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Bay Area retailers innovate around Silicon Valley

BY Carol Radice

Home to the famed Golden Gate Bridge, the other thing the City by the Bay is known for these days is its soaring cost of housing. Alongside Washington, D.C., and New York City, the Bay Area is one of the most expensive cities to live in the United States.

While low unemployment and robust job growth are pluses, a cost of living 64% above the national average makes the area unaffordable to live in, even when the average median household income is above $75,000.

The region encompasses such metro areas as San Francisco; Oakland, the 12th largest metro area in the country; and San Jose, the 31st-largest city in the country, along with smaller urban and rural areas. Some 7.4 million people live in the nine counties, 101 cities and 7,000 square miles that comprise the Bay Area.

The San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward metro area’s economy is growing significantly faster than any of the top-10 metro areas in the nation, and part of its success is directly connected to growth in the technology sector. Silicon Valley — the center of the technology industry — is located in the Bay Area. Companies such as Google, eBay, Apple and Facebook have headquarters here.

The city is a renowned hub for the incubation and development of emerging markets, but IT is not the only industry thriving here. Some 30 international financial institutions are located here as are a number of social and digital media, life sciences and biotech, environmental and clean tech, professional services and international businesses.

As would be expected in this area, retailers are often more progressive here than in other parts of the country, partly by choice and partly due to necessity. For this hipster, educated, affluent demographic, cookie-cutter approaches won’t suffice. As a result, several area retailers have added experiential components in their stores, a move they admit has been helpful in combatting declining sales. With an emphasis on entertainment and socialization, a number of retailers are adding bars, theaters, gaming and recreational areas in their locations. Nordstrom in San Jose has a bar and Whole Foods features a beer garden on its upper floor. Bass Pro Shop decided to add a bowling alley for its customers to use.

Given this, it also is no surprise that an eclectic combination of food retailers dot the landscape in the San Francisco-metro market. While shoppers will find such expected options as Safeway, Trader Joe’s and multiple Whole Foods Markets, a number of smaller grocers are thriving here as well. One particular standout is Mollie Stone’s. Since 1986, this family-owned business has offered “the best of both worlds” — conventional groceries, as well as natural and organic food, much of which is locally sourced.

This is a retailer that is not afraid to adapt or take risks. It became the first retailer in the San Francisco Bay Area to integrate a complete, full-service hardware store into the overall layout of its grocery departments. The new Mollie’s Ace Hardware is a one-stop shop for easy access to home improvement items.

Its San Mateo location offers Mollieland, a free supervised play area for children to hang out, while their parents shop. And in its Pacific Heights and Castro locations, customers can hop on the Mollie Bus. Recognizing how many city dwellers hate to give up their parking spots to run errands, the retailer came up with the idea of offering a free shuttle for shoppers, and customers love it.

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