New group proposes co-op grocery for Bayview Plaza

by Rosina Ghebreyesus

On Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019, Have a Heart recreational cannabis dispensary President and CEO Ryan Kunkel and equity partner JanAva Whitmire released a statement addressed to the Bayview. The statement detailed the reasoning for their withdrawal of a micro business license for a dispensary in the space long occupied by Walgreen’s in Bayview Plaza at Third and Evans.

After hearing from many community residents, advocates and leaders, including the Bayview Hunters Point Citizens Advisory Committee and the Southeast Community Facility Commission, Have a Heart recognized that the Bayview Plaza space is better suited to “the community’s need for more grocery stores and pharmacies.”

This decision makes space to allow a business that the community NEEDS to open and provide goods and services that will positively impact and enrich the Bayview Hunters Point community. It also allows for the original purpose of Bayview Plaza to be fulfilled. When the shopping center opened 30 years ago, it was officially dedicated by the city as a showcase for Black business – still a high priority for the community.

Currently, there is no news yet of another business moving to lease the property. Community organizers and leaders have made efforts to get the word out about the property and its vacancy. They have also tried to work with various San Francisco agencies to seek ways that a community-based Black-owned business could move in to the Walgreen’s space.

District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton expressed his ideas about what sort of businesses would best serve the community: “Bayview has been a food desert for decades. When you lose a place that provides food and medical prescriptions for seniors and families to possibly get what they need and address health issues, that’s vital.

“I want to fill what are the gaps in the community. I would hope when you lose resources and goods, you can get them back, and hopefully, we can provide the same level of that same service and even better, at an even better quality.”

If you are interested in turning this property into a great space that caters to the community’s needs but need help finding funds, you can contact Larry McClendon, the Bayview project manager in the Office of Economic and Workforce Development for resources and services. He can be reached at larry.mcclendon@sfgov.org.

The Office of Economic and Workforce Development helps entrepreneurs and small businesses get off the ground in many ways. They connect you to grants, creating business plans and qualifying for loans, even if you are not an applicant with exceptionally good credit. If you have a business idea, that office can help you turn it into a full-fledged business.

The common theme in discussions about how the Walgreen’s space could be best utilized is a preference for a grocery store. And in a promising coincidence, a group called the Bayview Community Cooperative has been working towards founding a co-op grocery store and their ideal location is Bayview Plaza.

Anietie Ekanem, a passionate advocate for the Bayview Hunters Point community, heads the Bayview Community Cooperative that aims to revitalize the community with a grocery co-op in Bayview Plaza.

The president of the Bayview Community Cooperative, Anietie Ekanem, has high hopes for the success and impact of the grocery store. His goal for this store is “to provide healthy, farmers market quality food at popular prices that reach all communities in our diverse neighborhood, at a cooperative business owned and operated by and for Bayview Hunters Point residents.”

“Groceries are stores,” he explains, “but they are also neighborhood centers. It’s important to have a high-quality, affordable grocery store in a neighborhood that is now swamped by unhealthy food options – but it’s also important to have community ownership of that grocery store.

“Our co-op structure means that we can replace the profit motive with community power, working with vendors and co-op members to keep prices down. And that means that we have a much better chance to succeed where previous stores have failed. That success can lead directly to building neighborhood solidarity and strength.”

It is a priority of the Bayview Community Cooperative that the mass majority of the co-op shares be owned by Bayview residents. To make that happen, the co-op group is working on multiple ways to make the shares affordable.

Although the shares are not exclusive to the Bayview community, the Bayview Cooperative is working to ensure local neighborhood control in the co-op by-laws and that the majority of the employees be hired from zip codes 94124, 94134 and 94107. This would create solid jobs with stable benefits for the community.

Al Williams of the Bayview Merchants Association agrees that a co-op is a good idea. He felt any business that comes to this location should add to the plaza, be an “anchor” and bring traffic to other stores as well.

“A co-op model could be very good for the community The co-ops get people engaged in the ownership. It allows the community to be invested and a part of it. It not only draws from the community but helps it. Given the nature of the institution, it could bring goods, foods to the area and products and services to the community.

“We feel very strongly that the business community in Bayview has to be a part of the broader community, has to exist to serve the broader community. There needs to be an ongoing conversation between the residents of community and businesses of the community. It needs to be a collaborative, cooperative conversation between all these different elements, so we all work for the betterment of the community.”

This can be the start of returning Bayview Plaza back to serving its original purpose, to provide economic opportunities to its community members and showcase glorious Black businesses that put pride and joy back into a cherished community with vibrant minds.

Rosina Ghebreyesus

Rosina Ghebreyesus is a Mills College undergrad studying Journalism. She was born and raised in San Francisco with her four siblings, mother and grandmother. Her family moved to San Francisco from Eritrea, East Africa, in the ‘80s. She can be reached at rosinag626@gmail.com.