. SP is a great place, but some times folks get stuck on 'what has always been' rather than actual improvements or benefits. it's not always about "looks". Whether the parking lot is in the front or the back, it's still 2 of the same stores next to each other. This equals less choice for residents - you know, the ones that like to shop and spend their money here. Wait for it - there will be a posting from someone from the city about how they have no choice as to who rents space here, so they have no control over 2 of the same stores and no other big box choices, etc. Yes, yes, yes - heard it before. May be true, but doesn't mean that it ISN'T a dis-service to the tax paying residents of the city.
Tom91030 January 11, 2014 at 05:43 PM
Safeway (owners of various store brands, including Pavillions and Vons brands) does NOT own the Vons property! And they do not own the building either! They lease the land from a local South Pasadena family trust. Lease up shortly I believe. Safeway has done little to upgrade the Vons location and used the time to make Pavillions "their prominent location". When the lease is up Pavillions will have to compete with a new store in the Vons location! The family trust has always had a good business mix in Vons Center, no massage parlors or drive through restaurants. Vons center BLOCKED Jack-in-the -Box from the purchase of the old Wells Fargo drive through. Subscribe to the South Pasadena Review for expanded long term city news and information. Their editors/owners have YEARS of experience, including Henk Frazier who blogs here frequently.
Justanotheropinion January 12, 2014 at 03:20 AM
@Tom91030 - so which store might be going? You mention that 'when the lease is up Pavillions will have to compete with a new store in the Vons location'. Is this true? Can you provide other details? What kind of store - grocery or other? Please provide details or more specifics.
Betty Jean January 12, 2014 at 01:23 PM
I will be sad if Vons goes. I'm hoping Whole Paycheck doesn't get the spot. I would be GREAT if Trader Joe's moves in and expanse its store size with better parking. We'd be the first{I think?}
Tom91030 January 12, 2014 at 01:28 PM
Safeway OWNS the land AND the Pavillions store at S/W corner of Fair oaks and Monterey Rd. A South Pasadena Family Trust owns the entre Vons Center (also known as Squires Square.) Safeway leases the Vons store! When the lease is up Safeway would have to get the trust approval for a new lease. IMHO fat chance of that! They could offer to buy the entire Vons complex, no property owner would sell off just the land/store in my opinion. Here is a direct ACTUAL comparison. La Verne on Foothill Blvd. A longtime Safeway owned Vons, where they actually owned the store and land AND built a New Vons Complex 100 yards away, on the other side of Foothill Blvd, was left VACANT for 4 years then leasing the empty shell to a fitness/Yoga business. Thus keeping ANY grocery competion like Whole Foods or Trader Joes style business models out of the empty space. Lastly any idea that the HUGE Safeway chain has a benevolent bone in its corporate body for the quaintness of S.Pas, hardly! Another (albeit poor) example, the corporation who leases the Rialto Theater.
Tom91030 January 12, 2014 at 04:03 PM
PS The Bristol Farms property WAS a Safeway store left vacant for YEARS!! The City/CRA vacated Viola Street, now occupied by the adjacent business on the Bristol Farms property. The project would have never happened without direct City interventions. --------------------- The F.T.C held hearings to block the Safeway Pavillions project. Safeway's lawyers prevailed and today we have two stores same operator.
BASIC Design January 20, 2014 at 08:34 AM
I've read the article a couple of times, but seemed to miss why Safeway would want to do this. Are they now, after how many years, concerned about the noise they produce and it's effects on their residential neighbors? I think the biggest key is they want to get as much money out of their land and adding more tenants is one way of doing it. Of course, just adding tenants wouldn't be viable. A remodel would make sense especially if they do decide to go with short term lease on the Vons. So what would happen is Pavillions gets demoed and Vons stays open for a while as they make this new project happen. Once the project is over, keeping the Von's open (which definitely needs an interior upgrade) wouldn't be necessary. So now we would be stuck with a vacant big box. Spaces of that size are rarely used for anything else other than chain store. Maybe a Ross, Big Lots could move, or perhaps as others have suggested, a different grocery store (S Pas already has TJs, Bristol Farms, and Safeway stores, not sure what else could come in that would add any benefit). I do like the sound of a larger TJs, but they have a formula for success and it is by not being large like Safeway. Cont..
BASIC Design January 20, 2014 at 08:51 AM
The comment I did find odd was that made by the city manager. It sends the message that it is a car dominated area. Of course it does, because it is! And this is where all the misunderstanding and biggest issues surrounding Fair Oaks stems from. The city wants it to be pedestrian friendly, yet it tries to deny the simple truth that Fair Oaks is a major thoroughfare. Look at Fair Oaks during rush hour. It is basically the natural extension of the 710 freeway. Cars come up Fremont and when it hits the bottleneck at Huntington, the natural flow is to go the path of least resistance, which is Fair Oaks. Even the city acknowledges this by upgrading the traffic signals so they are synced for maximum flow of vehicular traffic during those hours. So is Fair Oaks a car dominated area or not? Now, can it coexist with pedestrians to create a vibrant, thriving "downtown"? Yes, but it starts with understanding that the car is not necessarily a bad thing. How many of the folks here reading/writing are fortunate enough to live within a 15 min walk of this area? That is the maximum walk ability scale that needs to be taken into account about the viability of a downtown. If the mass is not enough, then folks need to get there by another mean and that is by car. So what does a car do better than any other thing? Take up space and this is where parking becomes the biggest issue. Without sufficient on and off street parking, it will not matter how many wonderful businesses open up along Fair Oaks. The novelty will wear off and the business will fail eventually. Cont..
BASIC Design January 20, 2014 at 09:11 AM
The city's response to create a more pedestrian friendly Fair Oaks/downtown district has been to install those most scorned bulbouts. Ironically, but not surprisingly, these bulbouts have created more risk to pedestrians than aid. More cars are turning onto smaller residential streets to avoid the longer traffic lines, which again are ironically created because of the bulbouts. When once people could turn right onto other major streets to get where they needed to, they now find themselves taking different routes and not everyone cares about the residential nature of those streets. A car flying down a side street at 30-40 mph on a street barely wide enough for parking on each side and space for one car to pass by seems to contradict the notion of pedestrian friendly. The addition of the central median is certainly a welcome one, but it seems to be more along the lines of a band aid than an actual effort for pedestrian friendliness. I agree with one of the other commentators that a widening of the sidewalk would be a good idea. It wouldn't take much, but even a little makes a difference. Of course the city also has to find a way to comply with the Complete Streets Act, so addressing the need for safe bike lanes on Fair Oaks is also a must. Not sure what bike riders think of those bulbouts, would be interesting to know. The city needs to combine several efforts into one cohesive, thorough, thought-provoking plan (Master Plan...anyone?) which is driven by the citizens and address all their needs, and yes that does include cars.
Betty Jean January 22, 2014 at 01:38 AM
My best friends lives near a new-ish TJ's that was a pick n save then a Ross and now it's a TJ's split with a Pet food store. I looks like TJ's took about 70% of the space. It's THE BEST TJ's I've ever been in. Plenty of room for all. That's what should be done with that space on Fair Oaks.

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