The North Berkeley neighborhood used to cherish the Monterey Market. One of the market’s die-hard fans, Lisa Brenneis, was even moved to make a prize-winning documentary called “Eat at Bill’s” about the pioneering produce store. (The New York Times hailed the film as “a heartfelt and loving homage to [Bill Fujimoto], his produce, and his devotion to helping sustain America's newly-blossoming agrarian entrepreneurs.”) But when Bill and Judy Fujimoto, the long-established owners, retired from the market a few years back, the love affair between the business and the residents began to sour.
This week, a leaflet appeared that served to draw the growing rift into the public eye. Circulated by local storeowners and concerned residents, the broadside explains that the problem “all started with Mahmoud.” Mahmoud, a flower vendor who worked the curb alongside the Market’s northern flank, was the first victim of the Market’s new owners.
As the leaflet explains: “For seven years Mahmoud had sold fresh, beautiful flowers at reasonable prices from his sidewalk stand on Hopkins Street. With his warm smile and artists’s eye, Mahmoud is like the heart of the neighborhood. But, in 2009, Monterey Market started saturation marketing of dirt-cheap flowers. Mahmound’s sales dropped 70%.”
And the problem didn’t end with Mahmoud’s flower-stand. Under the new owners, the Monterey Market has been slowly evolving to compete with nearly every other existing storeowner in the Hopkins/California/Monterey corridor. The Market has started expanding its offerings of cheeses, wines and baked goods at cut-rate prices that have damaged sales at nearby Country Cheese Coffee Market, Magnanis, Hopkins Street Bakers and Monterey Liquors. And not the Market has, for the first time, begun stocking an array of plants, putting it in competition with Freshly Cut, a small business located directly across the street.
These expansionary practices and predatory pricing have eroded the earnings of long-established small business that have defined this unique North Berkeley neighborhood. “For decades, the Market flourished, too, without preying on surround shops,” the leaflet reads. “We all want to keep Hopkins Street bustling, not pitted with empty storefronts.”
The leaflet’s proposed solution is a twist on a familiar adage: “Don’t just buy local. Buy small.” You can still buy your produce at the Monterey Market, the handbill advises, but don’t forget to “support your specialty shops.”
The leaflet is described as the work of “an informal alliance of neighbots, customers and merchants, including Monterey Fish, Gioia Pizzeria, Hopkins Laundrette, Storey Framing, Magnani’s, Country Cheese Coffee Market, Monterey Liquors, Freshly Cut and Mahmoud’s Flowers.” More information is available by contacting Tom at (510) 832-3400.