Avalon closer to welcoming a new Vons to service boaters, residents, tourists
AVALON — Lines that stretched from the register to the back of the store during summer months and an aged refrigeration unit no longer working in one of the aisles were among the issues plaguing one of Catalina Island’s two Vons locations, according to a corporate representative of the store. Bringing a new Vons location to Avalon has been something local leaders and residents have been discussing for the past few years.
In November, a new Vons serving Avalon’s boaters, residents and tourists took one step closer toward becoming a reality.
On Nov. 19, the Avalon Planning Commission supported the Vons project with a few caveats, including scrapping plans for a café and studying a better way to load deliveries at the backend of the store.
According to Brian Braaten, Vons’ vice president of real estate, there are currently two Vons stores serving the island: the main location a few blocks from the harbor and an “express” store two blocks away. Both stores combined to be about 10,000 square feet in size and a few blocks away from each other.
A barge from Palos Verdes makes deliveries three times per week to the main store. It is not uncommon for customers, whether a boater, resident or tourist, to shop at both stores to complete their shopping needs.
The new store, if realized, would consolidate both locations into one store in central Avalon.
At about 20,000 square feet, the Avalon Vons would be about one-third the size of a prototypical Vons store on the mainland. The new main Vons store would add more checkout lines and update antiquated equipment in the produce department.
To be built on the only large vacant parcel in the central Avalon area, the new Vons would also feature what Braaten said are an unprecedented number of environmental features, including more than three dozen solar panels, locally-sourced construction material, skylights and water tolerate landscaping, among other items.
“We’re a grocery store. That’s what we do,” Braaten said. “We’re not building Wal-Mart. [It is a] unique facility designed for a unique audience. It’s not a big box replica of what we are on the mainland. This store is designed to fulfill the grocery needs of this community and its visitors.”
Braaten said the proposed location for the new Vons is located in an area where both residents and visitors who boat in from the mainland would be able to easily access.
Those attending the Nov. 19 Planning Commissioner meeting were supportive of the proposed concepts as Braaten shared several images of how the new Vons could look.
Still, a few residents expressed concern about parking, traffic, whether Vons would keep the larger store properly stocked and how much noise would emanate from the new location.
While commissioners supported the Vons project moving forward, Avalon city staff anticipated the Planning Commission decision would be appealed. Potentially complicating matters is the City Council, which would serve as the appeal-hearing body, features three out of five members with a conflict of interest.
A division of Safeway, Vons had purchased land on Beacon Street from the Santa Catalina Island Company to build the new market. The Board of Directors of the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau unanimously supported the new Vons.
The state of California, with the help of the U.S. Department of Justice, filed a federal lawsuit against Vons’ parent company, accusing the grocer of violating anti-monopoly laws by operating the only grocery markets on the island. In 2006, the federal court ruled the monopoly claims were valid.
During the federal battle, a Vons spokesperson reportedly said the company denied any wrongdoing and claimed the grocer was not engaged in a monopoly on the island.
Vons operated its main store at 123 Metropole Avenue since 1987. In 1999, the Santa Catalina Island Company sold Fred and Sally’s, Avalon’s only other grocery store, to Vons. The grocer converted Fred and Sally’s, which had closed in 1998, to a Vons Express.
Despite three of its five members mired by a conflict of interest on the matter, Avalon’s City Council still has to weigh in on the proposed Vons on Beacon Street.