Mervyn's demise in Petaluma has been good for Safeway.

Since the clothing retailer filed bankruptcy and moved out of its Petaluma store three years ago, the building has remained vacant on the edge of an otherwise bustling South McDowell Boulevard shopping center.

About 100 yards south of the current Safeway, the empty Mervyn's storefront attracts beggars and drunks, residents have reported, and its large parking lot is largely unused.

But all that may change soon.

Safeway representatives confirmed this week that the grocery giant intends to move into the spot, more than doubling its current square footage. They are currently in talks with Petaluma planners and the state alcohol licensing agency to transfer the liquor license.

Safeway also took over a former Mervyn's in Campbell earlier this year, upgrading the building with energy-efficient refrigeration and lighting, creating a "Lifestyle Safeway" with a full-serve deli, self-checkout stands and a new Starbucks with outdoor seating.

The existing Petaluma Safeway was built in 1973 and underwent a "Lifestyle" remodel in 2006, company spokeswoman Susan Houghton said. It is about 27,000 square feet.

The old Mervyn's building is about 65,000 square feet.

Shoppers at Safeway on Thursday supported the move.

"It meets my needs," said Judy Vivas Hillery, who has lived in Petaluma since 1976. "If they don't have something, they'll get it for you."

She also noted that th parking may be better at the Mervyn's site.

"I like this store already, but it would be nice to have it bigger, and the parking lot over there would be more open," said John Rosetti.

Houghton said if the permitting process goes well, the new store could open next year.

She cautioned that the planning process is in the early stages. The company applied for a liquor license transfer last month.

She said the depressed real estate market has allowed Safeway to seek out better locations.

"We did the same thing in Campbell with Mervyn's. This is one of the things we are able to do in this market, look at infill places that are vacant," she said.

Previously, discount retailer T.J. Maxx was apparently close to a deal to open in the former Mervyn's. Although company representatives wouldn't confirm their intentions, last year they advertised for an experienced manager to run a store with about 40 full- and part-time workers.

Because a grocery store is a different use than retail, city approval will be necessary.