There is currently a grassroots Facebook-enhanced drive to bring a Trader Joe’s to Benicia. What a great idea. TJ’s has great food at reasonable prices, treats their employees well, and is environmentally conscious. And to have the opportunity to walk or bicycle (or at least drive less) to TJ’s without a bridge toll would be wonderful. No wonder nearly 2,500 Benicians have logged on to Facebook voicing their support.

The closest store is in Concord and is 8.7 miles from City Hall. Bridge tolls going to $5 in July will only make this distance seem further. We can save the bridge toll and go to the Fairfield store. It is only 20.3 miles away via I-680, an 11.6 mile difference. If your vehicle gets 23.2 miles per gallon and assuming that gas is $3 per gallon, you can save $2 on a round trip by not going over the bridge. That’s $2 more to spend at TJ’s.

Regardless, I support trying to get a store in Benicia. I suggest that everyone go to and fill out the location request form. Click “about us” then under “customer questions & feedback” choose “location requests” and click “show me the form.” In the comment section let them know how often you shop at TJ’s now, how often you would shop at a store in Benicia, how much you feel you would spend monthly, and anything else you think would help convince them to come to town.

Okay. Let’s say that we convinced Trader Joe’s to open a store in Benicia. Where could a store go? I spoke with a representative at TJ’s and all they would tell me is that they need between 10-12,000 square feet. No more, no less. It is safe to say that First Street is out. They would probably want as much visibility as possible so Davies Square is out, too. And if I remember correctly, there is a limit on the number of formula-based businesses allowed in the downtown. TJ’s is a formula-based business. The CVS pharmacy on Columbus Parkway is visible, but it is 15,000 square feet. And CVS probably has a long-term lease. The Raleys center is another possibility, although I wonder about the unintended consequence of a TJ’s store so close to Raleys.  I wouldn’t want to see Raleys close because 60,000 square feet would be a very large space to fill. And besides, Raleys has items that TJ’s doesn’t and they probably have a clause in their lease that precludes another grocery store. So, what is left? The Sundowner on East 5th is the only vacant space I can think of, although I believe it is too small.  And it isn’t very visible tucked down below I-780. That leaves new construction as probably the only option. And there is only one commercially zoned site available. It is the “E” Street parking lot. I do not know the demographics that Trader Joe’s looks at, but (and I am only trying to be realistic here) it is hard for me to believe that a major retailer would want to locate at what is essentially the end of a cul-de-sac with minimal visibility. I do agree that a TJ’s near the water could be the anchor that we so desperately need to bring people downtown thereby drawing other businesses which, collectively, would make First Street vibrant and sustainable.

The only other possible site that comes to mind is the commercial portion of the proposed business park off East 2nd Street near Lake Herman Road and #680. I wonder, other demographics aside, if Trader Joe’s would entertain a spot on a hill that is visible by tens of thousands of people driving by on their way to or through Benicia. Probably, but it will be many years and we may never know since the proposed business park site is owned by Seeno and he has asked for an extension of the current application to March of 2012 to decide whether or not to continue the process for developing the site.

The Council recently contemplated terminating the Seeno application and, pending some written assurances from Seeno, may still. There is no guarantee that the proposed business park site will ever be developed whether by Seeno or someone else. And that is too bad because many benefits and opportunities beyond the obvious economic ones would be lost. But that is a story for another day. [Jeanne: It’s close, but wouldn’t guarantee be the word for here?]

So we are stuck with what we have and need to be creative in persuading Trader Joe’s and other quality businesses to locate in Benicia. In the meantime, I will take my wife’s Camry hybrid (if she will let me) across the bridge to shop at TJ’s. At 32 miles per gallon it is pretty much a wash going to the Concord store versus Fairfield. And part of the bridge toll money goes for transportation projects and some of that money finds its way back to Benicia.

Happy Shopping!