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Whole Foods Market Allows Ashby Flowers to Stay Put

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday March 11, 2009 - 07:11:00 PM

Whole Foods Market announced last week that the company has reversed its plans to let the lease expire for its tenant, Ashby Flowers.  

The supermarket chain had planned to take over the family-owned flower shop’s small retail space, located on the grocery store’s Berkeley property at Ashby and Telegraph avenues.  

Whole Foods Regional President David Lannon had previously told the Daily Planet that the company was not renewing the lease, set to expire in July, because the supermarket planned to expand its operations by using the space for a coffee shop or juice bar.  

But after a week of public criticism, the company shelved the plan and invited Ashby Flowers to stay. 

In a statement sent out Mar. 5 by Jennifer Marples of San Francisco-based Koa Communi- 

cations, Whole Foods’ PR firm, company officials acknowledged that they had arrived at the decision after listening to the public’s concerns. 

“During our conversations with Ashby Flowers and with members of the community that began in spring 2008, it has become clear that Ashby Flowers is indeed a treasured asset to the local community and that it should remain where it is,” the statement read. “[W]e’ve heard what our customers and neighbors have had to say, loud and clear. We look forward to a continued relationship with this company that clearly has a loyal, local following, and we wish them great success in the future.” 

Ashby Flowers’ owners, Iraj Misaghi and Marcy Simon, had expressed their desire to remain at the location, where the flower shop has operated for the last 60 years, drawing a loyal patronage. The married couple has owned the business since 1995.  

In a telephone interview, Simon said the company’s statement caught her by surprise and that she was “cautiously optimistic” about Whole Foods’ decision. 

“We have not spoken about it,” she said. “But I am eager to renegotiate our lease with them. I am happy—I think they did the right thing.” 

Whole Foods’ original plan met with stiff opposition from the local community and elected officials, including Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who joined in a Feb. 25 rally outside Whole Foods’ corporate headquarters in Emeryville.  

Worthington organized neighborhood groups and businesses to help Ashby Flowers, even asking a student volunteer to go door to door collecting signatures for a petition in support of the florist. 

The councilmember also met with Whole Foods’ corporate officials in an effort to get them to reverse the decision. 

Stacey Simon, a spokesperson for Ashby Flowers, said the owners had met with Whole Foods Vice President of Development Glen Moon since the rally and were waiting to talk to him about starting a new lease. 

“Apart from that, we have not heard anything official,” she said, “so [the] statement came as a surprise, a very pleasant surprise. We are guardedly optimistic.” 

“For a small business like Ashby Flowers, location is very critical,” Councilmember Worthington said, in response to Thursday’s development. “Plus the whole thing was hurting Whole Foods—it was making their customers unhappy. It’s wonderful that the company realized that Ashby Flowers is a landmark business—the building itself is not a landmark, but the business itself is important. Now two businesses in my district will have a happy ending.” 

Worthington said it was important that the new lease be for a five-year term at least, which would give the tenants a certain amount of protection if their landlord decided to reclaim the space again. 

Whole Foods’ officials were not available for further comment.