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Fresh and Easy

What started out sounding like pretty good news for fans of the Fresh & Easy grocery chain changed dramatically over the course of the day yesterday and into today. Word that the troubled chain finally found a new owner seemed good at first, then it started to turn bad. Ultimately, it ended up in complete confusion, anger and feelings of betrayal.

A long-rumored deal involving the California-based small-format grocer (whose problems have been well documented) was finally announced Tuesday, in a cheery news release from the new owner, private investment firm Yucaipa Companies LLC. “Yucaipa’s purchase is expected to be complete within three months,” it read. “In the meantime it is business as usual for most Fresh & Easy stores.”

That’s “most” Fresh & Easy stores. That one little word was virtually the only hint that there was more to this transaction than met the eye. Fresh & Easy fans who had feared large-scale closures had already breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing the news, until everyone started reading between the lines.

What the news release failed to mention was that the deal, with the chain’s British owners Tesco, only involves about 150 of the roughly 200 Fresh & Easy stores. Which ones are closing? No one really knows.

“As this news was just announced this morning we are still communicating with our employees and do not have a list of stores available at this time,” spokesman Brendan Wonnacott told Coupons in the News yesterday. As morning turned to afternoon, then evening, then the next day, “the list” failed to materialize, leaving breathless Fresh & Easy shoppers and employees waiting for answers – and angry that they weren’t getting any.

“You guys need to publish a list… you need to get in front of this,” wrote one commenter on Fresh & Easy’s Facebook page. “Shows bad management if you make announcement about closing stores and don’t list them or provide a link,” wrote another. “Guys you should have waited till you actually had a list of stores that are closing before making this announcement. Now we are all panicking thinking our local store might close,” complained a third.

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The news release also didn’t mention the terms of the deal, or how much Yucaipa was paying for the money-losing chain. Turns out it’s not paying a thing – in fact, in the ultimate ignominy for the problem-plagued Fresh & Easy, Tesco is essentially paying Yucaipa more than a quarter of a million bucks to take the whole mess off its hands. Yucaipa assumes the chain’s liabilities, and gets a loan of about $235 million from Tesco for its troubles.

Backroom business dealings are of little concern to shoppers and staff wondering if their neighborhood market is closing. But it’s hardly a confidence-builder, knowing that their stores’ owner was so eager to get rid of the financial albatross around its neck, that it would pay someone to take the whole thing away.

It also means Yucaipa has little incentive to bother with any of the most poorly-performing stores – why pour any of that free money it’s getting, into losing locations that even a deep-pocketed retail giant like Tesco couldn’t get to work?

It doesn’t help matters that even those whose stores are staying open, have to go through the hassle of re-enrolling in the store’s rewards program. “California state law does not allow the transfer of personal information of Friends Rewards members to the new buyer,” Fresh & Easy explained. “We will be sending instructions on re-enrollment within the next few days.” If your store is on the hit list, you can still use your points during the going-out-of-business sale.

In the end, many customers are upset with the old owners, they’re already upset with the new ones, and now they’re even upset with Fresh & Easy itself. Not that it could have known, given all the uncertainty, but for months, the chain has put on a sunny public face and somewhat disingenuously assured its customers that things would be just fine and no store closings were “planned.”

And now a quarter of the entire chain is shutting down. And the future of the rest is uncertain, since there’s been much speculation that Yucaipa might want to revive the former Wild Oats natural food chain, and turn all of the Fresh & Easy stores into Wild Oats – though the Los Angeles Times is citing “a person familiar with the company” as saying that’s not part of the plan.

Interesting times – though it seems the road ahead for Fresh & Easy shoppers and staff will be anything but “easy”.

What follows is a very partial list of Fresh & Easy store closings – the most comprehensive that exists at the moment – as reported by local media in the affected regions:

Clovis, CAShaw & Willow
Delano, CACecil Ave & High St
El Cajon, CA2nd St & Madison Ave
Elk Grove, CAElk Grove Florin Road and Calvine Road
Escondido, CAValley & Ash
Folsom, CANatoma St and Blue Ravine Rd
Fresno, CATulare & R Street
Gilbert, AZGilbert and Guadalupe Rd
Hesperia, CAMain & Topaz
Huntington Beach, CABeach Blvd & Terry Dr
Indio, CA42nd & Jackson
La Quinta, CACalle Tampico & Desert Club Dr
Las Vegas, NV“at least two locations”
Lincoln, CALincoln & Sterling
Modesto, CAOakdale Road and Lancey Dr
Sacramento, CAMack Road and Franklin Boulevard
Sacramento, CAWatt Avenue and El Camino Boulevard
San Francisco, CAThird Street and Carroll Avenue
San Jose, CA“at least two locations”
Santee, CAMission Gorge & Cuyamaca
Wasco, CAHwy 46 & Griffith Ave

8 Comments

  1. And now everyone knows how the Brits treated their employees.

    Tesco demonstrates its true nature and gives a new enhanced meaning to disingenuous.

  2. Anonymous Long Beach Area says:

    Yesterday I just checked the “store locator” part of the official F&E website and noticed a couple of stores I had previously shopped in were no longer on the map (so they must be closed now). This includes:
    Paramount & Del Amo location in Long Beach/Lakewood, CA
    Downey & Alondra location in Paramount, CA
    Hope this helps!

  3. SanDiegoInExile says:

    The Sacramento Bee reported that F+E is leaving the entire market, mostly due to the distance from the Riverside warehouse. The Stockton warehouse was never built, so no F+E north of the SF bay metro area. http://www.sacbee.com/2013/09/10/5723643/fresh-easy-closing-sacramento.html#disqus_thread

  4. The list and the streets/intersection are not matching. The Santee and Escondido locations are certainly in the wrong place; I suspect the rest of the list is scrambled as well.

  5. Anonymous South Bay LA says:

    Torrance (Hawthorne Blvd.) staying open according to phone call and article in Daily Breeze newspaper (dailybreeze.com)

  6. Rialto, CA (210 freeway & Riverside Drive) and San Bernardino, CA (Highland & Del Rosa) are also closing.

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