Heritage Square – What’s in store for one of the last vacant Fresh & Easy stores, in Signal Hill
Press-Telegram Real Estate
June 24, 2017
Signal Hill Petroleum wants to build a new retail and residential complex on a Cherry Avenue parcel that has been out of use since Fresh & Easy went out of business.
The company is in negotiations with a boutique grocery operator, said Debra Montalvo Russell, the company’s vice president for community relations and real estate development.
What’s more, Signal Hill Petroleum wants to attract restaurant operators to the area while attempting to transform the vacant building just south of Willow Street into something that will attract customers from beyond Signal Hill proper.
“We’re so close to the 405 Freeway that it will make for an interesting experience,” she said.
Although Russell said she could not disclose the names of prospective restaurant or grocery operators who may one day do business at the property, she said the company is in talks with the people representing “chef-driven” food concepts, not chain restaurants.
NOT SO EASY
British retailer Tesco PLC introduced its Fresh & Easy concept — small format groceries selling ready-to-cook meals in addition to packaged meats and produce items — in late 2007. The company sold its Fresh & Easy business to Yucaipa Cos., a California investment firm, amid difficulties in a deal announced in September 2013.
Yucaipa Cos. eventually decided to close off the final 97 Fresh & Easy stores doing business in California, Arizona and Nevada in October 2015. The Signal Hill store is one of the few Fresh & Easy stores in the Greater Long Beach area that remains vacant to this day.
Fresh & Easy attracted a large amount of attention upon its initial arrival, but the concept didn’t quite catch on. Supermarket analyst David Livingstone said in March 2015 that the chain’s problems included automated check-in lines that required customers to seek out an employee authorized to approve alcohol sales whenever someone wanted to buy beer or wine.
Fresh & Easy’s pre-packaged produce goods also ended up being problematic, since weak sales forced markdowns that themselves resulted in customers who were willing wait for those products to go on sale.
“It’s so difficult to come in with a new name in a competitive market with an unproven concept,” Livingstone said at the time. “There was a lot of expectation that this was going to be Whole Foods quality with Wal-Mart pricing, but it didn’t live up to that preopening hype.”
Fresh & Easy’s failure hasn’t deterred other operators from venturing forth with small grocery formats, however. The growing Grocery Outlet chain has taken over former Fresh & Easy sites in Long Beach, Lakewood and Downey.
Island Pacific Market, which specializes in Filipino food, occupies the site of another former Fresh & Easy store at 3300 Atlantic Ave. in Long Beach. Aldi, the U.S. brand of a German retailer, has lately made a big push for California shoppers’ business, having opened stores at locations in Bixby Knolls and Cerritos.
A former Fresh & Easy in Norwalk also remains vacant. Another one in downtown Long Beach is also vacant, but Cal State Long Beach and Shooshani Developers of West Hollywood recently announced plans to develop a 22-story tower for student housing and other campus activities at that location.
SIGNAL HILL PLANNING
Signal Hill Petroleum does not yet own all of the land necessary for its plans, but has an exclusive right to negotiate with Signal Hill city officials to buy the properties. Signal Hill’s City Council, acting in its role to oversee the disposition of former redevelopment agency land, agreed in late February to enter exclusive talks with Signal Hill Petroleum.
A staff report prepared for that meeting explains Signal Hill Petroleum’s plans for the former Fresh & Easy site and city-owned property involves nearly eight acres of land and may result in the development of 30,000 to 60,000 square feet of new commercial space for retailers and restaurateurs.
Signal Hill Petroleum may also develop a residential complex with up to 200 new housing units.
In addition to its oil operations, Signal Hill Petroleum has developed multiple commercial and residential projects in Signal Hill.