New supermarket Haggen brings its own baggage to the foothills
By Eddie Rivera, News Editor
As a number of longtime local businesses, most of them chains, shutter their doors, and as new smaller businesses open new doors, the Sunland-Tujunga economic landscape remains uncertain, even volatile. Still, local-business leadership remains optimistic.
“Things are good,” Cindy Cleghorn, immediate past president of the Sunland-Tujunga Chamber of Commerce, told The Foothill Record. Cleghorn outlined the various challenges and successes on Foothill Boulevard in an interview recently.
“We’re very excited about the Big 5 [Sporting Goods] center” near Lowell Avenue, she said. “That’s something the chamber worked with them [Big 5] for a long time on. And there are a lot of improvements like new signage, for example.”
The Big 5 center, at the east end of Tujunga, underwent renovations about one year ago and the sporting goods store opened last December.
“The owners are longtime members of the chamber as well, so we’re happy to see that,” said Cleghorn.
Cleghorn also was particularly excited about the announcement of a new Link n Hops location at Foothill and Woodward in Sunland. The sausage and craft-beer gastropub, which has another location in Atwater Village, will remove the drive-thru from the former Jimmy Dean’s Burgers and expand the interior seating. The new restaurant is expected to open in the spring of 2017, following a minimum of four months of renovations and the city approval process.
The long-vacant Commerce Town Center at Foothill and Commerce has slowly begun to see new tenants. Frootopia Frozen Yogurt opened its doors in July. Also open at the center is Artisyn Studio—an art school also offering music and dance lessons, and soon a café—and a new urgent care clinic. A day spa and a nail salon are in the planning stages too.
In addition, the Back Door Bakery in Sunland, which will open near the former Starbucks (now up the street), continues to progress but has yet to announce an opening date. Plans for the bakery may also include a cooking school.
Breaking the Chains
Much of the local business failures seem to be limited to larger chain stores and restaurants.
The Fresh & Easy store, which opened in Tujunga in March of 2012 at Foothill and Pali, closed this past spring after only three years in business here as part of its El Segundo-based parent company’s reorganization. Thirty of its stores in Southern California closed.
Sizzler in Sunland closed in June, after struggling for many months. The new plan for the building, according to one insider, is two restaurants at that location. The property is owned by Gaska, Inc., which is planning the renovation of the Ralphs shopping center, where the Sizzler was located. Ralphs itself started renovations in July.
The lot with the Denny’s restaurant, which closed two months ago, was sold to a local investor, who has not disclosed any plans for the site. The chamber has reached out to Sonic drive-in restaurant, which “expressed an interest,” according to Cleghorn, but there have been no updates since.
“It’s a perfect location for something like that [a drive-in restaurant], and it would do well in that location,” added Cleghorn.
The Sunland KFC also recently closed its doors. But, says Cleghorn, “It had struggled for a long time. A number of other KFC locations, like the one in Tujunga and La Crescenta, have also closed.” Cleghorn added that the closing of KFC may also be due to a change in “American eating habits.”
The Haggen Dilemma
Meanwhile, Haggen, the Pacific Northwest-based chain that recently took over the Albertsons on Foothill, has suffered from a lack of business early on, with a number of customers complaining about high prices.
Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council president Mark Seigel told The Foothill Record that in a recent meeting with the current Haggen manager, he was told that Albertsons originally presented Haggen with a list and price range of various goods, and Haggen consistently chose the higher range. Haggen has since “reevaluated its pricing,” Seigel said.
Sales volume at all of the Southern California Haggen stores has fallen 20 to 30 percent, according to the industry trade publication Supermarket News.
The company has begun laying off and reducing hours for many of its 2,000 employees in Los Angeles, Kern, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties. This includes about 800 workers represented by United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 770, said Kathy Finn, director of collective bargaining for the organization.
The cutbacks reportedly involve six to 10 people per store at 100 stores in Southern California, Arizona, and Nevada, including seven or eight full-time employees per location who were reduced to part-time status. The number of baggers in each store also has been reduced from about 15 per store to five.
In an official statement, Haggen said the cutbacks were being imposed “to ensure we’re operating as efficiently as possible.”
Union officials have now filed a grievance with the company, saying it violated the union’s collective bargaining agreement by recently switching full-time workers to part-time status, and not allowing them to move to other locations.
In a statement on its website, the union stated, “While we understand that Haggen is struggling in some locations, we are totally opposed to their decision to reduce most full-time food and general merchandise clerks.
“When we met with Haggen management prior to the store conversions,” the statement continued, “they assured us that they were committed to making this takeover a success and that they would do everything possible to keep the customers. It is now apparent that they have not followed through on those commitments and, in fact, have done nothing to assure that customers’ first impressions would be positive. Haggen’s failure to live up to their commitments is extremely disappointing.”
Bill Shaner, CEO of Haggen’s Pacific Southwest division, released a statement addressing the cutbacks.
“As we introduce Haggen throughout Southern California, Arizona and Nevada, our challenge is to establish and grow the brand in competitive new markets,” Shaner said. “To ensure we’re operating as efficiently as possible, we have made the difficult decision to temporarily cut back on staffing at our stores, with specific reductions varying by store.”
Haggen was a relatively small company in the Pacific Northwest with 18 stores and 2,000 employees. It now has 164 stores and more than 10,000 employees after buying the supermarket giant Safeway (which had recently merged with Albertsons), the parent company of Vons in January of this year, for approximately $9.2 billion. Albertsons and Safeway then dropped 168 Southern California stores to avoid antitrust violations. Haggen picked up 83 of these locations in such communities as Santa Clarita, Woodland Hills, Torrance, Long Beach, Diamond Bar, Upland, and Rancho Cucamonga, along with Tujunga.
While the future of Haggen and other large businesses in Sunland-Tujunga continues to be a challenge, small businesses all along Foothill Boulevard (and Commerce Avenue) continue to open doors and attract customers.