Oct 24, 2022 - News

Bi-Rite to open new market on Polk Street

Outside Bi-Rite's 18th Street, Mission District location. Photo courtesy of Bi-Rite

For the first time in a decade, Bi-Rite will open a new market in San Francisco — this time in the Russian Hill area.

What's happening: The popular specialty grocer announced its plans last week to open a third store in the city, taking over the 2140 Polk St. location of Real Foods Co., a neighborhood market that opened in 1976.

  • Longtime Bi-Rite employee Steffan Morin, who will manage the new store, told Axios the situation was "mutually beneficial," since Real Foods Co.'s owners were "ready to sell."

What they're saying: "The neighborhood is thrilled," District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin told Axios. "The last thing you want is somebody saying, 'Hey, I'm getting out of the grocery store business and you end up with a food desert and a vacant space in a thriving, commercial district.

  • "It is the best of best cases,” Peskin said, who confirmed it was a "total willing seller situation" having met with the Real Food Co. and Bi-Rite owners together.

Why it matters: Despite its fanatic following and demand from customers for additional stores across San Francisco, the specialty grocer has been relatively slow to expand, with its last, on Divisadero Street, opening in 2013.

  • "We've been really, really methodical in our expansion ideas," Morin said. "We've always just sort of maintained this very steady and sort of slow growth mindset, really wanting to emphasize quality over quantity."
  • Peskin said Bi-Rite's entrance into the neighborhood is especially important since local supermarket chain Mollie Stone's plans to move into the former Lombardi Sports location a couple of blocks away "fell victim to the pandemic" and have fallen through.

Details: The new store will be slightly larger than its Divisadero Street market's 2,500-square-foot sales floor, but Morin said you can still expect that quintessential Bi-Rite experience of packed shelves and tighter-than-average aisles, which he described as an intentionally "intimate affair."

  • Besides moving into 2140 Polk St., Bi-Rite will also occupy the adjacent storefront at 2134 Polk St., which previously sat empty.

Zoom in: Peskin said under current "use size limits" in the city's planning code, Bi-Rite wouldn’t have been able to take over both spaces.

  • But the supervisor has introduced an ordinance to make an exception for grocery stores in the Polk Street commercial district to exceed 4,000 square feet, which he said he’s "quite confident" will pass the legislative process by the end of this year.

Of note: Instead of a major, lengthy overhaul, Bi-Rite is planning a staggered renovation so that the market will be closed only briefly.

  • Morin also said Bi-Rite hopes to retain as many of Real Foods Co.'s existing 35-40 employees as possible.

As for Bi-Rite's well-known high prices, Morin said "it is definitely a reality that our pricing structure means that our market is going to be out of reach for some folks."

  • Morin reasoned that larger grocers have more leverage to negotiate lower prices with distributors because of their higher volume orders.
  • He also said Bi-Rite has "additional overhead," including "a really robust wage and benefit program for staff members that make it possible for them to live and work in San Francisco."

What's next: Bi-Rite hopes to open on Polk Street in the first couple of months of 2023.


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