Fresh & Easy locations in San Francisco could close if buyer not found

Beth LaBerge/Special to the S.F. ExaminerSatisfied customers: Falaofuta Satele and her daughter Desiree Satele leave a Fresh & Easy store on Third Street on Wednesday. “We love this store

Five years after making an ambitious push into the U.S. grocery market, the future of Fresh & Easy is unclear — and that’s not good news for the communities it serves in San Francisco.

On Wednesday, U.K. parent company Tesco announced that it is seeking a buyer for the grocery chain or that it could close the 200-store operation employing 5,000 people. Citing lackluster growth, Tesco said Fresh & Easy “will not deliver acceptable shareholder returns on an appropriate timeframe.”

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Fresh & Easy first came to The City in 2007, when it broke ground on a Third Street site in the Bayview district and was touted as a solution to that neighborhood’s lack of healthy food options. Since then, two more locations have opened in nearby Portola and the Richmond district. The chain bills itself as a market where shoppers can find fresh and affordable foods.

Malik Looper, director of programs for the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, a nonprofit that works to help underserved individuals create small businesses, said Fresh & Easy has been a success in the Bayview.

“I have heard nothing but positive things in terms of it being a resource for the local community,” Looper said. “The closure, if it were happen, would mean the loss of quality goods for the neighborhood.”

Looper said his organization works to help make Third Street a vibrant business corridor, and empty storefronts are already a problem.

“Having a large employer go away would only add to challenges on the corridor,” Looper said, noting that Fresh & Easy customers would have to take multiple buses to find a comparable grocer.

Although Fresh & Easy isn’t profitable, Tesco said it has received inquiries from companies interested in acquiring all or part of the chain, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Supervisor Eric Mar, who represents the Richmond and who recently introduced legislation aimed at helping small grocers sell healthier food, said the chain has been a good neighbor. Among its deeds is donating to nearby schools and local charities. He said the company told him the Richmond store was its most successful in The City.

“I would hate to see Fresh & Easy close,” Mar said. “That’s why I’ll work with local representatives to keep it open.”
In the Bayview, Supervisor Malia Cohen said the two nearby outlets there have been “transformative” for the neighborhood.

“Residents finally have access to and options for fresh, healthy and affordable food in their communities,” Cohen said. “While the details of this transaction are not yet known, I will continue to stress to Fresh & Easy and any other subsequent owner that my priority is to ensure that these stores remain open and continue to meet the needs of our residents.”  

For shoppers at the Third Street Fresh & Easy on Wednesday, the prospect of losing the market did not sit well.
“We shop here every day and live right down the street,” said Desiree Satele, who was shopping with her mother. “The only other place to shop nearby is Foods Co. Fresh & Easy has healthier choices and it’s convenient.”

mdenike@sfexaminer.com
Examiner wire services contributed to this report.

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