DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Downtown residents and workers in search of groceries have seen their options expand significantly in the past year. In October the City Target at the FIGat7th shopping center opened and upscale market Urban Radish began selling on July 4 in the Arts District.

This week the roster is again growing bigger, though in addition to picking up milk, produce and other staples, Downtown shoppers can also grab a 50-pound bag of sugar or a gallon of mayonnaise. 

A 24,000-square-foot Smart & Final Extra is scheduled to open at 7 a.m. Thursday, July 18, on the ground floor of a recently renovated 1969 building at 845 S. Figueroa St. The store will operate seven days a week from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. and employ about 70 people. 

The Commerce-based company signed a 20-year lease for the space in the building that was purchased last year by the State Bar of California (which acquired it from parking lot giant L&R Group, which had initiated the renovation). The upper floors will be occupied by State Bar offices.

The Downtown Los Angeles outpost of the discount grocery chain known for its bulky items will be larger than the typical Smart & Final, which average about 17,000 square feet. However, the “Extra” in the name applies to more than size.

The new Smart & Final will include the bulk provisions targeted to restaurants and other business, but it will be dominated by typical groceries aimed at the Downtown residential base. Store manager Art Cervantes said about 30% of the stock will be comprised of the bulky goods many businesses, or those looking to throw a big party, are looking for.

The Downtown store will also include a coffee shop called the Downtown Grind. In addition to coffee, it will sell sandwiches and salads. 

Randall Oliver, director of corporate communications for the company, said the new location is a return of sorts for the business. 

 “We did have a presence in Downtown. That’s where the company got its start over 140 years ago,” he said. “A lot has happened in the last five years with Downtown being revitalized, and it’s an excellent time for us to be returning.”

While the return is imminent, last week the store still had one big hurdle to clear. Oliver said the company had yet to work out a parking deal with L&R Group, which originally recruited Smart & Final to the building. The company retained ownership of the three-story garage behind the store after selling the structure to the State Bar in November. 

Oliver said he expects to have an agreement in place by the time the store opens. 

Smart & Final adds to a growing list of neighborhood supermarkets. In addition to the grocery options at City Target and Urban Radish, there is the higher-end Ralphs Fresh Fare, which opened in 2007 at Ninth and Flower streets. There are also several less familiar options, such as Woori Market in Little Tokyo, and construction continues on a 33,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market at Grand and Cesar Chavez avenues near Chinatown. It is scheduled to open next month. 

“Obviously having a variety of options is great for the community,” said Carol Schatz, president and CEO of the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, whose tasks include recruiting businesses to Downtown.

While Smart & Final sees profit potential in Downtown, the community has not necessarily been pining for the brand. According to the DCBID’s 2011 Downtown Los Angeles Demographic Study, residents most wanted a Trader Joes to open in the neighborhood. The study found that 92% of Downtown inhabitants said they were likely to shop at a Trader Joe’s if a store opened here (the company has shown no interest in setting up a Downtown shop).

However, some neighborhood stakeholders think proximity will make all the difference, and that area residents and workers will capitalize on the opportunities afforded by a nearby Smart & Final. 

“I think people are going to shop there,” said Patti Berman, president of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council. “Smart & Final is what you think of when having a party. They will do well with that. There’s a lot of partying going on in Downtown.” 

Local Fit

Berman noted that store officials have changed some of their initial plans to ensure a better fit with the desires of Downtowners.

She said that when plans were first presented to DLANC in 2012, the company intended to have a wall facing Figueroa, with an entrance off the street. Objections were raised about the unfriendly interface, and Smart & Final instead built a patio fronting Figueroa, with a second entrance leading directly to the Downtown Grind.

“They really listened and made specific changes for Downtown,” Berman said. 

Schatz said the store will help enliven a portion of Figueroa that has long been a dead zone. The stretch between FIGat7th and L.A. Live has been grim in places and generated little foot traffic, especially after dark. That in turn has hampered the pedestrian experience for those who might walk from the Financial District for a game or a concert.

Schatz thinks that just as occurred six years ago with a supermarket, the Smart & Final will activate the street and improve the entire neighborhood. 

“We’ve seen it with Ralphs,” she said. “There is a constant stream of people coming. The street is alive and that is what is going to happen there in a while.” 

According to the Smart & Final website, the company began in 1871 when Herman Hellman, Jacob Haas and Bernard Cohn opened a two-story brick building on Los Angeles Street called the Hellman, Haas Grocery Co. It sold “the necessities of the day like flour, brown sugar, salt, patent medicines, rope, sheepherding supplies, chewing tobacco and gunpowder,” according to the site. 

In 1953 the store merged with another grocery store started in the early 1900s called Smart & Final Wholesale Grocers. 

Today Smart & Final operates about 250 grocery stores in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho and Mexico. Before the new store, the closest Smart & Final Extra to Downtown was in Lincoln Heights. A traditional Smart & Final is at 2720 Beverly Blvd., just west of Downtown.

Early last week, the produce and meat sections were still empty, but many of the Downtown store’s aisles were already filled with items such as cleaning products, cereal, juices and other drinks. 

Smart & Final is at 845 S. Figueroa St., (213) 629-0039 or smartandfinal.com

Contact Richard Guzmán at richard@downtownnews.com.