Historical Reminder: The Lines at the Bernal Safeway Have Sucked for (at Least) 45 Years

Last night on the Twitters, @albuhhh asked:

This is a reasonable question. Have the lines at our Bernal Safeway always been so terrible? The short answer is: Yes, pretty much.

The Bernal Safeway was built in the early 1960s, but back in February 2015, Bernalwood uncovered an important historical document that revealed the endemic nature of the miserable lines at our local supermarket. Since the passage of time has done little to improve the situation, we’ll now reprise that 2015 post for the benefit of our newer neighbors, if only to remind them that complaining about our local Safeway is a hallowed Bernal Heights bonding ritual:

The Citizens of Bernalwood recently took up cyber-pitchforks and -torches to complain about the ridiculously long lines at the Bernal Heights Safeway on Mission Street at 29th?  Remember how we hoped — naively, perhaps — that perhaps maybe someone at Safeway corporate might hear our gnashing of teeth, and take pity upon our sad souls, and remedy the situation?

Well, don’t count on it.

Recently, while browsing through a back issue of the Bernal Journal from 1972, your Bernalwood editor was darkly entertained to find an impassioned article complaining about… the ridiculously long lines at the Bernal Heights Safeway!

I wish I was kidding about this, but I am not. Behold, a time capsule from [45] years ago, written by Bernal Journal reporter “Vera Disgruntla” (click to embiggen):

1972_Souvenier Edition

The similarities between this Bernal Journal article from 1972 and the comments section of Bernalwood’s post about the Bernal Safeway are comical in their utter sameness.  Here’s a depressing excerpt pulled from the 1972 article shown above:

One man has vowed never to shop there — he gets his meat at the Pioneer Market dry good at 30th and Mission Market, and fresh fruits and vegetables at the Farmers Market at the foot of Bernal Hill. Another man goes once a week to the Marina Safeway. A woman told me she and her husband always drive the five minutes further to get to the Diamond Heights Safeway, where, because they never have to wait to check out there, they actually save time! These may be the only real alternatives.

But I am still mad – for me, and everyone around here who continually has this frustrating time waste wait at our store. The faces in the lines seem to say, “it’s always been like this; we’ve ALWAYS had to wait.”

So there you have it. Long lines have been a fixture at our local Safeway since even before 1972, and after 40+ years, it would seem that Safeway management still does not give a flying Fig Newton about the problem. But hey, at least they’re consistent.

In light of these facts, Bernalwood would now like to officially propose the following:

1) Let’s bulldoze this Safeway, since it so obviously suffers from intergenerational corporate indifference.

2) Let’s save that cool Taoist Safeway mosaic, for posterity, or for use in a replacement structure (see below).

3) Let’s build a few hundred units of much-needed housing on this long-neglected site, with the new ground-floor space dedicated to a more modern supermarket (something kind of like that new mixed-use building that was recently erected on Ocean).

4) While we’re at it, let’s get serious about asking BART to build that 30th Street infill station they’re thinking about again. Hurry up, please.

… because really, after banging our Bernalese heads against the walls at this Safeway for five decades, it may just be time to give up and try something else.

37 thoughts on “Historical Reminder: The Lines at the Bernal Safeway Have Sucked for (at Least) 45 Years

  1. I have lived in Bernal since 1984 and there have always been terrible long lines and NO CARTS when you need one, and its only gotten worse in the last few years (especially the NO CARTS). I would love to see a new store and some housing above it!!

    • Yes, agreed. The NO CARTS is just insane. As a kid in the 70s, I don’t remember that ever being an issue or hearing my mom get pissed about it. I’ve mentioned it, complained about it and still NO CARTS.

  2. I have been shopping at this Safeway my entire life. My mom has shopped there since I was a child when we had no car, we’d walk over from 28th & Church and maybe stop for a cone at Mitchell’s on the way home. When we had a car, we’d shop at the newer Safeway in Diamond Heights. I currently shop at the Mission/29th Safeway since it’s on my way home and it’s a small store, so easy to navigate. The lines can be long, but for me the WORST is there are NEVER any shopping carts available. That’s the true crime!

  3. On a Sunday morning last year, I ran into the Safeway mentioned to buy some items for a church potluck. There was only one checkstand open and the line was to the back of the store! I could not believe it. No manager or assistant on site. When I questioned the poor one checker he said that employees had not shown up for work. I was outraged and put my items back. I went up to the Safeway in Diamond Heights and told the checker there my woes. He smiled and shrugged. Plenty of checkers on hand there and I never will shop at the 30th St. Safeway again. Only good for Wells Fargo ATM machines….

  4. Yes to housing and BART and let’s get a different store in there. Someone who actually cares about our business. I’d love to say farewell to the Crappy Safeway!

  5. just like burning coal and destroying the planet/environment in general: whatever’s good for business regardless of how it affects the common people.

  6. I’m most definitely in! Please share with Supervisor Ronen and lets get her on board!

  7. Glad to see you addressing this issue. It has never made sense that the lines are usually so long at this Safeway. Such an off putting business practice, and indeed the least modernized and fully stocked of the local Safeway branches. So easy to solve with enough cashiers and added self checkout. Hope management takes community feedback seriously.

    • Okay, pay a checker $25 an hour (wages plus benefits, FICA, etc) and they have to ring up at least $2500 in that hour to make money for Safeway. Seriously. Supermarkets are extremely low margin operations.

  8. Now that they have encased the toiletries and OTC medications you have to call for someone to unlock them for you. I waited 20 minutes in that aisle along with 4 other people just to by some toothpaste. Never again!

    • No kidding. Situation at that sad place been getting more pathetic, if that’s even possible…

    • Too many thefts. Same with Potrero Center Safeway. Would you rather have higher prices as Safeway makes up for all the thefts? This is also why they’re no longer 24 hours in most places. Too many thefts between 2 and 5am.

      • Because I have very little hair, I buy the $1 bottles of Sauve, they even lock THAT up.
        I just buy all that stuff that Safeway locks up at Walgreens now.

  9. Just back from the Safeway in question. In and out in 10 minutes. No lines. Plenty of carts. A point not made in the article is that any store that replaced it would presumably be much pricier, further isolating some of the area’s poorer residents.

    • Not necessarily, In fact, it would be great if it remained a Safeway; just not a crappy Safeway.

      Safeway owns the site. They can dictate their own terms. So Safeway could develop housing there and then put in a store, much like the housing with Safeway that exists across the street from the Caltrain Station downtown.

      • I’m not sure Safeway owns the site. KKR took over Safeway at one point and split the property division from the stores. As I recall they’re two different companies now. That’s the same thing they did when KKR took over Fred Meyer in Portland, except at that time, they screwed over the worker/owners who had inherited the company from Freddy himself. KKR is an evil company.

  10. I have been meaning to start a Twitter account for this store… @BernalSlowway? @BernalSafewait? Profile pic would be the Taoist mural, of course.

  11. I shopped there the during the Harmonic Convergence in August 1987 and it was mellow.

    That said, a more expensive store would not be good for the neighborhood because it would — as John suggests above — further bifurcate our neighborhood between haves and have nots.

  12. has anybody googled ” grocery stores near by ” ? Lots of options in SF.

    Why do you self righteous people think you can manage how a store is managed. Geez. Stop Whining people.

    • I don’t believe that happens. Yeah, the frozen food might sit for a bit, but if it’s still frozen, no problem. I knew a clerk at 16th/Potrero Safeway who told me that if a frozen item gets mushy to throw it out immediately. So, people who abandon frozen foods are really driving up the prices.

  13. I vowed never to shop in that Safeway again about 5 years ago, and I haven’t. Truly the worst branch around. If I don’t drive to Diamond Heights, I zip down 280 to the Westlake Safeway.

  14. nothing i like about this store except the location (i live 2.5 blocks away).
    dirty, crowded feel, poorly lit, longer waits.
    the street wall on san jose kills what could be vibrant (especially with all the bike and tech bus traffic). the mission side also suffers from a deadening poor design (who hasn’t almost been hit by a frustrated shopper trying to enter or leave while walking that sidewalk?).
    but easy enough to shop elsewhere – farmers markets, the corner market at 30th and church, 2 butchers, bakeries, and several specialty grocers (including mideast and latino and italian) all under a mile. plus at least 4 other larger stores nearby (good life, canyon, the grocery outlet, whole foods).

    • What always amuses me (as I grit my teeth) is the lack of staffing at Customer Service!

  15. So, a complainant chose to take his business to a small indie store. GREAT! This is what we need. If people are willing to pay for convenience or quality, so be it. But if people are sticklers at saving a few cents here and there then it’s Safeway, Food4Less, Lucky, etc., where the business model is low prices. Well, how do you sell for low prices? You cut way back on your staff.

  16. It’s hilarious and soothing to hear all the hubbub about the bernal Safeway service issues! I mostly shop there later at night when it can be a great convenience coming off late shifts, I am missing the 24 hr option.. Grocery shopping at 2am can be a satisfying experience… no lines!!! But just the other day I found myself there closer to 8pm and oh lord was there a line! But worse than the line not moving was the sanctimonious dude shopper dictating how people should line up. I ended up off my spot in the express lane and behind the couple doing their monthly bulk shop about 20 other shoppers away.. I had maybe 10 items in my basket. I was especially feeling the existential angst and general pain of life in da city that night, that line nearly pushed me over the edge!!!! I spit venom and shot devil eye and tears did spill. The struggle indeed is real!! That said Goodlife is my main go to, that and the farmers market, but Safeway did just have a killer deal on gf bread … just get it late night!!

    • I definitely miss the 24-hour option.
      It seemed, in addition to being able to shop anytime, it alleviated some of the congestion in the mornings and later at night.
      Thats anecdotal, no studies have been done to confirm this as a fact. FYI.

  17. The ratio of decompensating, drug addicted, or just disturbed individuals lingering around Safeway/Walgreens is the real key to unlocking the problems at 29th & Mission. Corporate Safeway considers that branch to be the worst in the nation. They have made many efforts to clean it up, but something about the neighborhood or the people or just the long, bad reputation makes it impossible for them to keep staff there, to attract enough customers, or to make the big investment that might really clean the place up. They don’t let the branch have more carts then it can lock up inside because theft is rampant. Safeway is also a union house, so they can’t just force their staff to endure the kind of crazies that walk in there or hire a bunch of kids at $15/hr, so it winds up being a training center. Any clerk who can cut it transfers out ASAP, and those that can’t just quit. Hence we wind up with miserable service and long lines.

  18. Frustrated by long lines and no shopping carts at the Safeway on Mission at Virginia, three months ago I started shopping at the Safeway in Potrero Center. Wow! It is SO MUCH BETTER! Lines move quickly. Always plenty of shopping carts. Plus, it’s a much bigger store with many more products. Despite the drive, I’m very glad I made the switch. Now it’s a pleasure to go grocery shopping.

    • Great for you (and others with cars & parking places), but many people can’t or don’t drive

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