Fulfilling its commitment to bring a supermarket to Market Square (aka the Twitter building), Shorenstein Properties has reached agreement with the Small Foods company to operate a 22,000-square-foot grocery store on the building’s ground floor. The project brings the first supermarket to the Mid-Market/Tenderloin area in at least fifty years, with the closest market to Tenderloin residents long located up a steep hill at California and Hyde (which had a Safeway, Cala and now a Trader Joe's).The Shorenstein Company deserves tremendous credit for keeping the prized retail space vacant for over 18 months while one market after another withdrew plans to operate the space. The Small Foods deal follows last week's purchase of the Hollywood Billiards building near 6th and Market, two major steps toward the area’s transformation.

For all the progress in San Francisco’s Mid-Market since the city enacted its payroll tax exemption to attract Twitter to the area, hope appeared fleeting that the planned supermarket site at Market Hall would find an operator. The recent problems at Fresh & Easy raised questions as to the economic viability of smaller sized supermarkets, and the Shorenstein Company had difficulty obtaining an operator.

But in Small Foods, Mid-Market has gotten exactly the type of operator the area needs. Small Foods promotes locally produced organic food, and brings in local food suppliers to create a Pikes Market-type of environment (no, do not expect salmon to be thrown about at the fish counter as in Seattle).

Affordable for Tenderloin Residents?

Does the Market Square supermarket satisfy the Tenderloin’s long need for such? Some will see organic produce being sold and conclude it’s too expensive for Tenderloin residents.

But the very low-income residents of the Tenderloin—like the tenants my organization (the Tenderloin Housing Clinic) houses---cannot economically sustain any supermarket. The proposed supermarket on TNDC’s still undeveloped site at Eddy and Taylor would require customer support from the thousands of working Tenderloin residents who can afford organic produce and quality food but currently must leave the community to get it.

Nor does Small Foods preclude the future TNDC market, which, if built, could be a smaller 10,000 square feet. To the contrary, TNDC's market would add to the neighborhood's food choices. The same is true with the possible ground floor market at Market Street Place; given the thousands of Tenderloin residents lacking supermarket options, as well as the thousands of new residents moving to Mid-Market, multiple markets can thrive.

Does the market alone solve the Tenderloin's food security challenges? Of course not. We need more community gardens like what TNDC has growing at Larkin and McAllister, and other strategies to get healthy food to those on very low fixed incomes.

But many Tenderloin residents prefer and can afford organic produce and quality food, and they will benefit greatly from the Small Foods market. It is an enormous step forward for the area, and further confirmation that Mayor Lee’s vigorous support for the area’s transformation is succeeding.