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.