Inner Geary Cala to Close, Auto Dealer Wants Site to Expand

By Meg Dixit

Cala Foods, located at 4041 Geary Blvd. between Fourth and Fifth avenues, will be closing its doors after more than 20 years of service to the neighborhood. The move comes in wake of The Kroger Company, parent company of Cala Foods, not renewing its lease at the present location. The lease expires in February 2006.

Toyota Motors will most likely be moving into the location next year.

"We're not sure when we will close, who will move in, if we will be transferred to other Cala Foods in the City, or if we will have to file for unemployment," said 7-year employee Sherman Huey. "There are many rumors right now."

Another employee, who wished to remain anonymous, mentioned that he is about to retire but is concerned about the younger employees.

"I am not sure what they will do because rumors are that all the Calas will eventually shut down."

Michael Sharpe, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (Local 648), said the date of the closure is still unclear - even to them.

"We never want to see a union employer close its doors because of the jobs lost. But we don't know when Cala will actually close. We hope to absorb the employees to other locations around town. We don't have a severance package in the contract, but all this will be discussed at a meeting in November."

This particular store has about 40 employees, and most of them are hoping for a transfer to the other six Cala Food stores or the three other Bell Markets in the City. Both chains are owned and operated by The Kroger Company and offer similar goods and services.

Terry O'Neil, media representative at The Kroger Company, offered no comment about the pending closures. Long-time shoppers were surprised that their grocery store will soon be disappearing.

One 15-year patron, Richard Kaczynski, said a move by Toyota to lease the space was not as bad as a Wal-Mart moving in.

"The supermarket industry is in siege right now," he said. "I am glad it's not going to be a Wal-Mart that moves in. I guess I'll start going to nearby Albertson's."

While confusion clouds the impending closure, leaving Cala Foods employees guessing what their fate holds, management at SF Toyota is excited about their expansion into the 33,000-square-foot facility. Some Cala Foods employees say that SF Toyota posted a note on their glass doors expressing excitement about their move.

"It will be all about service, not sales. We will most likely transfer employees from our other City locations to work there. We are thrilled," said John Horton, owner of San Francisco Toyota.

The owner of the Cala property, Bob Menzies, leases SF Toyota three other properties along Geary Boulevard. He approached Horton when Cala Foods did not opt to renew its lease.

"I knew SF Toyota wanted more space, and because Cala Foods didn't renew, I approached Toyota with the offer to lease," he said.

Menzies said although Cala Foods' lease is up on February 2006, their agreement states that the grocer can move out prior to that date. At a public meeting about the move on Oct. 13, some residents voiced their concern about traffic congestion in the area.

But Doug Donnellan, general manager of SF Toyota, mentioned that the situation would be less congested with a move-in by Toyota.

"Cala operates 24 hours, we don't; they serve about 500 to 600 customers a day while we serve about 100; they have 20 to 30 large truck deliveries a day while we have one."

Currently, SF Toyota is applying for a Conditional Use Permit from the SF Planning Department, a process that may take up to nine months. Thereafter, the facility will be re-designed by an in-house architect working with Ginsler Architects, a well-known design firm. The new Toyota facility doesn't call for altering the current size or height of the existing building. It is also considering utilizing solar energy at the facility.

The opening date for the new Toyota service center may take upwards of a year.

Jane Winslow, a consultant, distributed a fact sheet which states that the new service center will only have deliveries of parts, not actual vehicles. The factoid also mentions that the Fourth Avenue parking lot will be reduced to 24 spaces from its current 30 spots and two new entrance/exit points will be added on the Fifth Avenue side for service department staff. Patrons will drop off and pick up their cars in the Fourth Avenue parking lot. As well, landscaping will be improved along Geary.