Albertsons Closing Means One Less Grocery Store in SD Food Desert

Albertsons Closing Means One Less Grocery Store in SD Food Desert

Photo courtesy of Kimco

The City Heights Albertsons

The Albertsons in City Heights is one of 11 in Southern California closing its doors next month.

The departure comes two decades after Price Club founder Sol Price and CityLink developed the Albertsons facility to stoke community revitalization. Price’s motivation then: the closure of a Vons in the neighborhood.

Speak City Heights

Many call City Heights a food desert because it falls short on grocery retail space. Its seven full-service grocery stores offer just 1.64 square feet of retail space per resident, compared with the industry standard of 3 feet, according to a 2011 study by Social Compact, a nonprofit that encourages private investment in low-income communities.

The study became a peg on which the White House and The California Endowment hung a new food access initiative. In 2011, they announced the California FreshWorks Fund, a loan program for grocery chains willing to open stores in food deserts. It brought Northgate Gonzalez market to the neighborhood later that year.

Since, City Heights has remained a poster child for growing food access where there was none. Refugees at the New Roots Community Farm — where First Lady Michelle Obama visited in 2010 — grow enough produce to feed themselves and sell at the nearby farmers market. Community and school gardens continue to crop up. And the neighborhood farmers market shattered expectations when it celebrated its fifth anniversary last year.

But the shuttering of Albertsons is among other signs that success isn’t firmly rooted. City Heights Farmers Market manager Norah Duffy said in November cuts to CalFresh, often called food stamps, could threaten the market’s success. Red tape at City Hall has kept gardeners in the Ridgeview neighborhood of City Heights from watering their plots. And code compliance complaints forced a beloved City Heights nursery to close and the International Rescue Committee to scale back its aqua farm.

City Councilwoman Marti Emerald said in a press release the grocery store closure is a major blow to the community, where a quarter of residents are still food insecure.

“Consumers in lower-income neighborhoods like City Heights already have limited options for fresh foods and health services. And most City Heights residents don’t have cars to drive to large competitively priced grocery stores in other neighborhoods,” Emerald said. “This will pull the rug from under consumers who already struggle to get healthy foods and medicine.”

Residents and California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez expressed disappointment about the news on Twitter.


Albertsons issued this statement: “Albertsons has a responsibility to do what is best for the long-term growth and success of the company as a whole.”

Emerald said property manager Kimco is in discussions with potential replacement tenants, including a grocery operator.

A spokesman for Price Charities, the nonprofit that now serves Sol Price’s mission in City Heights, said the organization was in talks last year with a grocery chain interested in opening a store at El Cajon Boulevard and Fairmount Avenue. The talks fell through.

Albertsons is scheduled to start liquidating its stock next week. Doors close permanently Feb. 20.

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Megan Burks

Megan Burks

Megan Burks is a reporter for Speak City Heights, a media project of Voice of San Diego, KPBS, Media Arts Center and The AjA Project. You can contact her directly at meburks@kpbs.org or 619.550.5665.

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33 comments
James Weber
James Weber subscriber

I blame Sol Price and CityLink. They brought in a high end grocer that was not a good fit in the neighborhood to feed their egos and not the residents of City Heights.

Richard Ross
Richard Ross subscribermember

Cityheights should seek a "Grocery Outlet" store as a replacement. We got one here in North Point Loma last year and they are great. Their pricing will appeal to middle-low income and seniors.

shawn fox
shawn fox subscriber

If the store was under performing then it implies that they weren't selling very much. Did the residents really need the store to begin with? I'm not sure if this will cause a problem or not. Responding to other articles, some other commenters have implied that somehow it is walmarts fault. I'm not sure what that means except that perhaps the residents were already shopping elsewhere. If that is true, then it seems like a non-existent problem. I would love to read a a detailed explanation about how this is Walmart's fault.Albertsons to Close 2 Locations: Chula Vista and City Heightshttp://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/Albertsons-City-Heights-Chula-Vista-Grocery-Store-Pharmacy-San-Diego-240588211.htmllocal Albertsons will close two of its San Diego County locations in February. One of the stores that will be shuttered is the largest grocery store in City Heights. A company spokesperson confirmed the Proctor Valley Road location in Chula Vista and...

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin subscribermember

So If a non union Grocer was willing to take the spot will Marti Emerald or Lorena Gonzales support it?

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Maybe a liquor store can give that space a run for it's money.

Jennifer Reiswig
Jennifer Reiswig subscribermember

I hear that the Chula Vista store is also closing. An extra wrinkle is that Albertsons is the ONE partner that SDMTS uses for selling transit passes and Compass cards. I hope that they will look for some additional partners in these areas since these are both places where many people rely on transit.

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin subscribermember

Last year Albertsons chain was sold to Cerberus Capital Management for 3.3 billion of which 3.2 went to debt.
Unfortunately the store closure is part of a re-organization as they are swimming in red ink. They are closing underperforming stores nation wide.
http://www.ocregister.com/articles/albertsons-383121-stores-llc.html
Supervalu to sell Albertsons storeshttp://www.ocregister.com/articles/albertsons-383121-stores-llc.htmlSupervalu Inc. announced Thursday that it will sell its Albertsons supermarkets and related in-store pharmacies as part of a broader divestment of five grocery chains to an investment group led by New York-based Cerberus Capital Management.

Rebelo
Rebelo

In the short term this closure will create a gap in the social and economic fabric of the community, and it's going to be difficult for City Heights’ residents. At the same time it’s an opportunity to engage in community based economic development project planning that will result in desirable uses of that space.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Looking at five different satellite photos of that Albertson's courtesy of Google Maps, it has almost twice as many parking spaces as it needs. That drives up their costs in land, taxes, lighting, and maintenance. And because the city of San Diego forced them to overbuild their parking lot just to keep the market equilibrium price of parking at $0 at all times (why?), the city deserves a good portion of the blame for it going out of business.

Anthony Wagner
Anthony Wagner subscribermember

Why Houston Is Changing Its Alcohol-Sales Law to Help Food Deserts

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/neighborhoods/2014/01/why-houston-changing-its-alcohol-sales-law-help-food-deserts/8065/

Why Houston Is Changing Its Alcohol-Sales Law to Help Food Desertshttp://www.theatlanticcities.com/neighborhoods/2014/01/why-houston-changing-its-alcohol-sales-law-help-food-deserts/8065/The city of Houston has long had an ordinance banning the sale of alcohol within 300 feet of churches, public schools, and hospitals. As a result, broad stretches of the city are off-limits not only to bars and liquor stores, but also supermarkets wi...

shawn fox
shawn fox subscriber

Don't worry city heights residents! The democrats will continue to fight for excessive environmental, and traffic studies. They'll also work at all levels of government to ban walmart and other big box stores. That will ensure that you have as few options as possible. That should bring some businesses into your community. Perhaps they can even pass a law that punishes Sprouts and Trader Joes for not opening enough stores.

Dan Butler
Dan Butler subscriber

This is a serious blow to the neighborhood. The Walmart on Imperial and the Vons are Adams I believe are the two closest stores. I wish the article had gotten some response from Albertsons as to why they were closing this particular store..Everytime I have been in that store it has always been busy? So whats the real story??

shawn fox
shawn fox subscriber

I didn't write that the area didn't need the grocery store. You are the one that is trying to speak definitively about what the community does or doesn't need. I suggest that it is you that are being ignorant, and even condescending.

Ian D. Miller
Ian D. Miller

if you'd ever gone into the store, you would find it VERY busy. it was one of the largest stores in the area, however, and i'm sure their overhead was greater. the area is poorer than others in San Diego, so i'm sure the higher margin items were selling less and the store was less profitable overall, but as to whether "the residents really need the store to begin with" is a fairly ignorant question. large grocery stores provide greater access to people who work multiple jobs to make ends meet. in particular, the longer hours and very urban/central location of albertsons make them a really important piece of food access for city heights. northgate is the next closest major store, but for people that don't drive, it's all the way down fairmont and they close at 10pm. northgate does offer shuttle service (which is awesome) and i'm sure they'll get a lot more business, but the point is that albertsons was definitely high traffic and needed by the community.

albertsons has been losing against ralphs and vons for awhile and this is just the easiest move for them (lowest profit store), but it doesn't mean the community doesn't need a major grocery store in that location.

James Weber
James Weber subscriber

What is the union doing to help the people of City Heights get another grocer in that space?

VeronicaCorningstone
VeronicaCorningstone subscriber

It seems like the union will be losing out either way. The grocery stores that cater to the Mexican community have done well, but there is already Pancho Villa at 33rd/El Cajon and Northgate at 54/University. The market might not support another in between the two. Where do people shop around there? Smaller family run markets? There are several medium sized Asian markets in the area.

James Weber
James Weber subscriber

Probably all the spaces are taken by the non-customer students from the nearby Community College Annex or the nearby users of the 2 Athletic fields and Recreation Center, Public Library, Tennis Courts and Pool.

Matt Watkins
Matt Watkins subscribermember

Parking at the City Heights Albertsons is often difficult enough that I usually take my bicycle if I'm only picking up a couple things.

Rick Smith
Rick Smith subscriber

Derek, Pretty certain Albertson's is a tenant in the center. They would not build more parking if they wanted, they do not own the parking lot. The zoning code forces the builder or developer to provide parking. Sometimes that is a store, most of the times it is not.

John Thurston
John Thurston

I am saying you don't know what you are talking about. Have you ever been to City Heights? Have you ever seen the influx of shoppers and students from the nearby Community College Annex ( who are prevented from parking in the lot), or the nearby users of the 2 Athletic fields and Recreation Center, Public Library, Tennis Courts and Pool that also share the lot?
The lot is not exclusively Albertsons domain, and before you claim to be an expert I suggest you actually visit the site on various occasions before you claim to know what Albertsons problem is.

John Thurston
John Thurston

Sorry Derek you have no idea what you are talking about with your Satellite photo analysis. I suggest a boots on the ground survey to see what this is all really about.
I live 3 blocks form this store and it and the other retailers including a Chase Bank, Starbucks, McDonalds, Dennys, Jamba Juice, Subway, and an O'Reilly Auto Parts all share this lot, with a small portion of the lot electronically "fenced" off to keep Grocery Carts from being taken off premise.
Albertons sold us a pig in a poke. When it first opened it had the usual compliment of a Service Deli, full service Fish and Meat Counters and Bakery. Over the years to boost margins in a notoriously margin slim business, all of that went away until now the store resembles a 7/11 on steroids with entirely too much space devoted to unhealthy junk food and a horrible staff to be unpleasant with you most of the time.
This neighborhood deserves better treatment as one of San Diego's most densely populated, and least served to meet the communities needs.
Come to City Heights, I invite you.

Matt Watkins
Matt Watkins subscribermember

Hard to know what 'underperforming' means. My suspicion is that the store is just too big for our neighborhood. It's twice as large as any other nearby store: the Vons in Normal Heights or Murphy's IGA. I've visited Albertson's at all hours of the day, and there's plenty of shopping in and out of there all the time, but it's huge and tends to big-brand stuff.

John Thurston
John Thurston

Shawn, you have no idea what you are talking about.
I am a 33 year City Heights resident and lifelong Democrat.
I have worked on a Neighborhood Safety Initiative (at no cost to the public) to curb Pedestrian/Auto accidents, which were far above average in our neighborhood and finally the City is implementing some of our suggestions by simply adding more cross walks and signals on busy thoroughfares.
You can rant all the nonsense you want from the safety of whereever you perch, but I doubt is anywhere near City Heights.

richard brick
richard brick subscribermember

I think he feels like there is some kind of difference between democrats and republicans.

As for me I see no difference, either one will sell you down the river if it meets their needs.

The only commonality between the two is that they are both trying to get reelected. That is their one and only priority.

Patrick Flynn
Patrick Flynn subscriber

What are you possibly talking about?

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin subscribermember

My point is this.
Grocery stores operate on slim margins. They generate their incomes from traffic and customer averages.
Union chains such as Albertsons in lower income neighborhoods have more trouble with the equation because of their overhead costs.
Pancho Villa and northgate deal with the same equation yet have lower overhead (labor) costs. Same can be said of Sprouts/whole foods but since their models tend to be towards higher end shoppers it is unlikely their model would fit.
So The question is what is more important. Addressing the food desert or having a
a union grocer?
Its a shame Albertsons is going away. I like their stores.

James Weber
James Weber subscriber

Are you suggesting a parking structure? The costs would be prohibitive.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

If Albertson's wanted more parking, they would build it. But they haven't; therefore, they either have exactly the right amount of parking, or they have more than they need. The fact that San Diego forces businesses to overbuild their parking lots (this is in the zoning code if you don't believe me) suggests that Albertson's, like most other businesses in San Diego, has more than the financially optimal amount of parking (where MR=MC, if you understand microeconomics). And this can't possibly be a good thing for Albertson's or any other business in San Diego.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

David, how does a shared parking lot mean the satellite photos were "misused"? What I see is that a large number of parking spaces are empty at the time those five satellite photos were taken. This represents a waste of money in land, taxes, lighting, and maintenance, and surely Albertson's must pay part of it?

David Hall
David Hall subscriber

The reason why the service deli, meat counter and bakery are all gone is because the community didn't use them. Don't blame Albertson's for the sad fact that those in the community would rather buy junk food. And perhaps the staff just tired of the high rate of theft. The company is in business to make money.

As for Hofmann's misuse of satellite photos, that's par for the course. As you state, there are a number of tenants that use the parking lot.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Are you saying the satellite photos are wrong, or that the city doesn't deserve even a small portion of the blame for driving this Albertson's store out of business?

shawn fox
shawn fox subscriber

How is that relevant to anything? There are plenty of busy streets in my neighborhood. We have so many grocery stores that it is hard to pick one (not a problem, but I'm just saying).

shawn fox
shawn fox subscriber

Considering that it was democrats who were in favor of banning big box stores from the san diego council all the way up to the state legislature (Juan Vargas), there is clearly a big difference between the two. The vote by the city council (that was eventually repealed) was certainly not unanimous. I must have hit the head on the nail to elicit such responses!