West Oakland is not getting a grocery store anytime soon

So, even though Fresh & Easy has already announced their first 18 Bay Area locations, and the only one in Oakland is at 73rd and Bancroft, people keep insisting that West Oakland will be getting one this year. This is probably at least partly due to the fact that Nancy Nadel published in her Winter newsletter that they had leased the former Eugene Market space, when, in fact, they had not. Anyway, Fresh & Easy has now announced that they’re going to be taking a three month “pause” from opening any more US stores. One Fresh & Easy follower thinks it’s going to take more than three months to fix the company’s US model, which has not been performing particularly well so far.

I’ll be back from vacation and back to real blogging tomorrow.

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9 thoughts on “West Oakland is not getting a grocery store anytime soon

  1. Joanna

    It’s not shocking at all that F&E is having a hard time… their model includes non-union workers in semi-tough areas. Uh, how do you find competent employees in that case? I have a retail store in Oakland and I’m constantly shocked an amazed at how difficult it is to find help. It’s too bad Eugene’s Gateway Market had to close. Actually, the owners before the last deserter had really started to turn the place around and I found myself going there more and more. But then it changed hands and it went downhill from there. F&E are much more likely to find that this concept might work in downtown SF because of the premade foods (lunch).

    I’ve heard via the grapevine that someone trying to get them in to Oakland got himself on the Board of the Jack London District Association, but I honestly don’t know the whole story. And Jack London Square Partners are going to be looking for a grocery tenant later this year or next year for the retail space in the ground floor of the Amtrak Parking Garage that is being built.

  2. RALPH

    So Joannna, are you saying there is a shortage of competent workers in Oakland. Given the always long lines at the Rockridge Safeway that doesn’t surprise me. But can someone tell me how Whole Foods managed to staff up with good people and in sufficient numbers to cover the registers even during the busy times.

  3. Joanna

    Many of the Whole Foods emps are from SF. I asked them about it when they opened and slowly they are trying to hire more from Oakland, but in the mean time they pull emps from other stores throughout the Bay Area. Sometimes if you go to the food counters – not the checkout stands – you can tell that they are constantly training and the service is not nearly so good, much less fast. I don’t mind for the most part. I just go in knowing that if I want a pastry or a slice of pizza, it’s not necessarily going to be speedy. At least I’m driving less to Berkeley to BBowl and even less to the Lucky in Alameda. (the Alameda store is considerably closer and easier to get to than the Lake Merritt one)

  4. V Smoothe Post author

    I’m not sure I follow about the non-union workers being Fresh & Easy’s problem. Is there research I’m not aware of showing that union employees are more competent than non-union?

  5. Dogtown Commoner

    Union workers do tend to be paid more than non-union workers, so I interpreted “non-union” as a stand-in for “low-wage” in Joanna’s first comment. There are obvious exceptions such as Trader Joe’s, which offers competive wages and benefits, but is not unionized. (I don’t know what the wages at Whole Foods are like, but the company is strongly anti-union. My guess is that wages there are also competitive with union supermarkets.)

    If a company complains about a “shortage of competent workers,” it really means “we are unable or unwilling to pay enough to attract qualified workers,” but the euphemism makes it seem like it’s somehow the community’s fault.

  6. Joanna

    I don’t think it necessarily has to do with intelligence in terms of union vs non-union, but many union workers in the Bay Area do not shop at stores that are non-union. I see it in my pack & ship biz where people want to ship via one carrier that is all union vs another carrier that is not.

    I do think that the wages have a bit more to do with intelligence levels – if you pay more, you have a better selection of candidates – and it also has to do with location and store reputation. Fresh & Easy is relatively unknown in comparison to Trader Joe’s, etc. Also, TJ’s offers bennies, and it was my understanding that F&E are not offering bennies. Just low wages in less than premium locations. That’s a tough thing to overcome and the pool of potential emps they pull from are not so good as say, Berkeley Bowl. TJ’s, or WF.

    And Dogstown Commoner – I was willing to pay $15/hr with a flexible work schedule (looking for a college student ideally) and still couldn’t find someone that could be bothered to show up half the time, much less count to 10. I’m not in a college area (JLS), except for Laney (which doesn’t count because of language barrier issues), nor are there teens or older people. So while it’s not the community’s fault, I don’t want you to think that it’s a barrel of laughs owning a business in Oakland!

  7. V Smoothe Post author

    What do Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s pay? Fresh & Easy’s starting wage in California is $10/hr. Not a fortune, but not minimum wage either, and more than I’ve ever earned as a cook. They offer a matching 401k program, paid time off, and health care that includes medical, dental, and vision.

  8. Dogtown Commoner

    That F&E starting wage is comparable to Trader Joe’s. TJ’s starting pay is 10 to 12 an hour, I think, with health/dental, paid vacation, retirement plan, etc. (I checked around the time they opened the Oakland stores, because I had a similar conversation with someone back then). I don’t know what Whole Foods pays, but it’s probably similar.

    Joanna, I’m surprised to hear that you had trouble finding reliable part-timers for $15 an hour. And what do you mean about language barrier issues? Laney has no English-speaking students?

  9. Joanna

    I’ve taken 18 courses at Laney over the last 8 years. My experience was that day classes had very few English speaking students – some of whom could not communicate at all without an interpreter. I honestly don’t know how some of them got through classes, other than some teachers did pass you just for showing up and being part of a work group.

    Night classes tend to be completely different – mostly professionals looking to get that degree they didn’t get the first time around. Much more likely to speak English.

    In the packing and shipping business I have to be very careful because of TSA rules and carrier regulations. As a notary, I have to be sure that I know that the person signing a document has an understanding of what they are signing and that they’re not just signing something because someone tells them to. Many who come in to apply are not able to communicate well enough to handle these tasks. Because of the diversity of services and products I offer, that also adds a dimension to the type of person I need to hire. It typically takes 4-6 months to train with an employee to get their notary commission before I can leave them on their own, not to mention the costs of obtaining their notary commission, which I pay for. Other jobs don’t have quite so long of a training time, especially at WF, TJ, etc.

    In the case with my most recent emp, they just can’t be bothered to show up half the time It’s very frustrating! I hear this frustration from other business owners – throughout Oakland – all the time. I can’t afford to offer bennies and with workers’ comp costs, I’m losing money on emps even at $10/hr. My feeling is that $15/hr is worth it to me if I can get out of my store and regain my sanity once in a while, much less have the option to get sick or go to appointments.