Safeway purchased the town’s central shopping center, Rancho Del Mar, last February. Since then, the business has developed plans to redesign the center and expand their grocery outlet.
Construction will begin approximately in 2014 and the expansion is projected to be complete by 2016. Business owners have considerations about forthcoming changes to the shopping center.
“Nobody knew that the businesses were up for sale,” said local hardware store owner Rodney Hoffer. “We had heard that the owners [of Rancho Del Mar] were going to remodel and the next thing we knew, they had sold it to Safeway.”
Hoffer, who has owned Aptos Ace Hardware since 1994, lamented the fact that his business would be closed for nearly two years to accommodate the construction. During this period, Hoffer’s employees will most likely be forced to find other jobs.
“I highly doubt that I could bring all of my long-time employees back,” Hoffer said.
In addition to this, Safeway is planning to increase the center’s rent — an act that will most likely cause businesses to leave Rancho Del Mar.
“I doubt half of [the businesses] will survive,” Hoffer said. “It’s going to be a deserted shopping center for a while.”
Lindsey Bryant, owner of the local chain restaurant Erik’s DeliCafe, also said the increased rent will inevitably cause the business’ exit. Her restaurant is also being forced to close for Safeway’s construction.
“It will be too expensive to stay after construction,” Bryant said. “The majority of businesses will not return. Ideally, we’ll reopen in this center, but it’s just a matter of being financially able to do so.”
Bryant first started working with Erik’s DeliCafe when she was 16 and steadily worked her way to a managing position. Three years ago, she and her husband bought the business.
She said she has developed a strong employee network, and doesn’t want to see any of her workers out of a job.
“My goal is to get [my employees] situated at other delis,” Bryant said. “But I really don’t know what’s going to happen. The job market isn’t exactly what it was a while back.”
Hoffer said he is concerned that loyal customers will be forced to shop elsewhere.
“[Aptos residents] love the businesses that are here,” Hoffer said. “They’re a necessary part of Aptos. Safeway seems to not be concerned with these businesses. If you look at half of the shopping center that’s going to be demolished, where are all those people going to go?”
In the Aptos community, several meetings have been held to address the change. These meetings have allowed the public to express their positions on the expansion.
“Like any other project, there are opinions all over the place,” said the expansion’s public outreach coordinator, Charles Eadie. “There’s a strong contingent of people who don’t like new development.”
Despite some of the community’s backlash, the expansion will provide reforms to the old infrastructure of the center. This includes more disabled and wheelchair access, increased parking and added space for businesses on the second level of the center.
“The previous owners hadn’t been renovating the center,” Eadie said. “This is an opportunity for businesses there to do better with renovations.”
One of Eadie’s major roles is to develop a strong sense of communication with the residents of Aptos. This involves providing a dialogue on how the expansion will affect the neighboring businesses.
“When any property changes hands, the underlining rent has to adjust,” Eadie said. “What the businesses do or don’t do will be an extension of their own business plans and personal goals.”
Whatever change the expansion will bring, Bryant said she is unconvinced increased development will provide a favorable outcome for the community.
“I think that Aptos will never be the same,” Bryant said. “It’s not going to have that small town home feeling, it’s going to be national brand stores and that stuff. Maybe that’s what people want, but from what I’m hearing, it’s not.”