Preserving Community Access: The Fight to Save Fillmore’s Safeway

Photo from CBS San Francisco

For more than four decades, the Safeway market located at 1335 Webster St. has been an indispensable resource for the residents of San Francisco’s Fillmore District. Providing essential services such as prescription fulfillment, banking, and groceries, it has been a linchpin for the community’s well-being. However, on January 4th, 2024, Safeway dropped a bombshell, announcing the permanent closure of this vital location in March of the same year. This sudden decision left Fillmore and its neighboring communities with a mere two months to brace themselves for what many feared would be a devastating blow to an already underserved neighborhood.

In their announcement, Safeway also unveiled plans to sell the site to Align Real Estate, proposing a mixed-use development that could potentially bring about much-needed housing units, but at what cost? This revelation sparked outrage and apprehension among community members and leaders. Despite Safeway’s optimistic promises of community benefits through increased housing, the stark reality was a looming threat to the already fragile balance of Fillmore’s resources. Based on national data from the USDA, the food insecurity rate for Black, non-Hispanic individuals is approximately 23%, and for Latino individuals, it exceeds 21%. In contrast, the rate for white, non-Hispanic individuals is nearly 10%. There is an undeniable history of food scarcity and limited access to nutritious foods within Black and Brown communities like the Fillmore District. To take away the only major grocery store in the area would further increase these disparities.

Yet, in the face of uncertainty, the spirit of Fillmore rallied. Voices rose in protest, demanding to be heard. In response to widespread protests from the community and customers, Mayor London Breed stepped forward on January 22nd, announcing an agreement with Safeway to extend services at the Webster Street location until 2025. It was a glimmer of hope amidst the storm, offering a lifeline to the community while providing time for deliberation and planning for the future of Webster Plaza.

This agreement came hand in hand with San Francisco District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston’s proposal of the Neighborhood Grocery Protection Act, a beacon of transparency and accountability in ensuring the community’s voice was not only heard but honored. It was a testament to the unwavering commitment of city officials to stand by their constituents, to preserve not just access to groceries but to uphold the very essence of community.

Though they may not have been at the forefront of legislative battles, the community-based organizations in and around Fillmore lent their voices to the chorus of advocacy, amplifying the collective plea for a reevaluation of Safeway’s closure. Their message was clear: the closure of Safeway isn’t just about losing a store—it’s about losing a lifeline, about creating a void in the heart of the neighborhood that threatened to starve its spirit.

Executive Director of the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center, Shakira Simley articulated the profound impact of the closure, warning that it would transform the neighborhood into a food desert, severely restricting food access for residents. While the work of organizations like CommunityGrows, Booker T., and even the SF/Marin Food Bank can help fill in the gaps of uncertainty, like many nonprofits, our reach can only go so far. This is why it’s important to not only support these organizations either by making donations and volunteering with them, but to also encourage community members to mobilize to find a solution that works for them, providing resources and tools to take action. This can take the form of reaching out to legislation, growing their own food, and sharing knowledge amongst each other.

The battle to preserve Fillmore’s Safeway is more than just a fight for a store—it’s a fight for the soul of a community. It’s a testament to the power of unity, compassion, and unwavering resolve. And as the Fillmore stands on the precipice of change, one thing remains abundantly clear: as long as the community stands together, their spirit can weather any storm.