Public Comment

Don’t Shut Down Ashby Flowers!

By Nancy Carleton and John Steere
Wednesday February 25, 2009 - 07:57:00 PM

We have learned that Whole Foods Market is planning not to renew the lease of Ashby Flowers, the corner shop located at Telegraph and Ashby, on the property of the market. We are writing as co-chairs of Halcyon Neighborhood Association (HNA). The nearly 900 households in HNA’s territory all lie within a 10-minute walk of Whole Foods; they represent some of the store’s most frequent foot traffic. 

HNA, in contrast to many neighborhood associations, rarely takes stands on land-use issues. Our guiding principles state, “HNA provides a sanctuary from partisan politics so that neighbors with diverse viewpoints feel welcome to participate.” Given our commitment to steer clear of controversial issues and instead focus on areas of broad agreement, we take a stand only when we are convinced that there is near unanimity among neighbors. Whole Foods Market’s decision to terminate the lease of a popular locally owned business, Ashby Flowers, is just such an issue. Thus, we are taking the unusual step for us of advocating a position on a land-use issue. 

We acknowledge that in many ways Whole Foods Market has been and remains a good neighbor. We appreciate their partnership in working on neighborhood safety and trash and graffiti clean-up. We also appreciate their support of work parties in our neighborhood-designed park, Halcyon Commons, through generous contributions of food and beverages to fuel volunteers. We hope that Whole Foods Market intends to follow through on the goodwill generated by consulting with neighborhood stakeholders on an issue as important as a change in the use of the corner flower shop. 

In addition to our support for renewal of the Ashby Flowers’ lease, we feel it’s important to point out that any application for a changed use at the current Ashby Flowers’ site is likely to meet with strong neighborhood opposition. We have been told that a café where customers can pick up a quick cup of coffee or a sandwich is the plan once Ashby Flowers is evicted. We think that this change would be bad for our neighborhood. The negative impacts would include additional parking pressure as well as additional trash generated by another quick pick-up food-related use in an already heavily impacted area. 

Neighbors who have lived here since Whole Foods Market moved into the former Co-op site well remember that management promises that overflow parking would not be a problem. In fact, employees on a daily basis are violating the two-hour parking zone around the market by moving cars on their breaks. Since Whole Foods Market is either unable or unwilling to provide team members with on-site parking, it seems likely that this will continue to be an issue. A quick-stop food use would likely generate more car trips than the current use of the site as a flower shop. It is unacceptable for Whole Foods to create more parking impacts on our neighborhood while the ongoing issue of overflow parking remains unresolved. 

Besides the detriments just noted, it would be a big loss to the neighborhood if a popular locally owned business, which has been at the site for over 50 years, were forced to move, especially in this economy. Ashby Flowers has been here to help neighbors celebrate and mourn the key markers of our lives over several generations. In addition, we’re concerned that creating a café on the corner would have a negative impact on another locally owned business, Mokka Café, which is just a block to the south, as well as on local cafes to the north. While we appreciate the community-minded spirit that Whole Foods often embodies, it’s simply not appropriate for its physical plant to expand at the expense of valuable local businesses that contribute so much to our city.  

Whole Foods Market already has a highly successful market at the Telegraph site. Why would they want to create negative feelings in the very neighborhood that supports their business by continuing on a course that faces such strong community opposition? Moreover, why would they wish to jeopardize a cooperative relationship with this neighborhood and its neighborhood association, which we have carefully cultivated together these past 16 years? Ending Ashby Flowers’ lease would break an important trust with neighbors and undermine the very foundation of being a “good neighbor” that Whole Foods Market has endeavored to practice since 1990. 

Our sincere hope is that Whole Foods Market will have a change of heart and renew Ashby Flowers’ lease. We call on store team leaders to organize an in-depth consultation with neighborhood and civic stakeholders, or at the least host a meeting to solicit input from all community stakeholders, before further consideration of a change that affects the use of the corner building that holds Ashby Flowers—and the neighborhood we all share. 


Nancy Carleton and John Steere are co-chairs of Halcyon Neighborhood Association, which represents the area in South Berkeley bordered by Telegraph, Ashby, Adeline, and Woolsey.