The new Safeway store in downtown Los Altos is scheduled to open its doors 8 a.m. Friday.
In 13 months, the 160 First St. property – which housed one of the oldest Safeway stores in the region – has morphed from a demolition site of mangled concrete and steel to a sleek two-story brick-and-glass structure that anchors the corner of First and State streets.
Local sources said the update was more than 12 years in the making. According to Wendy Gutshall, Safeway’s public affairs and government relations manager, designs for the major project evolved over the past five to six years. The transformation from an undersized, overstuffed Safeway that opened in 1960 to the contemporary 45,000-square-foot market is a welcome sight for many residents who have watched the new store take shape.
The new store ushers shoppers up by escalator from the 154-space parking garage to a colorful produce section and aisles flooded by natural lighting from 27 skylights. Working within the confines of a long, narrow footprint, the store, designed by Lowney Architecture, is one of only two podium-style Safeways in Northern California.
“The podium format, with the store above street level and parking below, will maximize the space with a larger store and sufficient parking,” Gutshall said. “Customers will experience an enhanced shopping experience with an expanded selection of offerings, wider aisles and more efficient checkout.”
Safeway has hired a wine steward to help customers pair the stores’ selection of libations and local boutique wines with gourmet cheeses. Satiating growing consumer interest in organic food, shoppers will find a large variety of natural and organic bulk bins. Full-service meat, seafood and bakery counters will offer freshly prepared items. Shoppers can also pick up bouquets from the floral department and medications from the pharmacy.
Safeway officials said they want the supermarket to become a destination, not just a stop-by. The market includes an in-store Starbucks and sushi, soup and olive bars. Those who want to enjoy their coffee or lunch outdoors can relax on the patio perched at the store’s southeast corner that features a fireplace and a bird’s-eye view of State Street.
A community project
The Town Crier’s preview tour of the store Friday – conducted by Bill Carrozzella, Safeway’s Northern California real estate manager – was limited to the exterior. Only Safeway personnel were allowed in the store.
As construction crews finessed exterior finishes and landscaped, Carrozzella made mental notes identifying building elements that were not quite perfected. With more than 130 workers contributing to construction, overseeing details is a full-time job.
“We want it as right as possible before the opening,” said Carroz- zella, pointing to a bright-blue parking sign at the entrance to the car park that was supposed to be brown. A replacement sign was set to arrive by Thursday’s preview party.
During his two-and-a-half years on the project, Carrozzella has encountered design challenges and modifications.
In addition to overcoming hurdles to gain approval from the Los Altos City Council and Planning Commission, the Safeway team responded to community concerns. As responsible neighbors, Carrozzella noted that his team collaborated with University Avenue residents and downtown businesses to incorporate architectural features that reduce noise and light pollution. For example, several 14-foot sound-buffering walls along the west perimeter of the site conceal the garage driveway and loading docks. To soften the look of the store’s facade from Foothill Expressway, a landscape architect incorporated trees and large green screens for potato vines.
Carrozzella said he’s confident his team will have all the loose ends tied up by the grand opening.
Los Altos’ new Safeway store by the numbers
• 52,000 total square footage (21,000 at old store)
• 35,000 products (43,844 at average U.S. supermarket)*
• 120 employees (50 at old store)
• Two podium-style Safeway stores in Northern California (other in Millbrae)
• One wine steward on staff at the new Safeway store.
How do local household supermarket habits compare?
• Households in San Francisco area spend an average of $8,433 annually on food**
• A household of three to four people spends an average of $121.78 a week on groceries*
• Consumers make an average of 1.6 trips to the supermarket each week*
• The average transaction at a supermarket is $30.62
*Source: Food Marketing Institute
**Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Road to a new Safeway store downtown
1960 – Year when Safeway opened its 21,000 square-foot store in Los Altos
Dec. 2011 – Los Altos planning commission approves plan for new downtown Safeway store
Jan. 2012 – Los Altos City Council votes to approve plan for new downtown Safeway store
June 2013 – Demolition of old Safeway Store begins to make way for the construction of the new store
July 18, 2014 – New Safeway store at 160 First St. opens to the public
New Los Altos Safeway store opens for business - Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier