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[whitespace] Longs plan draws ire of neighbors

Los Gatos--Judging by the community meeting held by Longs Drugs last week, the company will be in for a serious showdown when its application to open up a new drug store on Pollard Road comes to the town.

The packed community meeting on the proposal March 29 at a nearby donut shop turned into a shouting match between Longs officials and angry neighbors, who charge that the Rinconada Hills Shopping Center landlord is trying to push out Rinconada Pharmacy in favor of a new corporate tenant with deeper pockets.

Longs came on the scene after a dispute arose over Rinconada Pharmacy's lease, which Santa Monica-based Duckett-Wilson Development Company claims is no longer valid. The Matsuos filed a lawsuit to keep the lease with the landlord.

At the meeting, Duckett's leasing manager, Patrick Conway, said that he had sent two renewal notices to the Matsuos which went unanswered. "We made two attempts to extend the lease with the same terms," he said. After that, Conway said he went to Longs.

David Matsuo said he couldn't comment on the lawsuit.

In the complaint, filed in December, the Matsuos charge that Duckett terminated the renewal option that was agreed to when the lease was originally signed in 1995, and that the termination came after Vivian Matsuo informed Duckett that "there were numerous serious structural, mechanical and electrical problems that existed at the shopping center." The Matsuos say they spent about $20,000 on improvements to their store before their lease was terminated.

Right now, Duckett claims the Matsuos are leasing the space on a month-to-month basis, but the Matsuos contend their lease extension, for five years, is still valid.

John Machado, a commercial real estate agent for Longs, said Longs is just filling space: "We saw a vacancy, it was represented to us, and we're trying to fill that vacancy," he said. "We're not in the business of trying to put this business out of business."

Conway said he just wanted a tenant: "If you don't want a Longs in here, I've still got 3,300 square feet of space I'm trying to lease," he told neighbors. "If you want a local owner, who's the neighborhood entrepreneur I can lease to?"

The main point of contention during upcoming hearings on the application, which was filed March 29, promises to be replacing a locally owned pharmacy with a chain store.

Nearby residents say Rinconada Pharmacy, which has been owned and operated by Los Gatos residents David and Vivian Matsuo for the past 12 years, has become invaluable to them.

Edie Ross, who lives near the shopping center, said that the neighborhood pharmacy is special to the neighborhood because its owners are willing to go out of their way to help the neighbors. "For two years, when I had serious hip problems and my husband traveled a lot, they would bring me my prescriptions and some groceries."

Other neighbors said they didn't want to lose the small-town business style of the pharmacy, which they said was willing to leave prescriptions behind the counter at the neighboring liquor store or send a bill for purchases at the end of the month.

Neighbors also questioned why Longs needs another store in the area, when it already has two each in Los Gatos and Campbell.

"We're in business," said Longs architect George Ramstad. "We're trying to expand. We're a publicly traded company, and we've done market research that indicates we'd do well here."

Machado added: "Our best stores are in high-income areas with high education levels.

Neighbors also charged that Longs wants to open up the new store to make itself a more attractive takeover candidate for potential corporate suitors.

"I have a concern that you're going to bring a Longs in here and run [Rinconada Pharmacy] out, then the Longs will close," said Catherine Grellet, a Los Gatos physician.

A spokesperson for Longs, which has 349 stores in eight states, said the company can't confirm or deny any pending deals.

Sheri Lewis, executive director of the Town of Los Gatos Chamber of Commerce, also spoke at the meeting: "Not only is the Chamber committed to local business, but the town is as well. We're very concerned that Longs is not the kind of business that belongs in this neighborhood," she said. "I would go back to Longs [management] and say that this is not the kind of neighborhood that would welcome a Longs with open arms."

When Longs met with the Conceptual Development Advisory Committee in January, members told the company they had concerns that a Longs might not be consistent with the general plan's goal of protecting resident-serving businesses and that there might be community resistance to losing the pharmacy.

The CDAC, which requested that Longs hold a public meeting, also cautioned Longs about selling alcohol in a shopping center where several other stores also sell it, and Longs dropped that part of their plan.

Several neighbors also slammed the Longs plan on grounds that it would increase the already strained parking and traffic situation in the area, but according to the Planning Department, the Longs proposal wouldn't change traffic patterns enough to require a traffic study.
Jeff Kearns

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