Wednesday, January 27, 2021     Volume: 21, Issue: 47

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on January 6th, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 45 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 45

Future of Old Town Market still unclear

By Kasey Bubnash

Orcutt’s Old Town Market is up and running as a local neighborhood grocery store again after a roller-coaster of a year, but the future of the store remains uncertain.  

In May 2020, longtime market owners Mark and Wendy Steller announced in a Facebook post that they had suddenly received an eviction notice shortly after their building at 405 E. Clark Ave. was sold to the Natural Healing Center, the retail side of a cannabis cultivation company based on the Central Coast. 

The Old Town Market reopened as a grocery store under new ownership at the end of 2020, but its future is still uncertain.

The Natural Healing Center hopes to use the space—one of the few locations in Old Town Orcutt that meets the county’s zoning requirements for cannabis retail permits—as a café and marijuana dispensary and is in the middle of an extensive application process to do so. 

News of the market’s closure was met with pushback and grief from a number of community members who say the store is a staple of Old Town Orcutt, and one that offers necessary services as the only grocery store in the Old Town area. 

“Our store’s impending closure will be a loss not just for us, but for the community,” the Stellers wrote in their May 2020 Facebook post. “The history of this market goes far beyond the 16 years in which we have had the honor of running it. It was the original Scolari’s Market and has been serving this town as a grocery store since 1948. We know some will be concerned that Old Town Orcutt no longer has its own grocery store; please know that we did everything we could to save it but ultimately were unsuccessful.”

Despite hundreds of comments of support online and outrage voiced at ensuing county meetings, the Stellers continued with liquidation sales through the summer and fall of 2020 and ultimately closed the doors of the market on Dec. 3, 2020. 

But then on Dec. 23, the Old Town Market suddenly reopened under new ownership, and not as a Natural Healing Center dispensary, but as a local grocery store once more. 

According to the Santa Barbara County Assessor Division, the Old Town Orcutt space was sold again on Dec. 11, 2020, to F and A Holding LLC, which lists Nabil Fidel as the main contact. Fidel and his brothers own several restaurants and markets on the Central Coast, according to the Santa Maria Times, including 7 Stars Food Store and Sr. Taco in Santa Maria, Hapy Bistro in Pismo Beach, and the Santa Ynez Café in Solvang.

The Fidel family couldn’t be reached for comment before the Sun’s press time. 

Joe Armendariz, a spokesperson for the Natural Healing Center, confirmed that the company sold the Old Town Market space in December 2020 so it could continue to benefit the community as a grocery store while the Natural Healing Center continues its retail cannabis application process, which likely won’t be completed until at least March of this year. 

According to Santa Barbara County’s existing cannabis ordinance, one dispensary is allowed within each of the county’s six unincorporated community plan areas, including Orcutt and Los Alamos. The county’s process to determine which companies are awarded these lucrative permits includes three phases and is supposed to heavily weigh the company’s background and its potential fit within a community.

The Natural Healing Center is one of 23 applicants throughout the county that made it through the first phase of the county’s application process, and is one of six applicants fighting for a single permit in the Orcutt area. Those applicants are now advancing to the second phase, which includes a county review of their business operations proposals and licensing teams. 

Armendariz said that while he believes Natural Healing Center dispensaries are nothing short of the best, the competition in Orcutt is stiff. 

If Natural Healing Center is unsuccessful in obtaining its cannabis retail permit, he said the Old Town Market will remain in the hands of its new owners, who he said plan to continue offering grocery services. If Natural Healing Center is awarded the permit, Armendariz said the company plans to reacquire the market space and turn it into a dispensary and local café as proposed. 

This somewhat complicated negotiation, he said, allowed the Old Town Market’s previous owners, the Stellers, to profit from selling their liquor license to the store’s new owners. And even if the new owners aren’t able to keep the Old Town Market space in the future, Armendariz said they’ll be able to use their highly coveted liquor license to operate elsewhere. 

“This whole process from the beginning to now has really been an effort on our part to create a win-win-win,” Armendariz told the Sun

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