Vons closure in Vista deepens food insecurity for many
Many Vista residents relied on the Vons located on Santa Fe Drive for their groceries. But the store closed on June 23. Now it's boarded up, and residents like Mark Day and Fredi Avalos have to travel farther for fresh food.
“Being able to have a grocery store that is very close and accessible has always been important to us and that is why we are feeling the strong effects of now being forced to drive a considerable way to get fresh food,” said Avalos.
The store was less than five minutes away from their house. Now, their commute for groceries has tripled.
But Avalos says Vons’ closure doesn’t come as a surprise, because in the last couple of years the shopping center started to feel unsafe.
“There were many times where I would get out of my car and be accosted. I stopped going there completely at night. I have not been to the Vons center at night for at least 5 years," she said. "It simply does not feel safe and I know people who frequent that shopping center or used to, feel the same way.”
When asked about the safety concerns, Andrea McCullough, the communications officer for the City of Vista, responded with this statement: "The Vons Center property is owned by about 12 different property owners. The property owners are encouraged to contact the Vista Sheriff’s station on any issues with criminal activity."
KPBS requested an interview with Vons to ask about the reason for the closure. The company did not respond. But we did talk to some Vons employees, who didn’t want to be recorded out of fear of losing their jobs. Some think the store was closed because of the increase of homeless in the area, and the thefts the store was dealing with on a regular basis. Others told us it was because of the high cost to repair the store's refrigeration system, and the store not making a profit.
No matter the reason, the Vons closure adds to the growing number of empty stores in the shopping center.
Avalos thinks Vista’s city council has neglected this part of the city while making improvements downtown. “They have moved mountains to bring in new stores and great restaurants and breweries," she said, "and it hasn’t necessarily been bad but we can’t focus on one part of our community and turn our back on another part of our community.”
Avalos says she and her husband are lucky to have the ability to drive farther for groceries, but she knows not everyone has that privilege.
“People don't have the money for an Uber, people do not have friends or family that can take them regularly to the grocery store. And even when the Vons was here, one of the saddest things I would experience — and this I saw everyday — are poor people and their families carrying groceries. Sometimes in the hot sun, sometimes in the rain," Avalos said. "Without Vons I don't even know where they're going to get the groceries that they would carry home.”
Seventy-six year old Alexis White doesn't own a car but, she has a motorized scooter. “I get in it, ride over and bring the stuff back,” she said.
White lives in The Grove, a senior community across the street from the Vons. She said many of her neighbors relied on the store, and said, “It's making a hardship for a lot of people. I never knew that I would miss it.”
Since the closure of Vons, White has made the journey to WinCo in Oceanside, where she thinks groceries are affordably priced. “I think WinCo being the cheapest store and I guess it's not too far ... I could take the bus over or the train," she said.
City council member Corinna Contreras said food insecurity is an issue for many Vista residents and the loss of a grocery store makes that problem worse.
“It's really heartbreaking, I just fear that the quality of nutrition is going to be going down because what’s most accessible there is CVS or 7-11. You're not going to get nutritional, dietary needs for your children to grow up without health concerns,” she said.
Contreras said the city council needs to discuss the safety concerns surrounding the shopping center and how to get the nearby residents access to fresh food.
“We can’t survive off of fast food, convenience food. We’re human beings and we need real food to grow. and we need a safe place to be able to shop," Contreras said. "You know, with Vons leaving it really gives me a lot of concern about what's going to happen with that shopping center."
She says the city has no information on what is taking Vons’ place because it is a private sale, a statement echoed in the statement from communications officer McCullough: "The City does not have information regarding the sale of this property. It is not owned or managed by the City. The property is zoned for Commercial, which means the property can be sold to a buyer that fits within the Commercial Zone requirements and the seller/buyers do not need approval from the City. They are not required to provide any information to the City and have not done so, other than to say they are in escrow."
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria joined KPBS Midday Edition Tuesday to talk about why he felt it was important to delay a city council vote on the proposed Ash Street settlement.