Vons to undergo $4.5 million exterior remodel


Exterior has not been touched in 23 years

Vons supermarket, characterized by one town official as “the center of the universe” in Mammoth, is about to undergo its first major revamping.

Starting in April and lasting through Labor Day, the supermarket would get a new exterior and move its pharmacy and Starbucks franchises to new locations, according to plans for the $4.5 million project.

Brian K. Braaten, the vice-president of real estate of the Los Angeles-based chain, unveiled the plans before the Mammoth Lakes Planning Commission on Wednesday, Jan. 23.

Commissioner Mickey Brown weighed in on what everyone already knows, referring to Vons as the center of the universe.

Braaten said he did not need reminding.

He told a story about spending one day last year on the ski hill. Having spent the day on the hill and in the woods, he said he drove back into town and pulled into Vons and was—once more—aghast at what he saw.

“It is dated and fully depreciated,” he said of the store’s exterior, noting that nothing has changed with the façade of the undersized supermarket since it opened in 1989.

Not a whole lot has changed on the inside either, beyond various reconfigurations. Indeed, when the “beer corner” turned into a whole beer “aisle” a few years back, it was a big news story around here.

The store occupies 42,000 square feet, which is 25 percent smaller than the Vons company prototypes.

The pharmacy, currently at the back of the store in a cramped, 431-square-foot space, would move to the old Elegant Bath space adjacent to the supermarket in the Minaret Mall, giving it 1,052 square feet.

Starbucks, currently confined to a 12-square-foot kiosk space that forces customers back into the soup area, would double its size and provide a large indoor seating area in the interior of the mall, which would be re-lighted under the plan.

With more room at the current Starbucks kiosk, the store would expand its delicatessen, he said.

The interior corridor that now links the supermarket to the mall, also would be revamped, with new windows and glazing, along with 10 images of Mammoth on the wall.

“Our idea is to give a little CPR to the mall,” Braaten said.

Page Winkler, the senior vice-president of MCG Architecture, of Irvine, directed the design for the remodel. Winkler also attended the meeting.

Braaten said he is familiar with exterior remodels of Vons stores, particularly in ski towns, such as Bend, Ore. He said he wants to bring that same kind of mojo to Mammoth.

“It is extremely important to Vons that we bring life to what is termed by the community as a ‘dying and decaying’ mall,” he said.

There are many facets to the project, from lighting to parking lot reconfiguration. The planning commission had several dozen pages to inspect, making sure the project fits into the various regulations and ordinances.

But in the end, the commission basically passed all of it, including a red, halo-lit sign that might give visitors a clue as to where the biggest grocery store in town actually is, even in snowy, winter conditions.

In creating the project, Braaten said the architects and designers had to overcome some daunting obstacles.

“A store expansion was explored in the past,” he said, “but due to a significant grade difference on the site, it was not deemed possible.

“The alternative and most feasible option to expand our grocery offering in the store was to relocate what we deem to be ‘stand-alone’ departments to another area of the shopping center. 

“The opportunity arose with the adjacent store space separated only by a common area.

“We and our landlord believe that expanding these high-traffic departments into the adjacent area of the shopping center will breathe new vitality into the mall and surrounding tenancies, and it will also take pressure off of the lower parking lot for shorter term visits associated with these services.”

Among other changes to the parking area would be ditching the parking spaces on the icy, north-facing side of the building. Rather, those spots would accommodate an expanded sidewalk.

Also, the twisty-turny route from Old Mammoth Road, currently in the middle of the parking lot, will be straight on, he said.

Toss in a dry creek flower and rock garden alongside the “skateboard steps” going up to the mall, a newer exterior color design and a few exterior tower features, Vons would look like a brand new store, right where the old one used to be.

The expanded rendition of the front of Vons