CORNUCOPIA: The aisles at the Evergreen New Leaf are filled with the color of spring produce. Photograph by Aron Cooperman
While corporate grocery giants seem to rule the land, Santa Cruz-based New Leaf Community Markets has sneaked into Silicon Valley without much fanfare with a new store in San Jose’s Evergreen neighborhood, giving the bigger and better-known Whole Foods Market a run for its money.
Rex Stewart, New Leaf’s co-owner and general manager, said the company saw an opportunity in Evergreen, a community in southeast San Jose.
“I believe it was a neighborhood that didn’t have a place to shop, and that kind of bothered us,” he said. “It was like an upscale food desert in a way.”
Like bookstores, record shops and newspapers, the independently owned grocery store must struggle to stay alive. While there are a few exceptions (hello, Gene’s Fine Foods), the independent grocer is becoming an endangered species in Silicon Valley and beyond.
After 63 years of business, Cosentino’s Markets closed its handful of Silicon Valley-based grocery stores last year. The family of owners wanted to retire and were feeling the pressure from deep-pocketed stores like Costco, Safeway, Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and other heavies in the supermarket business.
The closure of Cosentino’s followed that of PW Markets, another Silicon Valley-based chain of grocery stores. PW Markets called it quits in 2010 after nearly 70 years of business.
While big-box stores like Costco and Wal-Mart can drive small stores out of business, Stewart said New Leaf has been able to thrive in the organic, natural foods niche. He said New Leaf competes with Whole Foods by trying to create an enjoyable shopping experience and striving to become part of the community.
The store donates 10 percent of its profits to local groups and gives employees two paid days to work for local nonprofits and community groups of their choice.
“Community is in our name,” Stewart told me. “We try to make connections and give back. We try to make the store more than just a grocery store.”
The new store on Silver Creek Valley Road is located where one of the closed PW Markets was. New Leaf operates five markets in Santa Cruz County and one in Half Moon Bay. Another store is in the works in Pleasanton.