Residents Rally Today to Protest Closure of Yet Another Grocery in South L.A.

While Central Ave. celebrates a ground-breaking ceremony for a new Northgate supermarket today, residents in another part of South L.A. will gather to protest the closing of yet another Ralph’s.

The shuttering of the supermarket located at King Blvd. and Western Ave., scheduled for June 21, marks the second loss of a Ralph’s in the area in just a few months’ time. Perhaps most maddeningly for residents, it came without much notice or effort to work with the community.

Where Ralph’s has held community meetings in other areas of town where stores were scheduled for closings, the only notice residents appeared to have was a sign on the store itself saying the doors would close for good at 6 p.m. on June 21st. There’s not even mention of it in the weekly circular ad particular to that store, despite the fact that the prices listed there are good til just two days prior to the closing.

This is not the first time Ralph’s has shown itself to be a poor neighbor, Jung Hee Choi of Community Coalition (one of the groups organizing the protest today) told me.

Several years ago, CoCo had worked to bring representatives of Ralph’s together with the community to hear residents’ complaints about the quality of the products sold in the store. Meats offered at the time were expired or were leftovers that hadn’t sold in other stores in wealthier parts of town. Produce offerings were not in much better shape.

While things had improved after that intervention — at least for a little while — products that are supposed to be “fresh” still appear to doing their best to stretch the definition of the word, a notion supported by the strong and not particularly pleasant smells that greet shoppers as they step through the front door.

“The quality is even less than that at the Food-4-Less” (also owned by Ralph’s parent company, Kroger’s) down the way, resident Celia Castellanos told me.

Produce bought one day would go bad a day or two later.

For her family, that meant they had to drive to find healthier options instead of being able to walk to the store in their neighborhood.

And it’s not like they were looking for hard-to-find health food products, she said.

They just wanted “things that would not rot.”

Why, she wanted to know, had the Ralph’s not taken the opportunity to work with the community to find a way to provide them with better products? It could have been a mutually beneficial endeavor, she felt. Especially now, when many within the community are really attuned to the need for healthier food and willing to organize around the issue.

Instead of investing in communities, she said, “they’re pulling out of lower-income areas” and “going in the opposite direction.”

They’re “just going after the almighty dollar,” long-time resident and occasional shopper at the store Isaac White told me, and this particular store just hadn’t found a way to be very cost-effective.

The poor quality and smaller size meant it hadn’t attracted too many people besides those that had limited transportation options. Meanwhile, the Food-4-Less had many of the same products discounted even further, he said, attracting people on a budget who couldn’t be choosy if products were damaged, discolored, or edging toward expiration dates.

The closing of the store, he half-joked, was probably going to win somebody in management a raise for saving money through consolidation. The good products, he said, would be sent off to the better stores while the poorer ones would be dumped in the Food-4-Less.

They don’t fear people complaining the way they do in other parts of town, he said, because they know people don’t always have the luxury of choice.

That would change with the rally today, long-time resident Pam Licavoli said.

While not much can be done about a store that is closing, she and others agree, the fact that the parent company retains a number of Food-4-Less stores in the area means that it is still important to get the message out that residents deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect shown to customers in wealthier communities.

For that reason, Licavoli said, there probably wouldn’t be too much in the way of speeches by organizers at the rally. Instead, it will be an opportunity for the community to have its say about what a poor neighbor Ralph’s turned out to be.

She chuckled a little, anticipating how colorful some of the commentary might get at the event.

“It will be good for the community to sound off.”

Join residents and concerned community members TODAY at the Ralph’s located at Western and King beginning at 4:30 p.m. For more information visit cocosouthla.org

  • Erik Griswold

    Look for enormous changes in the Grocery industry in the Los Angeles area very soon

  • calwatch

    Quite frankly that supermarket will be repurposed to be a Latino supermarket. I know for some reason non-Latinos avoid shopping there but they always have the lowest prices on fruits, vegetables, and meat. Although some, like El Super, are below standard quality, others, like the Cardenas chain and Superior, have the same quality standards as the bargain Anglo markets. This would also be a great location for a Wal Mart Neighborhood Market, although then you’ll hear the whining from union leaders, who don’t realize that Wal Mart’s lack of on site butcher services and high prices/low quality of produce and fresh goods have naturally hurt their growth in the marketplace.

  • Anonymous

    I love Superior. Haven’t bought produce elsewhere since I found it.

    I feel bad that people will have to go farther to get groceries now, but really, is this what city planning/economic development is coming to – the point where you can’t close an unprofitable business because it’s in a low-income area? What kind of incentive does this give to other people that might be thinking about opening a business there?

    Generic grocery stores are closing all over the place due to competition from places like Wal-Mart and Target on one side, and supermarkets that better cater to local demand, like the Latino and Asian chains, on the other side. People need to stop being so afraid of natural changes in the market.

  • sahra

    On the surface, it does look like a case of the market at work. But it really wasn’t that. It was more about a grocer not taking a community seriously. The corporation assumed the community wouldn’t want good products and could be sold sub-standard goods, sometimes for higher prices than those in wealthier communities. People desperately need a good grocery there, but just because they need it, it doesn’t mean they have to accept rotten produce and expired meat, which was what this Ralph’s has offered for decades. Maybe if they had been a better neighbor, they would have been more profitable. But given their long history of malpractice (CoCo took them to task over rotten food a decade ago) and lack of respect for the community they served, of course they weren’t profitable. It is just unfortunate, because it perpetuates the stereotype that businesses in the “hood” can’t be profitable. When the reality is that treating a community disrespectfully is what likely made them unprofitable.

  • Anonymous

    If a business fails because it doesn’t meet the needs of its customers, that should be the market at work. The corporation assumed it could it sell people rotten food. If it is losing money, then people did prove that they don’t have to accept crappy products.

    This may be naivete on my part, but if Ralph’s is that poor of a neighbor, why should the community want them to stay? Asking Ralph’s to stay empowers them to keep treating the community poorly. A better answer would be for someone else to prove Ralph’s wrong – that you can turn a profit in the ‘hood running a business that respects its customers. That could be one of the smaller Asian or Latino chains, or it could be someone local. Maybe there’s a local business owner that runs a convenience store or something like that and could be encouraged to take the next step up?

    I’m not so naive as to not understand that there is some serious history of discrimination that makes it very difficult for a local entrepreneur to open a business of that size at MLK and Western. Changing that should be the goal, and maybe there are some community organizations or government agencies that could help make/arrange business loans. Ultimately, though, the way to change Ralph’s behavior isn’t protests but kicking their ass at making profits. That creates a different set of problems – once profitability is established, the big guys will try to swoop in (see Wal-Mart in Chinatown) – but it seems like that would be a better set of problems to have than trying to retain a business that treats people so badly.

  • sahra

    They weren’t asking Ralph’s to stay. They were protesting their poor neighborhship. The only notice of closure was a sign in the window and word of mouth. For residents who don’t have transportation in the area, that could cause hardship. Also, Ralph’s is owned by Kroger’s, who owns Food-4-Less, a chain prevalent in the area. So, it was to send a message to the parent company about the desire to see the corp. behave better in the community.

    Re: smaller grocers coming in. That’s tough. There are some corner-store conversions that are underway, like one off Slauson and Crenshaw. But most smaller markets can’t afford to offer a big selection of produce and fresh things. They have to jump through a lot of expensive hurdles with the health dept. to convert their stores, and most don’t have the capital to do it. Plus, produce is the least profitable product and most cost-heavy product a grocer can offer, so it really is only a larger corp. that can manage to offer produce while making up costs on other products. That’s the challenge of working in a neighborhood like South LA.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, I guess I misunderstood the intent of the protest, which makes my first comment pretty irrelevant. Maybe the expensive hurdles need to change too. Smaller chains and stores have started up in other communities, we should be able to figure it out here too.

    Superior has locations not too far away (Western/Manchester, La Brea/Rodeo), so maybe this location would be a good fit for them? I shop at La Brea/Rodeo all the time… cheaper than the bigger chains and haven’t had any quality problems.

  • sahra

    No–you weren’t so off base. I actually had to call and ask why they would protest the closure of such a lousy store because that was how they were labeling their protest. In the end, I think it is kind of an important moment because most people think of Ralph’s as a respectable chain that upholds a certain standard of quality. Unless they’ve lived in a poorer neighborhood, they would have no way of knowing how great the gap is between the quality of an average store and that of one in the “‘hood.” So, it seems like a story of poorer people just not patronizing a store enough when it was really a story of a store not offering the community goods of a passable quality.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Do You Know Where to Find Healthy Food in South L.A.? RideSouthLA and CSU Take Riders on a Different Kind of Food Tour

|
“They’ve been receiving it pretty decently, I must say,” Karen Whitman, the “Mama” of Mama’s Chicken, told the riders with the Healthy Food tour regarding her customers’ response to the fresh produce she recently began offering at her shop. “The more people that know about it, the more that’s coming in.” Located at the corner […]

Visit a New Grocery Stand, Help Build Bikes for Kids, Participate in a Vacant Lots Project, or Help Recode L.A.

|
There are several things afoot in South L.A. this weekend that will essentially cover the four food groups of livability: fresh food stands, bicycle building (and donating), recoding the city’s outdated zoning codes (OK, that’s a stretch), and vacant lot identification. The best thing? They’re spaced out well enough that you can check out all […]