Next time you plan to do your grocery shopping, better call ahead to make sure your store is still solvent. The bankruptcies are coming fast and furious, and Fresh & Easy has now become the latest to go bust.
“As part of our wind down process, we have filed for protection under the Chapter 11 bankruptcy code,” the California-based grocer announced Friday to its remaining customers. “This will enable us to continue the orderly wind down of our business and sale of our assets, and enable us to maximize the value of our assets for our creditors and stakeholders.”
Of course, few customers may have been around to even hear the news, since Fresh & Easy is already in the midst of shutting down all of its stores. So the bankruptcy is less of a surprise, than it is just the inevitable other shoe dropping. It was just a week ago that Fresh & Easy announced it would begin holding going-out-of-business sales in its nearly 100 stores, effective immediately. Speculation swirled that a bankruptcy was imminent.
And now it’s happened. So the “everything must go” notice on the going-out-of-business sale signs now refers not only to the contents of the stores, but to the stores themselves.
The obituary for Fresh & Easy has been written so many times, it seems somewhat repetitive to write yet another one. In a nutshell, British grocer Tesco decided in 2007 that Americans on the West Coast would like small-format grocery stores with a limited selection, no cashiers and in often-lousy locations. “It really felt like aliens crash-landed here in their Tesco-mobile and didn’t even look around to see what Americans liked,” a disgruntled former customer once said. Tesco lost a billion dollars on the concept before Fresh & Easy went bankrupt, for the first time, in 2013. The current owners, who bought the bankrupt chain, tried to revive it by closing a bunch of stores, raising prices, paring down the product selection and eliminating popular store coupons.
Unsurprisingly, that didn’t exactly endear the new owners to shoppers. And that brings us to the second, and undoubtedly final, bankruptcy.
Fresh & Easy had plenty of detractors, but to be sure, it still had its fans. “It is very sad to see this store go. Loved the pre-made meals, fish, meat, etc. Most of all will miss the neighborhood feel,” one shopper wrote on the store’s Facebook page. “Thank you so much for opening stores in blue collar/working class areas! This is something that Trader Joe’s is STILL unwilling to do!” another added. “F&E always felt like community mart, not a huge cavern of processed food,” a third commenter offered.
Fresh & Easy’s demise comes as A&P is winding down on the East Coast, and Haggen is drastically shrinking in the hopes of emerging from bankruptcy. Many retail analysts chalk up the grocers’ decline to an inability to compete with the Walmarts and Whole Foods of the world, though that ignores Fresh & Easy’s innate troubles, A&P’s mismanagement and Haggen’s disastrous decision to suddenly expand its store count nearly tenfold. And you can’t blame any of that on Walmart or Whole Foods.
A&P and Haggen have already announced the sale of a number of their stores to other grocers. But there’s no word on what will happen to any of Fresh & Easy’s former locations. Many sites that were shuttered in the last round of closings still stand empty.
“Sad news,” one Facebook commenter wrote succinctly, summing up the feelings of Fresh & Easy’s remaining fans. “Thank you for trying.”
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