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Albertson’s Closes Store In San Diego Food Desert

Above: Albertsons in the City Heights Urban Village

The Albertson's in City Heights is one of 11 in southern California closing its doors next month.

Special Feature Speak City Heights

Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods. (Read more)

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

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 to 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 Albertson's 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."

Albertson's issued this statement: “Albertson's 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 with a grocer interested in opening a store at El Cajon Boulevard and Fairmount Avenue. David Price, who manages real estate assets for the organization, said those talks have since fallen through.

Albertson's is scheduled to start liquidating its stock next week. Doors close permanently Feb. 20.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 16, 2014 at 7:57 a.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

Thanks to Marty Emerald for once again proving she is a representative of the PEOPLE and not of profit-driven corporate GREED.

Food deserts are a huge problem.

People in low-income areas who don't have means to travel out of their neighborhoods just to buy food are often not able to get fresh produce and must resort to shopping at convenience stores for terrible processed foods.

An already vulnerable community is made even more vulnerable by poor health due to poor eating.

Albertson's should be shamed of themselves.

I realize they need to make a profit, of course, but this huge corporation also needs to give some back to the community with corporate responsibility.

They can still make huge profits whilst keeping stores in food deserts open.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 16, 2014 at 7:58 a.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

That's Marti, not Marty!

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Avatar for user 'charolastra'

charolastra | January 16, 2014 at 1:32 p.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

Source pic for this article is at a Food 4 Less, not an Albertson's.

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Avatar for user 'Megan Burks'

Megan Burks, KPBS Staff | January 16, 2014 at 1:51 p.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

Thanks for making us aware of it charolastra. We've updated the photo.

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Avatar for user 'Blotto'

Blotto | January 16, 2014 at 3:05 p.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

I moved to this neighborhood recently and went at about 8PM to pick up some groceries. I saw young people shoplifting. When I left the store with my groceries, I was hassled in the parking lot. Since then, I have picked another store. It's too bad Albertsons is leaving, but I'm not surprised. I bet if we had access to all the data that loss due to shoplifting was a big part of what kept the store from being profitable. This, in spite of the fact that the store is paying for security guards. As people think of a solution or new tenants or whatever, this will have to be factored in.

Do you think it would be a good idea for the city to compensate any grocer for this loss? If you were going to open a grocery, how would you deal with it?

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Avatar for user 'SDGIS'

SDGIS | January 27, 2014 at 10:13 a.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

Below is a link to an incredible 1 hr movie on the planning and obstacles in bringing this Albertsons to City Heights.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 27, 2014 at 12:27 p.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

@BLUTTO, then please explain the closing of the Al's in Eastlake, Chula Vista??? Hiring security guards costs less than what the corporation is "saving" by having Self-checkout instead of a unionized employee.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | January 27, 2014 at 3:46 p.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

For whatever reason, the residents of City Heights are not shopping at Albertson's.

Perhaps the neighborhood is not truly a "food desert" and the residents are shopping elsewhere.

Perhaps the residents don't like to cook and prefer fast food.

Perhaps it is crime ridden with shoplifting and customers being robbed as Blotto mentioned.

Whatever the reasons, you can't blame Albertson's for closing an unprofitable store. They're a for-profit corporation not a Soviet soup kitchen.

Duck, what exactly did Marti Emerald do that makes you praise her? Did she convince Albertson's to stay? No. Did she bring in another store? No. What did she do other that spit out a hollow press release written by a staffer?

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