Fremont almost had a Whole Foods

Former Council Candidate Al Stirling did a lot of talking at last night’s Fremont Citizens Network  community forum with Anu Natarajan.

In addition to encouraging people to tip over strawberry baskets sold by unlicensed street vendors, he lamented that Fremont residents want Santana Row and Whole Foods, but have gotten a Hooters and tattoo parlor.

I have been told that Whole Foods only wants to move into the corner of Mowry and Fremont Boulevard. But Gus Morrison said last night that several years ago Fremont had Whole Foods signed up  to move to the Kragen’s site in Irvington. But Whole Foods backed out, and now wants the more central location.

Meanwhile, Natarajan said that some people in Fremont must have wanted Hooters because it’s doing good business.
I can vouch for that.

Matt Artz


  1. Please read my comment to this at “et tu, ktvu” located elsewhere in this website. Matts report is a bit skewed but I am glad he makes the effort to maintain this site. Maybe a trip to hooters will straighten him out. I’ll take a draft beer at Hooters over an organic chicken any day.
    Sincerely Alan Stirling

  2. I don’t know what Alan’s exact comments were, but the vendors should expect some hostility if they want to set up next to someone’s residence.

  3. I wonder if Whole Foods has considered the former Albertsons location on Stevenson (between Blacow and Sundale). Whole Foods doesn’t need to colocate with other stores to drive traffic to their stores, and I don’t see where they could fit another grocery store sized retail store at Fremont & Mowry. That former Albertsons location is large enough, reasonably central to much of Fremont, and easy to get to with good freeway access.

  4. What I understood from Anu’s comments at the FCN Forum the other night was that Whole Foods is very particular about only being located at certain locations in Fremont; the intersection of Fremont Boulevard and Mowry was specifically mentioned. Apparently they have their own criteria for evaluating sites and won’t locate just anywhere.

    What I’ve never understood is, what is this romance with Whole Foods anyway? Why do people think they’re so special? It’s just a grocery store, isn’t it?

    BTW, Matt – a lot of people had a lot to say at Thursday’s meeting. No disrespect to Mr. Sterling, but I’m not sure why you would cherry-pick (or strawberry-pick) his comments as being particularly newsworthy when there were many other areas of discussion, such as the problems small businesses are apparently having with Planning Department staff or maintenance problems at local schools, that took up a lot more time and were probably of wider general interest. To spot-light what was essentially a humorous aside appears to me to be, intentionally or not, a way to marginalize the gathering specifically and FCN in general. We don’t deserve that.

  5. the Argus spin turns in same direction and not in a direction which favors residents and taxpayer.

    again and again and again

  6. Andrew: I don’t think Whole Foods would want to be at the old Albertsons on Stevenson. The area is too poor for Whole Foods expensive prices. If Whole Foods is in Fremont, it should be the Hub area OR Pacific Commons.

  7. Safeway don’t want Whole Food Market at Fremont Hub and the city doesn’t allowed a supermarket at Pacific Commons.

  8. Fremont Lifer –

    I think the “obsession” with Whole Foods is that it exemplifies a level of retail experience that is yet to be avialable in the tri-city area.

    I have yet to meet a single person in Fremont that doesn’t leave to shop at more high end places. And by high end, I mean up from WalMart or Grocery Outlet. Don’t get me wrong, I am a Target shopper from way back. But I (and others I suspect) would like to have options without having to drive 20-25 minutes to find them.

  9. Thanks, Jen. I’ve never been to a Whole Foods, so I haven’t experienced that level yet, I guess. I did an informal survey at a neighborhood gathering this past weekend (maybe 30 people) and the majority of people I asked about Whole Foods stated that it was just another grocery store. The most common comment I heard was that it was like a Trader Joes only bigger. Again, I haven’t been to one, so I can’t speak from experience. I do manage to get by somehow going to Walmart and Grocery Outlet, but to each their own. I can’t remember the last time I left town to shop, unless you count Newark.

    What is it specifically about the Whole Foods experience that makes it different? They must have something good going on if they can be so particular about where they’ll go.

  10. Whole Foods has a lot of specialty items with a heavy focus on organic and “healthy” brands and lines. They have a fish counter/market and a meat counter (TJ’s does not), cheese counter and excellent produce, both conventional and organic.

    Yes, they can be expensive. There have been times however that I have found produce cheaper there than at Safeway. And it was much better quality than what you’ll find there.

    Like you said, to each their own. There are those of us who don’t consider ourselves snobby or well off, who do like to pick up something a bit more exotic for dinner on occasion – and I can’t find it at TJ’s.

  11. I understand not everyone fits the stereotype, but if you are going to vehemently protest the A’s coming here because you don’t want Fremont to turn into “that kind of town,” (and comments relating to moving to Fremont to get away from things in bigger cities) the same applies to Whole Foods.

    It’s hypocritical for someone (if there are indeed such persons) to take the position that A’s shouldn’t move here (but rather go to San Jose), but that we should have Whole Foods and the like here (the idea of bringing San Jose here).

    We can’t have it both ways. Either we are going to be something bigger like San Jose, or retain the Fremont (Tri-City) charm.

  12. A food market is to a major league ballpark like an apple is to a baseball.

  13. Rick’s point is taken. I don’t think he’s implying that the two go hand in hand. Rather they are both potential products of the same movement a city makes when trying to become more relevant.

  14. Jen made no mention of the A’s or the stadium. In fact, no one in this string mentioned the A’s. Wal-Mart, Safeway, Target, Trader Joe’s, Grocery Outlet and Hooters yes, A’s no.

    Have fun with this one:

    Fremont is to San Jose as _____________ is to __________.

  15. Thanks again, Jen. It would be nice to have a functioning butcher shop here in town again.

  16. I think the point is that many in Fremont want to have a variety of options from entertainment to shopping to transportation to Jen’s pantry, as long as that variety is exactly what that single person wants for themselves.

    Fremont is to San Jose as a sizzler is to red lobster.

    (San Diego is Chuck E Cheese’s for reference)

  17. “Rick’s point is taken. I don’t think he’s implying that the two go hand in hand. Rather they are both potential products of the same movement a city makes when trying to become more relevant.”

    That’s exactly my point. Surprised no one else gets it.

  18. I am not looking to have all of my preferred shopping needs installed within a 5 mile radius of my home. I just think that perhaps the retail options should more accurately reflect the demographics of those that live here.

    I am fine with leaving town to shop if I am in need of a Barney’s or a Williams Sonoma, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a decent health food store or butcher shop (unfortunately, I don’t have the need for halal meat, otherwise I’d be all set).

  19. Jen,
    on #10, I’d like to add that Whole Foods have a pretty good deli with delicious dishes that you may order by the weight and their tastes and ingredients are superb, much better than the restaurants you may have around Fremont, only that you cannot sit comfortably. But again, high price,a hearty meal may cost higher than Sweet Tomatoes or Hometown !
    I don’t mind to drive far for their groceries, they have so many varieties to choose from.

  20. Whether its a greater number of choices for shopping or a baseball stadium, there has to be infrastructure in place to begin with. Fremont lacks that. The stadium is a good case in point. Lack of public transportation, adequate parking and the fact it’s a shopping center jinxed Pacific Commons. It appears the Warms Springs relocation was a knee jerk reaction void of both a comprehensive plan and consideration for the surrounding community.

    Fremont is not San Jose for many reasons. One is we do not have a city center around which to build. Building here, there and everywhere is not a plan.

    Lew Wolff dictated where he wanted his stadium. Whole Foods dictated where they wanted their store.

    How about building a city center where businesses beg to be a part of it?

  21. “How about building a city center where businesses beg to be a part of it?”

    Why bother when a Whole Foods and a performing arts center will suffice?

  22. So Marty, your saying build a Whole Foods and they will come. Mmmm, maybe you’re on to something.

    Large companies continually reassess their efforts to focus on core businesses or products. Where or what is Fremont’s core?

  23. Doug –

    I don’t think most manufactured city centers work well. Either a city has one or they don’t. We can try to build a Santana Row in a decade or so, but I think SJ’s success has a lot to do with Santana Row being flanked on one side by one of the most popular malls in the BA and one of the best movie theaters in the country on the other side. And, people in the south bay have been accustomed to traveling to Stevens Creek and 880 for decades.

    I just don’t see the conditions for similar success in Fremont.

    Of course, I’m joking about the Whole Foods and perf. arts center. But sometimes I think that’s all people in Fremont care about. In that respect, I think the water park idea cold-cocked many in Fremont and idea of the A’s coming to town hyper-stimulated the docile Fremont population like a deer in the headlights.

  24. Marty, I knew where you were coming from re: WF. You’re right about SR and its success.

    It’s difficult to attract attention when you’re the small fish in the big pond. We are surrounded by large, established metro areas and a cluster of other cities with well-developed identities.

    We may be better off to hone the marketability of our multiple “old towns” and forgo trying to be something we are not.

  25. I believe Anu mentioned this problem at the 6/11 meeting, but in a slightly different context – it’s the chicken and the egg. Do you build high density housing and then the transportation (BART, light rail, etc.) to support it, or do you build the transportation first and then the housing around it? Same thing with large businesses – they want the support structures/services in place, but which approach will Fremont choose? Either way, you’re dealing with separate entities (developers, corporations, BART, AC Transit, etc.) whose interests may or may not converge, but somebody’s got to go first.

  26. There is a big difference between Tyson’s Corner, VA and Fremont – there are far more businesses than residents in Tyson’s Corner – only 17,000 residents. The tax revenue from business there is undoubtedly quite large and they apparently still need more money to attain the goal they are trying to achieve:
    “Funds for bicycle paths, schools, police stations and storm-water management systems will likely come from the county, property owners and developers — who will be asked to pay extra for the privilege of helping Tysons build toward a goal of doubling or even tripling its density.”
    I’m afraid that not many Fremont residents or businesses will be willing to pay even MORE in property and/or sales tax to completely re-do the city model. The city already has a budget deficit. Maybe, as Doug said, Fremont can find a way to market the five “districts”. It’s too late for a central downtown. Fremont grew up and expanded when people wanted “suburban” and not “urban”.
    I don’t think people are willing to spend the millions and millions of dollars (if it were even available) that it would take to undo the past 40 years.
    Maybe if we had someone or a few someones on the City Council or Planning Commission who had some urban planning experience or education, they might have some ideas as to a direction that both sides of the spectrum could live with.
    But alas, we have a few lawyers and a caterer.

  27. Wow, that’s radical alright. Sounds like a developer’s dream, but I have to wonder where the residents were when all this was planned.

    I guess it all comes down to what your vision for Fremont is, and right now we seem to have as many different visions as we have residents.

    “Urbanisim” – not exactly catchy, is it? Sounds about as welcoming as Gitmo to me.

    On a semi-related note, I see Gus Morrisson had an interesting comment on the FCN site; that the best businesses to have are those that are started by local folks because they last through lean times by being smarter and more able to react to local conditions. He added that only after we have programs to help local owners should we expend energy on bringing other businesses in. Unfortunately, from the meeting with Anu, it sounded like locals have a pretty hard time getting their businesses through the Planning Department. That’s a bottle-neck that needs work.

  28. FL – re: “hard time getting…businesses through the Plannin Department. It may get even harder. Several senior planners took retirement so the department is leaner and greener, and I don’t mean ecologically speaking.

    Jen – Maybe it makes more sense not to direct all traffic to one central location. Building interesting “downtowns” in each of our five districts would ease the congestion a central shopping area. It would also create more of a small town atmosphere for each district as well. Spread the traffic, spread the wealth. Niles already has that based simply on their physical separation.

  29. Yes, a lot of things at the City level are going to get very interesting. BTW, I don’t know from personal experience that there’s a problem with the Planning Department – all I know is anecdotal.

  30. About ten years ago at a city council meeting the idea was floated to rebuild the aging apartment buildings along Central Avenue and build them higher, three, four, perhaps even five stories. The idea was to create more housing that is affordable as well as more local shopping for Centerville. Boy, did that cause a ruckus.

    I see it as an ever present tension between how we see Fremont in our minds versus reality. Most of us like the feel of living in a small town and recoil at the trappings that come with living in a city. Yet Fremont has the fourth largest population in the bay area and is in the top 100 (by population) largest cities in the US.

  31. Since I’ve quoted “The First Thirty Years” before, here’s another one…

    “There will be considerable population growth by 2006. Population will be over 400,000, due in part to an influx of residents from the surrounding communities…”

    This was written in 1986.

    Anyone want to predict Fremont’s population 20 years from now?

  32. I seem to recall that ten or so years ago the number being given was 215,000 as the expected population when the city reached ‘build out.’

  33. The original General Plan, in 1959, anticipated a population of 390,000 at build out. When you look at that number, you wonder where they thought they would go and how these people would be housed. Interestingly, much of the infrastructure, roads, sewers, water, etc., were sized to fit that population.

    As time moved on, that number became totally out of the picture and we started looking at peaking out somewhere arount 225,000 people, plus or minus. The Housing Element of the General Plan contains estimates of the amount of developable land remaining and guesses some number of units which could be built. I don’t have that number in my brain any more, but I think it is around 5000 units. We average 2.9 people per housing unit, so at build out we would add about 15,000 people to add to our current 213,000.

    Therefore, I would guess our current build out population to be close to 230,000 people. To go beyond that level would require us to start tearing down large sections of single family homes and replacing them with higher density housing. I can’t see that happening.

  34. Gus, you state 2.9 people per housing unit, but how many people per acre? There is certainly the possibility of building multiple story complexes, which would have a significant impact on population numbers.

  35. The General Plan deals with density and housing styles. The census data deals with people per housing unit, 2.9, and that figure has stayed the same each census, so, regardless of what kind of units are built, the quantity is whatever the Housing Element says and the number of people per residence is fairly constant, so to makedly increase the end result would require major changes to the city and to the way we plan and develop.

    P. J. O’Rourke, in one of his books, compares Fremont population density to Bangladesh – they are the same. One wonders how that can be, but I bet the cities in Bangladesh are much more dense and the countryside around them is probably mainly farming, so it could be a valid comparison. Remember, data has no natural enemies.

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