Almanac

News - September 1, 2010

BevMo scores permit for Menlo Park store

by Sandy Brundage

Second time's the charm: Beverages & More (BevMo) scored a use permit from the Menlo Park Planning Commission to open an 8,900-square-foot store at the former site of the Chili's restaurant on El Camino Real.

The planning commissioners voted 4-3 to grant the permit after listening to nearly two hours of public comment. They also agreed to review the permit after three years.

Seventeen people spoke against the permit, including Dan Beltramo Jr., whose voice roughened with emotion as he thanked everyone for supporting his family's store, and other local wine sellers.

"They're not going to put anyone out of business; they're going to dilute the business," said Janet Benson, a local sales representative for Richmond-based Wine Warehouse.

Five speakers asked the commissioners to allow BevMo into Menlo Park; three are company employees. Jeff Sealy, the chain's vice president of real estate, said approximately 1,600 Menlo Park residents belong to the store's rewards program, and the store would create 12 to 15 new jobs.

Commissioners Kirsten Keith and Katie Ferrick voted against the permit on grounds that Menlo Park doesn't need another liquor store, and the city should protect independent local businesses.

Vice Chair Vincent Bressler also opposed the action, suggesting that denying the use permit could force the building's owner to remodel the strip mall.

"For heaven's sake, what was in there was Chilis. If anything, BevMo is a step up," responded Commissioner Henry Riggs, who described the vacant space as "a peculiar building in a peculiar situation."

Local alcohol retailers such as Beltramo's sent out anonymous mailers urging residents to oppose the permit, claiming that a large chain store would threaten homegrown businesses and damage the city's character. The majority of the commissioners said they didn't believe BevMo was a threat to local merchants.

Three years ago, BevMo shelved plans for a store on Santa Cruz Avenue in the face of protests from the same group of retailers using the same arguments about character and competition.

However, not everyone who lives in Menlo Park shared that sentiment, then or now. During the past month residents bombarded the Planning Commission with e-mails asking them to approve the store, suggesting that the empty space may as well be put to use generating an estimated $18,000 in sales tax revenue.

But foes of the store aren't throwing in the towel. City some 1,000 comment cards mailed to the city protesting the store, Dan Beltramo released a statement asking the community to "come forth now more loudly than ever and voice their concerns." He attributed the permit approval to commissioners who would rather fill a vacancy than listen to "the voices of the people and the city's vision plan which states a commitment to supporting independent businesses versus formula driven chain stores."

The statement did not specify whether Mr. Beltramo would ask the City Council to reverse the permit approval, and Mr. Beltramo did not respond to The Almanac's question before press time.

However, Tony Draeger said Draeger's market will not appeal the ruling.

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