When downtown Richmond’s Metro Walk was first designed, it was billed as a mixed-use development where residents could live just steps from BART and Amtrak, with retail and restaurants right next door. But for years, the Walk’s three retail spaces – 7,000 square feet total – sat empty. Folks waiting for Amtrak had to hike the two long blocks to the Richmond Shopping Center for a snack. Residents said they wished there was somewhere to duck in for a cup of coffee on their way to the train.
Now, finally, there is. On Friday, BART Mart & Deli celebrated its grand opening at 1551 Nevin Plaza, right across from the BART entrance. Down the block, at 340 Marina Way, painters were working to prepare the space for Planned Parenthood, which hopes to open the doors of a new clinic there in May.
“Everyone said they wanted something over here in this area,” said BART Mart owner Amar Nasser.
The BART Mart stocks the usual convenience store fare: snacks, sodas and the all-important coffee. A deli counter in back makes sandwiches to order. The store unofficially opened in early March.
So how’s business?
“Beautiful,” said Omar Al Muhen, Nasser’s business partner. “From the beginning. From the first day we opened up.”
On Friday, the hunger for local options was palpable: the lunchtime line at the deli counter ran out the door. Some said the little market is a welcome alternative to the pricier cafeteria in the Social Security Administration’s Frank Hagel Federal Building, down the block. Even the mayor stopped by and noted approvingly that the store stocks some fresh food, juices and yogurt.
Inside, Rene Johnson was handing out free cupcakes. Johnson owns Blackberry Soul, a bakery and cafe on 14th Street in Oakland. She’s hoping to open a second location in downtown Richmond. In the meantime, the BART Mart will carry her blackberry and peach cobblers.
“People are really wanting a real restaurant,” said Amanda Elliott, executive director of the Richmond Main Street Initiative, which works to bring new businesses to the downtown Macdonald corridor. “But,” she said, looking over the lunchtime crowd, “This is a good start.”
The BART Mart is a family affair. Amar Nasser, and his business partners Omar and Mohammed Al Muhen, lease the space from Amar’s brother, Abdul Nasser, who owns the building. Two other brothers, Abdullah and Abdo Nasser, help out at the store. The Nasser brothers’ parents are longtime Richmond business-owners; they’ve run the Richmond Food Center at 23rd Street and Cutting Boulevard for two decades.
Last March, Abdul Nasser bought all three commercial buildings in the Transit Walk from the developer, which had tried to lease them for years. He leased the Nevin Plaza site to his brother, and signed the lease with Planned Parenthood in October. Prospective tenants have looked into the third space, at 400 Marina Way, but nobody has taken it, he said.
“It’s just a matter of time,” Abdul Nasser said. “The economy is discouraging a lot of people.”
Nasser is bullish on downtown Richmond. He owns two other commercial buildings: 1000 Nevin Avenue, which he bought in 2003, and 1070 Nevin Avenue, which he bought in 2006. He said he’s encouraged by the city’s investment in the downtown area over the past decade, including the Transit Village and the BART parking lot, still under construction.
“That’s why I bought them,” he said. “I have a feeling that it’s going to be good.”