OAKLAND -- Just months after receiving a $150,000 lifeline from the city, the owners of the Merritt Bakery and Restaurant said parking-lot woes have forced them to close early.
Charles and Patricia Griffis said they started locking the doors two hours early at 8 p.m. because competition and big rig delivery trucks from the adjacent Lucky supermarket are driving down business.
Charles Griffis also blamed parking woes on Lucky employees who park in the front of the lot during their shifts. They fill spots needed by customers of Merritt, which is least $800,000 in debt. Griffis said. Many are senior citizens or disabled, he said.
"If you don't have parking and you're in the retail business," he said, "you are not going to succeed."
Griffis' complaints are not new but have had no effect -- even though the supermarket has defied city of Oakland requirements since the store was built in 2002. The grocery store opened as an Albertsons but now operates as Lucky. The store's managers could not be reached for comment.
"There clearly have been violations," said Councilmember Pat Kernighan. The 170-seat Merritt is located in Kernighan's City Council district, at East 18th Street and Second Avenue. But a lack of parking is not to blame, she said. There are other factors, she added, such as the restaurant's prices and menu.
That is true, according to an independent analysis completed by Fare Resources, a San Francisco-based restaurant marketing company. The analysis was finished shortly before Mayor Ron Dellums asked the City Council in May to loan the bakery $150,000 to stabilize operations.
Fare Resources recommended, among other things, that Merritt lower its prices and update its casual comfort food. But, the analysts continued, parking and competition by Lucky clearly had contributed to the problems facing the 56-year-old Merritt, which currently employs 51 workers.
Albertsons began expansion plans in 2002 without completing a transportation study. The number of parking spots plunged temporarily from 265 to 20. Today, there are 140 in the front and 40 in the back. Although a transportation study was finally done in 2009, Lucky continues to violate numerous provisions including the truck deliveries, employee parking and posting "Parking for Merritt Restaurant Only" signs.
Griffis said he and his wife have implemented a number of recommendations made by Fare Resources to stop the hemorrhaging that started after the supermarket construction began in 2002. The bakery reached its peak profits around that time, but began operating at a loss by 2006. The rent more than doubled about the same time, from $7000 to $16,700 per month.
"This can't go on," Griffis said.