The last time this many people gathered at 9852 Chapman Avenue in Garden Grove was when George W. Bush was president, the top movie was “Revenge of the Sith” and millions tuned in to watch the original musical gimmick show, “American Idol.”
That was 2005, the year that the Vons Pavilions at that location closed, going from what was once Orange County’s biggest supermarket to Garden Grove’s biggest disappointment.
But it was all smiles and a happy group of city leaders and business executives that gathered at that site Wednesday afternoon to mark the symbolic groundbreaking for the new Pavilion Plaza West, a new shopping center to be anchored by a Sprouts Farmers Market. That’s an upscale kind of healthy food grocery operation for people who don’t want to spend their whole paycheck at Whole Foods.
“We can’t emphasize enough the importance of this multi-tenant development … [and] what it means to the community,” said Scott Stiles, city manager. He spent a lot of time smiling.
Long-timers will remember that location originally as Zody’s discount department store. That was the era of cheap merchandise in sprawling buildings. Brands such as White Front, Gemco, Consumer-Rama and others were once household names and they paved the way for more sophisticated retailers such as Target.
The term “Zody’s special” was a pejorative; it meant inexpensixve and probably shoddy. Ironically, the building was in 1985 repurposed as a Pavilions market, an up-market experiment by Vons. It was called the “Nordstrom’s” of its category, and the parking lot – in the early years, at least – was crammed with cars as customers thronged the place to sample its wide selection of slightly more expensive goods.
Well, times change. In the new century, more and more people were eating at restaurants and fewer cooking at home. The Pavilions was downgraded to a Vons Food and Drug and closed in 2005.
However, as Mark Twain allegedly said, history may not repeat itself, but it often rhymes. Folks became more health conscious and wanted not only more natural and organic – not always the same thing – choices, but also wanted to cook for themselves.
That brings us to the largest commercial node in Garden Grove: Brookhurst Street and Chapman Avenue. In its original heyday in the 1950s and 60s, it was the biggest shopping area in the region and was home to three supermarkets – Vons, Thriftimart and Safeway.
Now, when the Sprouts is open, perhaps as early as November, there will be four: the Best Choice supermarket (catering to a Vietnamese audience), Aldi’s, Walmart and our new entry.
It’s hard to overestimate how big an impact this project may have on the area. Sprouts will be joined by other retailers and eateries and provide a powerful complement to The Promenade across the street.
Economists are predicting that when the coronavirus and its effects finally clear away, there will be a huge surge in consumer spending that will fatten payrolls and enlarge municipal coffers.
The lesson for local leaders? Invest some love, imagination and money into making that Brookhurst/Chapman area into a real retail powerhouse again. New signage. More landscaping and public art. Maybe a bridge over Chapman.
What was once known as “Uptown” can be so again. This is the opportunity. The cost is big for thinking small.
“Usually Reliable Sources” appears every other week, alternating with Jim Tortolano’s “Retorts” column.