By Sue Favor
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Three months after it closed its doors for good, the former Ralph’s supermarket at Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue remains an empty, hulking presence in an otherwise busy shopping mall — and a reminder that there is no other grocery store in the area.
But residents and a city official say it wouldn’t be this way if the Kroger company wasn’t holding on to its lease on the space, and not releasing it to other interested grocery store chains that would like to move in.
In early August emails to Los Angeles-based Kroger representatives that were forwarded to The Wave, a city official asks the company to free up the lease so another store can move in.
A Kroger representative responded by saying the corporation has “an extended commitment at this location” and is “actively seeking quality retail replacements.”
A source close to the situation told The Wave that Kroger is in court to determine the legal status of the lease. Neither the Kroger Company or the investor group that owns the mall — Crenshaw Plaza I, LLC — responded to repeated requests for comment. Arizona-based Sprouts Farmers Market, widely rumored to be interested in the space, also declined requests for comment.
City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson had strong words for the Kroger Company, which he said has created a food desert, an area bereft of grocery stores, for nearby residents.
“This tactic of preventing another grocery store from entering a space is not new,” Harris-Dawson said. “Again, Kroger is acting without regard for the community, and frankly, it is insulting.
“What is happening at Slauson and Crenshaw is a textbook example of food apartheid — an expression I began using in the 90s to contrast the descriptor, food desert. What Kroger is doing is discriminatory, and is a textbook example of how food apartheid happens in our community.”
Last March, the Los Angeles City Council approved a temporary “hero pay” ordinance that mandated grocery store employees would receive $5 per hour more for the next four months. Shortly afterward, Kroger announced it would close three of its stores citywide, including the Slauson location. Despite protests, the once-bustling store closed its doors just before Memorial Day weekend.
The closest grocery stores now are a Kroger-owned Food4Less a mile and a half to the east, and an Albertson’s two miles to the north. Community activist Chandra Mosley said this is problematic for many residents.
“The area is comprised of a lot of people who do take public transportation, and we also have a senior citizen center at 60th Street, where a lot of people no longer drive,” Mosley said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with Ralph’s. They know they’re the only local grocery store.”
Park Mesa Heights Community Council President KimMarie Roussell said Kroger’s actions have shown the company’s true colors.
“It’s a disgrace and a disappointment that this big corporation would hold a community that they know is in a food desert hostage,” she said. “To hold on to that lease shows their blatant disregard for us as a community. That just goes to show how much this corporation cares about their actual customers.”
Harris-Dawson said he will keep fighting for a new grocery store to take over the space.
“We are concerned, active and demanding that Kroger release itself from the lease,” Harris-Dawson said. “To prevent another grocer from occupying that space is criminal.”
Sue Favor is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers, who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com.