Valley Food in Downtown Fresno has been working through signage compliance and electrical problems, but appears to be on track to open soon. Photos by Edward Smith
Written by Edward Smith
The opening of a highly anticipated grocery down in Downtown Fresno’s historic Lowell neighborhood has been kept on hold due to roadblocks regarding signage and electricity.
Three signs for Valley Food adorn the exterior walls of the building at the corner of Van Ness and Divisadero avenues. Looking through the windows, one can see that fixtures are up and cash registers have been installed. But a chain still keeps the double glass doors locked.
It is located in the historic neighborhood between Divisadero Avenue and Highway 180, where the Downtown Community Plan mandates adherence to certain building codes in order to preserve the aesthetic of the area.
Nassr Mohamed, as his name is filed on the permit application with the City of Fresno, said in a phone interview May 2 that if he had known about the difficulties of opening in the area, he would not have even tried. He said he owns a number of other grocery stores, and had never gone through this level of difficulty before.
He did not answer phone calls for a follow-up interview.
On Monday, Mohamed met with the Lowell Neighborhood Design and Review Committee seeking approval of signage. The committee, made up of residents of the neighborhood as well as one architect, had to approve the signs to fit the Victorian style of the surrounding homes.
“For years, developers would come in and build whatever they wanted to build, regardless of whether it fit the design of the neighborhood,” said Steve Skibbie, committee member.
The committee approved the signage at the meeting.
One of the biggest impediments for the opening of Valley Food has been getting its electrical system updated.
“The business will need more robust electrical hookups than what it currently has,” Skibbie added.
In a Business Journal web story from May 2018, Mohamed, president of Alatri, LLC, said he had spent nine months dealing with Pacific Gas & Electric Co. in bringing the building to code.
“Problems arise with using old buildings that weren’t originally designed to be a store,” Skibbie said. In previous incarnations, the store had been a church and a theater, among other things. It has been vacant since at least the early 2000s, he added.
Having a neighborhood grocery store in that area “is a big deal” for Lowell’s 6,000 residents, Skibbie said. Many of the families living there have limited access to transportation. The closest full-service grocery store is FoodMaxx across from Highway 99, he said.
While opening dates for Valley Food weren’t discussed at the Lowell meeting, Skibbie said that the project is in its final review stages.