Small Business

As Ocean Avenue Continues to Change, Liquor Stores Working to Adapt

Andy Woldezghi and Kidane Abreham at Kidane Trading Co. on Ocean Avenue, which Abreham bought in 2005. ALEXANDER MULLANEY/INGLESIDE-EXCELSIOR LIGHT

When Kidane Abreham bought Wiley’s Liquors at 1015 Ocean Ave. and renamed it Kidane Trading in 2005, the store faced a parking lot and cars sped down Ocean Avenue past City College of San Francisco toward the freeway on-ramp near Balboa Park Station.

In his 12 years of ownership the area around Abreham’s shop has steadily filled with new developments. New stores, like the Whole Foods two blocks away, and housing developments, like the 71-unit Mercy Housing development at 1100 Ocean Ave, offers Kidane Trading a wider customer base, but also means tougher competition.

Today, as the Philz Coffee across the street bustles with college students and the other two last liquor stores on Ocean Avenue are up for sale, Abreham is hoping to expand his store’s offerings with fresh produce and deli sandwiches.

Much of the competition for Ocean Avenue’s liquor stores comes from chain stores like Target, CVS/Pharmacy and Whole Foods which have opened within the past five years.

Ocean Avenue is now so appealing to national chains that a well known chain is already considering leasing the soon-to-be vacant CVS/Pharmacy on the corner of Dorado Terrace, according to sources at the Ocean Avenue Association.

Increased competition from large stores is one of the reasons that Shaunti So Kong, who bought A and N Liquors at 1521 Ocean Ave. in 2004, is trying to sell her store.

In addition to the regular stresses of running a liquor store including long hours away from family, shoplifters, and sometimes abusive customers, Kong says her business has decreased by 45 percent since larger stores began to open on Ocean Avenue.

Similar pressures caused Meged Humran to try to sell Humran Liquors at 1551 Ocean Ave. for several months before selling the family business to a family member.

The small store on the corner of Capitol Avenue has been in the family since 1984 but increased competition and 16 hour days away from his family caused Meged Humran, the current owner, to try to sell the store.

Adaptation

Originally from Eritrea — “The Safest Country in Africa,” according to a colorful sign in the store’s doorway — Abreham worked as an electronics salesman downtown for 35 years before buying a liquor store on Market Street in 1998.

In the early evenings, Abreham and Andy Woldezghi, chat as a steady stream of customers come through the door. In addition to friendly banter, Abreham prides himself on offering a safe environment for his customers and changing the stock of his store periodically to suit his customers’ needs.

As a result, Kidane Trading sells plain white shirts in the back right corner of the store, basketball shoes from behind the counter, and packaged submarine sandwiches made by his wife at the Market Street store.

Abreham’s vision for offering fresh food and sandwiches started when Mercy Housing tenants began to ask for healthy, low-cost, late-night alternative to Whole Foods and other small grocery stores on Ocean Avenue.

Working with the Ocean Avenue Association, Abreham hopes to get assistance from the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development to accept ABT cards, fix up the front of his store and install equipment for storing produce and making sandwiches.

Gloria Chan, OEWD’s public information officer, said that although Kidane Trading is not eligible for Healthy Retail SF, a program that helps liquor stores in food deserts offer fresh food, the store could apply for assistance as part of other programs.

Abreham’s plan is one story on a street once again in transition.

In 1976, the San Francisco Chronicle polled Ocean Avenue residents, business owners and realtors about the future of the corridor.

Faced with a closing Safeway, an abundance of liquor stores and retail competition from Stonestown, locals didn’t know what Ocean Avenue would look like in a few years.

“The street could continue to skid, selling more liquor, denim clothes and records — or it could haul itself up and spark a spruce-up campaign in the nearby in the nearby homes, bring new trade to its store-fronts,” according to the article.

This article first appeared in the Ingleside-Excelsior Light’s March 2017 print edition. It has been updated.

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