When city officials announced that H Mart, an upscale Korean grocer with locations across the US, would be coming to San Francisco, residents reacted with joy — not only is H Mart a brand well known for its traditional Asian food staples, ready-to-cook meals, and prepared foods, but its location in the Oceanview Village Shopping Center would bring a grocery store to an area that’s been without one for years. That shopping drought was supposed to end in November of 2019, officials said at the time, but months later, a spokesperson with H Mart says they still don’t know when they will be able to open.
H Mart began as a Queens, New York corner store in 1982 and has expanded into a major chain in the years since. Its name stands for “Han Ah Rheum,” a Korean phrase that means “an arm full of groceries,” but Bay Area residents will currently have to travel to San Jose to fill their arms with H Mart’s goods, as that’s the location of the chain’s closest outpost.
In August of 2018, the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) announced that H Mart had signed a lease at 3995 Alemany Boulevard, a 42,000 space that was last home to the Oceanview Supermarket. The spot’s been empty for years, as the Oceanview Supermarket closed in 2013, the Frisc reports, “after years of complaints and a costly safety violation.”
That’s why leaders like Mayor London Breed and Supervisors Norman Yee and Ahsha Safaí celebrated the advent of H Mart. The area is “in great need of a large retail grocer, with only two corner stores supplying limited produce to more than 20,000 residents,” Safaí said at the time.
At the time, officials said that H Mart planned a year-long renovation project for the spot, with a $8.5 million renovation plotted to “ensure that this location fits the model of their other quality stores,” H Mart said at the time. Following approvals from San Francisco’s Planning Commission, the company set an opening date for some time in November of 2019 — not a moment too soon, Marc Christensen, vice president of the Merced Extension Triangle Neighborhood Association told the Frisc last May. “Right now, we’re underserved,” he said, noting that area residents are forced to order groceries for delivery or travel to Trader Joe’s Stonestown location.
November has come and gone, but H Mart has not opened, as one can see from the photos above (all of which were taken on Wednesday, February 6). There’s no evidence of construction activity, and the only indication that the spot is occupied is a — strangely, un-filled-out — public notice of an intent to sell alcohol.
According to city officials, the delay isn’t on their end. “As far we know, their permits were all approved for them to proceed,” Gloria Chan, the Director of Communications for SF’s OEWD tells Eater SF. “The last we heard, they were in the construction phase.”
H Mart spokesperson Hyun Ah Lee was tightlipped, saying only that “we do not have a tentative opening date at this time, however, I plan to share future updates and news with local media when available.” When pressed by Eater SF, Lee said again that “we are in preparation for the new store, but yet to have a tentative opening date at this time.”
It’s unclear what “preparation” means, given the blank Alcoholic Beverage Control signage and that, per a security guard who spoke with Eater SF, there hasn’t been any visible construction activity during any of his recent daytime shifts.
Back in 2018, Supervisor Norman Yee said that the lack of an area grocery store has “left a noticeable void in this neighborhood for many years,” and applauded H Mart for agreeing to provide “diverse, high-quality food.” Given H Mart’s unwillingness to discuss its progress in the spot, it seems like that void is destined to continue, at least until city officials start asking what, exactly, the holdup might be.