Controversy again is brewing in Sonoma over a chain store possibly coming to town, in this case a Peet's Coffee & Tea that would be a block away from the plaza in what used to be the city's fire station.
The proposed developer of the 10,500-square-foot property at the corner of Broadway and Patten Street on Thursday confirmed Peet's interest in the site.
"If we want them, we can have them," said Doug Wiele, president and founding partner of Foothill Partners, Inc., which is based in El Dorado Hills.
Wiele's company is negotiating to purchase the property from the city's redevelopment agency. He said the deal would require him to lease space in the new retail complex to both a "local-serving" coffee shop and restaurant.
Wiele said Peet's fits that criteria. But others view the Emeryville-based coffee maker, which has 192 stores in six states, as a corporate threat to Sonoma's independently-owned stores.
The fact the coffee shop would be a stone's throw from the city plaza also is drawing concern.
"When you bring in the franchises, they are going to kill the mom-and-pop stores, which is what is unique about Sonoma," said Kanak Raj, who owns Crown Cleaners and Formal Wear on Broadway, just north of the old fire station.
Sonoma has frequently wrestled with the issue of chain stores, most recently over plans by Staples to open in a 14,000-square-foot building that formerly housed a Ford car dealership.
The lively community debate over those plans prompted the City Council to consider adopting new zoning codes to regulate chain stores. But that discussion went nowhere.
Wiele said he's yet to decide whether he wants Peet's to occupy his proposed development.
A spokeswoman for the coffee company said Peet's does not disclose information about upcoming stores until a lease is signed and permits have been issued.
But the on-line brochure for the property already displays Peet's logo on a 1,799-square-foot space on the corner of the building closest to Broadway.
And the brokerage firm representing Wiele's company — Retail West, Inc. — represents Peet's in other acquisitions.
Wiele said that no matter whom he selects to occupy the complex, the tenants must have a long-term and viable business plan.
"I need to show my bank that these are not all start-ups with a hope and a prayer of succeeding," he said.
But some other coffee shop owners in Sonoma perceive the publicly-traded Peet's as a threat to their bottom lines.
The company's corporate filings state that Peet's competes not just with the likes of Starbucks — which also has outlets in Sonoma — but also with "small single-unit independently owned coffeehouses."
"It would certainly impact our business in a tough economy," said Dave Mock, who owns Hot Shots, a drive-through coffee outlet about a block away from the fire station development.
Ro Rhodd, a frequent Hot Shots customer, said she would continue to patronize the outlet even if Peet's opened down the street. But she said she supports Peet's coming to town anyway for economic reasons. "The more businesses, the more jobs," she said.
Even Raj, who's operated his cleaning business on Broadway for 33 years, acknowledged that Peet's could benefit his bottom line by drawing more people to the area.