Grocery shoppers throughout Southern California might have felt a sense of déjà vu Wednesday when they returned to the Albertsons and Vons stores that had closed last year only to become part of Haggen supermarkets’ ill-fated expansion into the regional marketplace.
A $9.4 billion merger deal in 2014 between Vons parent company Safeway and Cerberus Capital Management, which owns Albertsons, prompted the Federal Trade Commission to require the new company to shed some of its stores.
Altogether, Haggen and its parent company, the Florida-based Comvest Partners,bought 146 Albertsons and Vons supermarkets in the West, including 83 in California. But the shopping public balked and Haggen filed for bankruptcy last fall, selling off its expansion properties at auction.
That enabled some Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions to re-emerge in the same locations from which they previously operated. Six opened Wednesday, including in Rancho Cucamonga, Saugus and Tujunga, and seven more Southern California stores are expected to open in the next few months.
Lois Sanchez, 66, of Rancho Cucamonga was at the grand reopening of her neighborhood Albertsons on Foothill Boulevard and Vineyard Avenue, which had opened as a Haggen a year ago.
“I wasn’t really happy with the prices,” Sanchez said of Haggen. “I didn’t like their selection. The prices weren’t comparable to the neighborhood prices of the other stores. We were so excited when we saw it (Albertsons) was coming back.”
Another returning shopper was Terry Anocibar, 52, of Rancho Cucamonga, who said he appreciates the “better quality” at Albertsons.
“The prices were up a little too high (at Haggen),” Anocibar said. “Albertsons is back. We’re happy with Albertsons.”
Other Haggen properties were bought by Gelsons and Smart & Final.
The reacquisition of stores by Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions, is unprecedented in the industry, said retail and grocery store expert Craig Rosenblum, a partner with the consumer goods and retail consulting firm Willard Bishop.
“I can’t recall in all my years in the business, the Federal Trade Commission forcing a retailer to sell off stores and enabling them to buy back the same stores at a discounted rate,” Rosenblum said.
Haggen, Rosenblum said, failed to do its homework on the local shoppers.
“They didn’t get all the history of these stores, shopper information and promotion information,” Rosenblum said. “So Albertsons has a big step forward here. They know what will work and what will not work.”
Company spokesman Carlos Illingworth called the resurrection “a unique process with a lot of moving pieces.” The company did a trial run, opening an Albertsons at 8200 Stockdale Highway, Bakersfield, last month.
“We learned a lot from that, but it’s certainly been a unique process of transitioning the stores that opened today in a short amount of time,” he said Wednesday. “It’s taken a lot of time and effort on behalf of our entire team, but we can’t think of better way to start the year.”
The return of an anchor tenant to a shopping center is also good for the surrounding businesses, said Brad Umanksy, president of the Rancho Cucamonga-based real estate brokerage firm Progressive Real Estate Partners.
“If it wasn’t for Albertsons taking over the locations, they may have sat vacant for a while,” Umansky said. “It just hurts the other tenants and other businesses, both in the same shopping center as well as the surrounding shopping centers. We’re pleased they’re coming back.”
The six new-old stores that reopened Wednesday were:
- Albertsons, 3500 Panama Lane, Bakersfield
- Albertsons, 6240 Foothill Blvd., Tujunga
- Albertsons, 8850 Foothill Blvd., Rancho Cucamonga
- Albertsons, 12475 Rancho Bernardo Road, Rancho Bernardo
- Vons, 163 S. Turnpike Road, Goleta
- Vons, 26518 Bouquet Canyon Road, Saugus
Illingworth vowed the stores will feature a new look and be better than customers remember from their previous incarnations.
Meanwhile, the company is trying to rehire as many former employees as it can, he said.
The number rehired “varies by store,” he said, adding “It really depends on how many applied and seniority in our collective bargaining agreement with the union.”
Although the company has not decided which brand names will appear at the remaining seven stores set to reopen, the addresses are:
- 5630 Lake Murray Blvd., La Mesa
- 1608 Broadway St., El Cajon
- 671 Rancho Santa Fe, San Marcos
- 1500 N. H St., Lompoc
- 7900 White Lane, Bakersfield
- 7895 Highland Village Place, San Diego
- 2010 Cliff Drive, Santa Barbara
Source: Daily News