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Albertsons Closing Means One Less Grocery Store in SD Food Desert

The shuttering of Albertsons is among signs that success in expanding food access isn’t firmly rooted.

The Albertsons in City Heights is one of 11 in Southern California closing its doors next month.

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

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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 with 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 Albertsons 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.”

Residents and California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez expressed disappointment about the news on Twitter.

Albertsons issued this statement: “Albertsons 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 last year with a grocery chain interested in opening a store at El Cajon Boulevard and Fairmount Avenue. The talks fell through.

Albertsons is scheduled to start liquidating its stock next week. Doors close permanently Feb. 20.

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