A new Fresh & Easy will not be coming to the Mission — at least not anytime soon.
Plans for a new Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market on South Van Ness Avenue between 23rd and 24th streets are being put on hold while the U.K. owner of the money-losing grocery chain conducts a strategic review. Construction of a South Van Ness location could be tabled entirely depending on the outcome of the review.
In March, the San Francisco Planning Commission approved Fresh & Easy’s application to build a new store on South Van Ness Avenue where an empty building that used to house a Delano’s IGA supermarket is currently a magnet for trash.
But on Dec. 5, Tesco PLC, Fresh & Easy’s parent company, announced that it would conduct a strategic review of the chain. The multinational grocery and general merchandise retailer, headquartered in Cheshunt, U.K., said it is considering all options, including selling Fresh & Easy to another company or closing it entirely.
“Whilst the business has many positives, its journey to scale and acceptable returns will take too long relative to other opportunities,” said Philip Clarke, Tesco’s chief executive officer, in a statement. “I have therefore decided to conduct a strategic review of Fresh & Easy, with all options under consideration.”
The timeframe for the review has not been determined, said company spokesman Brendan Wonnacott. An update on its status is set for April 2013.
Fresh & Easy has been in San Francisco since 2007, when it opened a site in the Bayview. Currently there are 19 Fresh & Easy stores in the Bay Area.
In the past, Fresh & Easy has faced resistance from the Mission community because its employees are not unionized, unlike those at Foods Co. and Safeway, the Mission’s two other grocery chains. It has also gotten flack for its self-checkout lanes, which some have called “anti-labor” and which the Planning Commission worried could make it easier for minors to buy alcohol.
But neighbors seemed most concerned about the South Van Ness property remaining a vacant eyesore.
Vanessa Castelinos, who lives next door to the property, said homeless people often hop the fence to go into the empty parking lot. Though she doesn’t feel that the vacant storefront makes the neighborhood less safe, she said having a market there would give the Mission a better look.
“It looks really ugly,” Castelinos said as she sat on her stoop and looked over at the property. “A place to shop or something would make the neighborhood nicer.”
On Wednesday, Joe Pham walked his dog in the former Delano’s parking lot, which is now fenced off and covered with trash.
“I think a lot of people throw more trash out here because it’s a vacant lot,” said Pham, who lives across the street on Shotwell. “I’d like a store there because I am a cook and it would be convenient to get certain groceries there, instead of having to travel to Safeway or Foods Co.”
Despite the decision to put new developments on hold, Fresh & Easy is still proceeding through the city’s permitting process.
“There have not been any changes communicated to the Planning Department in relation to Tesco’s latest actions,” said Brittany Bendix, the city planner assigned to the project.
Abigail Sawyer, who lives across the street from the shuttered Delano’s, said that if Tesco is just planning to put the project on hold, the Planning Department should pull Fresh & Easy’s permit approval and open up the property to another grocery chain, or allow neighbors to turn the lot into a community garden.
“Having this vacant lot in front of my house for two years has become really irritating,” Sawyer said. “It’s just garbage.”