In a changing climate for grocery retailers, Bixby Knolls’ Ralphs may shut its doors

CJ Dablo/Signal Tribune<br><strong> Eighth District Councilmember Al Austin recently announced that this Ralphs store at 4250 Long Beach Blvd. will shut its doors in June. The company’s corporate office did not return media inquiries by press time to confirm that the Bixby Knolls location will be permanently closing. </strong>

CJ Dablo/Signal Tribune
Eighth District Councilmember Al Austin recently announced that this Ralphs store at 4250 Long Beach Blvd. will shut its doors in June. The company’s corporate office did not return media inquiries by press time to confirm that the Bixby Knolls location will be permanently closing.

CJ Dablo
Staff Writer

The Bixby Knolls Ralphs grocery store on Long Beach Boulevard and San Antonio Drive is scheduled to shut down in June, according to 8th District Long Beach Councilmember Al Austin. According to a May 1 emailed statement by the councilmember, who said he has spoken with Ralphs corporate representatives, the site will not be converted into a Food 4 Less store and they are planning to sell the property.
The announcement surprised and disappointed a number of area residents who were finishing their shopping at Ralphs on Sunday afternoon, April 28.
Bixby Knolls resident Steve Bamas was helping his elderly mother Francis Bamas load a number of grocery bags into their car when they heard the news.
“It’s going to make it really inconvenient,” Bamas said. “This is the largest, closest store, and my mother’s 91, and traveling is not a good option.” He did acknowledge that there was a Vons grocery store close by and that there was also a Trader Joe’s in the area. They preferred Ralphs over Vons and praised the Ralphs store’s cleanliness and organization.
Blanca Perez, 56, is another resident from Bixby Knolls who was caught off guard by the news.
“I like everything in here,” Perez said. She also was packing her car full of bagged groceries that day. Perez says it’s the only place she shops. She buys food for a family of six.
Long Beach resident Robert Coca had just one item in his bag as he was leaving the store– beef patties. The 26-year-old said his girlfriend had bought already-cooked patties, but he had run into the store to get patties for the grill. Coca said that this store was always his first choice.
The potential store closure will affect 17-year-old store employee William Linly. On that windy afternoon, Linly finished driving a long chain of grocery carts back to the store front. The Long Beach resident said that he will be transferred to another store, but he acknowledged that the change will affect his commute. It’s further for him on his skateboard, he said.
The Ralphs corporate office has not responded to media inquiries that would confirm the closure of the store. If the announcement is accurate, the store’s loss is the latest in the string of closures throughout the Long Beach and Signal Hill area over the last year.
Albertsons announced in 2012 that it would close one store on Redondo Avenue in addition to other stores throughout the country. Top Valu Market, a smaller regional grocery chain, opened a store at the former Albertsons site, but the store lasted for only a short time. They closed their doors last week.
There are alternative competitors to the larger chains of grocery stores who are also fighting to stay viable in the grocery business. Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market has a few locations in Long Beach and Signal Hill. The chain announced on April 17 that their parent company Tesco is looking to exit the United States, but that didn’t mean the stores would be closing. Fresh & Easy is up for sale and had already attracted interested buyers.
In an interview Tuesday, Fresh & Easy’s spokesman Brendan Wonnacott reiterated their press-release statement.
“As they announced on the 17th,” the director of corporate affairs said, “bids have already been received on the Fresh & Easy business, including a number of bids from groups looking to acquire Fresh & Easy as an operating business.”
Wonnacott confirmed that no stores would be closing and no layoffs would take place at this time.
There is one other regional grocery store that some residents feared had closed permanently. Buy Low Market located at 4700 Cherry Avenue did shut its doors over a month ago, but the store is only going through a transformation. Buy Low Market’s headquarters would not comment more specifically about what the transformation is, but Sheila Vazin, who is fielding questions for the corporate office at the Buy Low Market, said that the location will be reopened as a grocery store.
That particular Buy Low Market is located in Councilmember James Johnson’s 7th district. He said that he wasn’t too concerned about access to grocery stores, explaining that there were alternatives like Trader Joe’s and another Ralphs store to serve the area.
“The future of Long Beach is very bright,” Johnson said in a telephone interview Wednesday, “and I’m confident that we’ll continue to attract businesses that serve the community well.”
In addition to the traditional and alternative grocery chains, customers also have the option to shop at Target, Walmart, and 99¢ Only Stores for their groceries.
The possible loss of a Ralphs grocery store in Bixby Knolls, however, bothered Councilmember Austin in the 8th district. Austin said that he wouldn’t want to see the building sit vacant and that he’s been receiving numerous emails and communications from residents who are concerned about the site.
He said that he has been working on setting up a meeting with Ralphs representatives to determine how the site could be used in the future.
“I would love to be able to get them to be able to change their mind,” Austin said in an interview Tuesday, “because I think that, you know, Bixby Knolls has served Ralphs very well over the past decade or more that I’ve know that they’ve been there.”
He described the Ralphs store as a “major anchor” on that end of the Long Beach Boulevard corridor.
Austin acknowledged that Ralphs’ decision to close hits home. The councilmember says he has been shopping at Ralphs for the last 12 years. His wife shops at Vons. Austin says he would miss the familiar faces of the employees.
What was on his grocery list on his last personal trip to his store? Charcoal, lettuce and some beer, he replied. He was planning to barbecue salmon for a Sunday-night dinner.

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