Joanne Kim, Chief Operating Officer of the Community Coalition stated the community had “been identifying issues with this particular Ralphs, that they wanted to meet with Ralphs to fix when this two week notice came that they were closing down.”
Community forced to say goodbye to another Ralphs
The community saw longtime Ralphs supermarket, on Crenshaw and Rodeo, close to the neighborhood. Now the community is saying goodbye to yet another Ralphs on MLK Blvd. and Western Ave. Unfortunately, the community wasn’t given any notice this time.
The Community Coalition, a local nonprofit organization improving social and economic conditions, gathered on Thursday, June 13 in front of the Ralphs to protest the unfair treatment to the community and the store’s loyal customers. They were outraged that they weren’t at least given a warning about the imminent closing.
“People are upset that for years, Ralphs has been downgrading many of its stores,” said Joanne Kim, chief operating officer of Community Coalition and a South L.A. resident. “They’re upset [at] the abandonment of this community in two ways: one, in the way that they’re downgrading their stores and two, for multiple closures that have happened over the last two decades.”
“The Ralphs’ brand in South L.A. for a long time has been known for selling rotten overpriced food, having rotten conditions and now being rotten neighbors who don’t care about the community it serves or its customers,” stated local resident, Karla Acosta. “This is not the way to conduct a successful, responsible business in our community.”
Local supermarkets in the neighborhood are becoming few and farther than most are willing to travel. The increase of fast food restaurants in conjunction with fewer and fewer grocery stores are creating health hazards throughout the South L.A. area. The continued rise of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity in minority neighborhoods can be viewed as a direct result of a lack of healthier options.
“For the last few months, we’ve been surveying residents in this neighborhood [about] healthy food options,” said Kim. “They have been identifying issues with this particular Ralphs that they wanted to meet with Ralphs to fix when this two week notice came that they were closing down.”
“It appears to the community that Ralphs and its corporate owner, Kroger, have two different sets of practices for how they conduct business,” said Marqueece Harris-Dawson, President and CEO of Community Coalition. “One for communities of color like South L.A. and one for wealthier, whiter neighborhoods in areas like the Westside.
“South L.A. residents either get really poorly operated Ralphs or Food4Less, the discount warehouse chain, owned by the same company. What is that saying about how the company views communities of color?”
The newly expanded and renovated Ralphs on La Brea Ave. and Rodeo Rd. is promising better options and produce for the South L.A. community. Many will and have begun shopping at the improved grocery store but is it feasible for everyone?
“It’s a bunch of mixed feelings,” said South L.A. resident Celia Caestellanos. “I grew up in the community, I hardly ever come to this Ralphs because of the issue of the quality of food.
Community Coalition protests the closing of local Ralphs on MLK Blvd and Western Ave. The protests drew support from honking horns and rally cries from people shopping at the store.
“I [saw] that the community was coming together to start working with the few grocery stores that we have in our community, so we could have more quality food—and now they’re leaving.
“It seems like they’re leaving right when things are staring to change on a positive note and it makes me angry. I have the choice to get in my car and go somewhere else but a lot of my neighbors don’t have that choice.”
The apparent epidemic of closing grocery stores has many in an angry stance. Many people rely on local stores for access to food within a reasonable distance. Over the past year, there have been rumors of stores coming to the South L.A. area. Trader Joe’s, which offers healthier options in produce and food, has yet to be confirmed. Fresh & Easy never appeared when Tesco, British supermarket conglomerate, sold the chain.
“I feel bad for the people who are in this direct area,” said Pam Nicavoli, South L.A. resident. “It’s like, where are they going to go? What are they going to do with this lot now?”
“They have indicated no reason for closing this store,” said Kim. “So residents are asking for the simple courtesy and respect after decades of patronage to simply—warn people, some of which have no other means to get groceries, that you’re going to close… because people need to eat.”
Grocery stores like Albertsons, which used to be on La Brea and Rodeo, were closed down but replaced by Superior supermarket. The Ralphs on Crenshaw and Rodeo is rumored to be replaced by a Target. It’s unknown at this point what store, if any, will replace the Ralphs on Western and MLK but the community wants to be a part of that process.
“As far as we know, there has been no publically stated plans for this lot,” said Kim. “Residents are clear and we want to be able to facilitate community voices [and] input into what will go into this sizeable lot.
“People don’t want yet another vacant lot in South Los Angeles.”
“We want to have a say in what you do with this place,” said Nicavoli, “and we will have a say.”
“It's a tragedy,” said South L.A. resident Ron Ali. “Many of our neighbors won’t be able to get food that’s needed because they don’t have transportation such as seniors and those without cars.”
Photos by Brian W. Carter