Fresh & Easy Steps Into Ford Dealer's Shoes in South L.A.

U.K.-based grocery chain plans new store on Crenshaw Boulevard; some cheer move into under-served area, others want promises on operating procedures to be made in public.
Site of the new Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market
A NEW CHAPTER — Crenshaw Motors Ford, left, was a fixture along Crenshaw Boulevard for close to 70 years. The site at West 52nd Street and South Crenshaw Boulevard has been demolished, right, to make way for a Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market.

Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Inc. has begun work on its latest South Los Angeles location at South Crenshaw Boulevard and West 52nd Street.

The company, a unit of United Kingdom-based Tesco, has purchased the land and plans to clear the site by demolishing the former home of Crenshaw Motors Ford, according to a contractor hired for the job.

The Ford dealership, which had been a Crenshaw Boulevard fixture for nearly 70 years, shut its doors in January 2007. Its departure created a cultural void as much as an economic one, prompting Los Angeles Times columnist Erin Aubrey to note at the time that " ... for blacks historically used to second- or third-rate treatment at the hands of the retail establishment, the whole service culture of car lots was significant — shiny floors, up-to-the-minute merchandise, upbeat salespeople catering to every customer whim."

The appearance of the Fresh & Easy chain in South L.A. holds the potential to ease the loss of the historic car dealership on Crenshaw Boulevard. The grocery chain has aimed in recent years to find profits in inner-city markets — areas that many U.S. chains have long overlooked because of high land costs and perceptions of a lack of sufficient spending power to make major investments pencil out in such neighborhoods. Fresh & Easy's website says that the chain believes "in making fresh and high-quality food accessible in every neighborhood."

The chain's focus on inner-city markets has dovetailed with efforts by the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles (CRA/LA) and various elected officials to promote South Los Angeles as a viable market for retailers.

Carolyn Hull, who works on CRA/LA projects in South Los Angeles, said representatives of Fresh & Easy and several other retailers joined an earlier "tour" of South Los Angeles hosted by the staffers of the agency and other city officials.

"Oftentimes, the retailers don't understand the purchasing power in our communities, so by bringing them in, by doing tours, we kind of get over the perception (of South L.A.), and they see the reality that there is ample opportunity to be in this community and to make their retail stores viable," Hull said.

Indeed, CRA/LA officials have grocery stores as a "key sector" in plans to boost the retail landscape of South Los Angeles.

The site at West 52nd Street and South Crenshaw Boulevard is close to the Crenshaw-Slauson Redevelopment Project Area operated by CRA/LA, according to Hull, who said the proximity is one of the factors that drew the interest of Fresh & Easy executives. CRA/LA has in recent years provided grants and low-income loans to businesses in the area for commercial façade improvement, the purchasing of equipment, and reducing land costs.

"This reduces blight, and public funding attracts private enterprise," Hull said.

Indeed, the idea of providing foods in South L.A. that are fresh is, well, not easy.

The Alliance for Healthy and Responsible Grocery Stores — a coalition organized with a goal of ensuring access to healthy foods in all communities — has been a vocal critic of Fresh & Easy. A spokesperson for the group said that parent company Tesco has been unwilling to discuss the formation of a community benefits agreement (CBA) that would give the community an opportunity to be a partner with Tesco.

"When Tesco came to L.A., they made promises in a very public way that they were going to operate differently from the (grocery) industry — chief being they would open in areas that other stores would not; be a good neighbor; be environmental leaders in the industry; and provide for good jobs," said Elliott Petty, a spokesman for the alliance. "That's why we offered them (the opportunity) to put those promises in writing; in a very public way."

Petty said that the discussion of a CBA with Tesco would be held "with a broad community of stakeholders regarding good jobs, good benefits on the job, more on their environmental plans, sustainable lifestyle, and keeping neighborhoods clean."

Calls to Tesco's offices in El Segundo had not been returned by presstime.

Residents of the area where the new store will set up shop are optimistic, in any case.

"I think it's a great idea for the community," said Judith Dorsey, a 31-year resident of West 52nd Street. "I'd rather have that than a liquor store or a strip mall."

Thandisizwe Chimurenga is an Assistant Editor at the L.A. Watts Times.

Photos by Jericl Cat / Thandisizwe Chimurenga

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