Fresh & Uneasy

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On June 21, the Chronicle reported that Fresh & Easy, an American chain owned by the British grocery giant Tesco, had signed a lease on the former Delano’s IGA space at 23rd and South Van Ness.

Delano’s, a six-store chain owned by Harvey Delano, former CEO of Cala/Bell Markets, closed in February of this year, after months of rumors that the chain was on its last legs. The store, which was in a centrally located but low-foot-traffic area, was frequently deserted. Often, cashiers reported, thieves would run into the store, grab an armload of groceries and run out again as fast as they could.

Will Fresh & Easy have the same issues? It’s hard to say. The company has no plans to reopen the store anytime soon, according to spokesman Brendan Wonnacott. “The process for each site is vastly different,” he said. “There are construction permits, conditional use permits. I couldn’t even give you a window.”

The Delano’s at 18th and Collingwood was closed for just one month before being reopened by the Mill Valley-based Mollie Stone grocery chain in March. Fresh & Easy reopened another former Delano’s location in the outer Richmond district in June.

The South Van Ness Fresh & Easy store will be the first foray into the Mission by a corporation that is currently the third largest grocery retailer in the world. Tesco, Fresh & Easy’s parent company, has the distinction of having been the object of an antitrust lawsuit by Walmart in 2005. Like Walmart, it has been accused of price-fixing and turning a blind eye to labor abuses carried out by its subcontractors. Of the comparisons to Walmart, Wonnacott said, “We will always be compared to somebody.”

According to “Shopping for a Market,” a 2007 report on Tesco’s entry into the North American market published by the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute, Tesco has been plotting its move into North America since the mid-2000s, when it began selling off some of its European landholdings to finance the expansion. When the 2008 recession hit, Tesco was ready. Domestic business loans dried up, California’s regional grocery chains began to go under, and Fresh & Easy was there with the capital to reopen them. Fresh & Easy now operates more than 175 stores along the West Coast, and counting.

Fresh & Easy will be the first non-union grocery chain that the Mission has seen in decades. While the neighborhood is packed with small grocery markets, the chain stores — Safeway and Foods Co. — are both unionized. So was Delano’s. The other large grocery store in the neighborhood, Rainbow, is a worker-owned cooperative.

When contacted, Safeway, Foods Co. and Fresh & Easy all declined to comment on the specific benefits they offer to employees. All said that they offer health insurance, a 401K and a starting wage right around San Francisco’s minimum wage.

Residents interviewed near the shuttered Delano’s on South Van Ness said they would welcome another grocery store to the neighborhood, if it will create more jobs and offer a competitive benefits package.

“They’re environmentally minded,” said Lauren Crawford, who described herself as an “avid jogger.” “They try try to bring healthy food, which I like.”

“I think it would be cool,” said Gregory Medina, 33, as he walked his dog nearby. He added that he would be pleased to be able to walk to the grocery store again.

Fresh & Easy is slated to open its next location, in the Bayview, on August 24. The number of people who applied for those jobs, according to Wonnacott? More than a thousand.

Filed under: Business, Food, Front Page, Shopping

7 Comments

  1. Bob Schneider

    Good article, but you’re wrong about the F&E’s Outer Richmond location having once been a Delano’s. It was originally a Safeway, then an Albertsons/Lucky, and then stood vacant for several years. Now F&E has half, and the other half is a CVS.

    There’s of course been lots of debate about the new F&E, with reaction ranging from deep disappointment (small selection, nonunion, too much plastic, limited organic choices, manufacturers coupons not accepted) to pleasant surprise (tasty products; good for singles; lots of parking; fast-self-checkout; some excellent bargains, especially with their discount coupons).

    One point in the company’s favor that critics don’t mention is that F&E has shown a commitment to opening in under-served areas like Compton, South Central, and now SF’s Bayview. Are there TJs and Whole Foods’s in those places?

  2. Walking into a Tesco supermarket is a truly disheartening experience: they shrink wrap everything. I’ll be sticking with Rainbow and eating less.

  3. Mark-In-the-Mission

    He’s right, the Outer Richmond Fresh & Easy used to be an Albertsons. Here’s some details about it from the Fresh & Easy Buzz blog http://freshneasybuzz.blogspot.com/2011/06/tescos-fresh-easy-opens-first-store-in.html

    The old Delano’s in the Richmond is still vacant: http://freshneasybuzz.blogspot.com/search/label/DeLano%27s%20IGA%20Markets

    Interesting that the Chronicle reported on Fresh & Easy taking over the Mission D Delano’s on June 21, since the http://www.freshneasybuzz.blogspot.com blog reported it the day before. Can read it here: http://freshneasybuzz.blogspot.com/search/label/DeLano%27s%20IGA%20Markets

    Here’s some details about wages and benefits at Fresh & Easy since you said they wouldn’t respond http://freshneasybuzz.blogspot.com/2011/07/fresh-easy-neighborhood-market-press.html

    Fresh & Easy lost $300 million this year the blog says. Wonder if it will be around long enough to open in the Mission.

  4. Scott Bourne

    What research! What a story for this neighborhood! This site isn’t an “attempt” to survive the collapse of print media and print organization….it’s an evolutionary leap to a place where the Times (London, New York) never could and never did reach. What a piece of work.

  5. Valenchia

    I am looking forward to F&E coming to the Mission; it has a different approach than other grocery stores and I think it will appeal to many people. Those who dislike it for one reason or another can just shop elsewhere.
    Unfortunately, things are never that easy in SF. I expect that the unions will oppose this. They are focused only on their own needs and not those of the neighborhood. And, if the site stays closed and F&E is not able to hire locals to work with there, that is fine with the unions; they represent only their members (and often just their leadership) so there is no reason to expect them to care about the rest of us. But they are a powerful special interest group that is good at intimidating politicians, so one would expect them to put up a fight.

  6. polloasado

    I wonder why Trader Joe’s decided not to go in there? They were talking to the landlord. Would have been good for the neighborhood, I’d think.

  7. sfmissionman

    Living close by, for years I was a Cala shopper. Although “my” Cala between 23rd and 24th on South Van Ness Avenue had it’s issues, it was a full service, 24 hour, “mainline” grocery store, to which I could walk, and I never felt a need to go to the (still) crumby Safeway on Mission Street west of Bernal Heights or the (now remodeled) one at 16th Street and Bryant Street / Potrero Avenue. There are other food stores to which I can walk – a few quite cool, which is part of why I like the Mission. But most of the Latino stores, while cheap, are narrowly focused on a Latino clientele, and I’m not into only cooking Latino: it’s a bigger world than that. Exchanging Cala for Delano’s was a big step down: Delano’s “business plan,” if they had one, seemed to be to go out of business. Or maybe, being based in Marin, they were just slow to realize that Latinos, except for those with WIC coupons, would never set foot in the place to buy food, merely to steal it. (So did “hipsters,” and people from Bernal Dwellings.) But at least Delanos had a few basic things, in case I ran out. I began driving to San Mateo County for groceries, and I still do. I buy in bulk and store at home, like when I lived in a remote rural area. But the Mission is not rural or remote. It just has limited food options for the same reason that other “gritty, disadvantaged” neighborhoods do. I’d prefer to see a unionized, smallish, mainline (OK, gringo) chain come in, but that’s what we had, and Cala/Delano failed. So I’m looking forward to Tesco. Will anyone actually prefer an empty parking lot closed off by chainlink fence, and a deteriorating building, to ANY functioning grocery store? I won’t.

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