By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
But the L.A.-based Broadway chain foundered in the mid-1980s when its corporate owner, Carter-Hawley-Hale, made a clumsy restructuring attempt to head off a hostile takeover. Forced into bankruptcy, Broadway was bought by Federated Stores, which already owned Bullock’s. Federated proceeded to turn half its stores into outlets of the locally unfamiliar Macy’s chain. Bullock’s Wilshire, I. Magnin, Buffums — they all were gone.
And then it was the 1990s, and the entire economy was in a tailspin. In Van Nuys and Panorama City, where aerospace support industries were failing and General Motors closed its Firebird and Camaro plant, no one had any money to come to the failing mall with its vacant Broadway store. Over in Crenshaw, pressure from the African-American community to save the cornerstone of black L.A.’s commercial hub, repeatedly passed over by supermarkets and major retailers in what critics insisted was a type of bigoted redlining, compelled Federated to convert the dying Broadway into a Macy’s. But then Macy’s closed, and the historic building at the world’s first shopping center lay empty for four years. Until Wal-Mart called.
As in Panorama City in 1998, Wal-Mart was welcomed this year with open arms. Now the letters on the huge iconic fin that once read “Broadway” instead spell out “Wal-Mart.”
“There was a kind of a stigma about that particular part of the city,” Wal-Mart’s Peter Kanelos says. “That store sat vacant for years. We started hiring weeks before the store opened and we had no trouble attracting new associates from the community. They told us we were the first ones to come into that area with a positive outlook, and they were so appreciative of that. We are now the nation’s largest private employer of African-Americans and Hispanics, and we have over a million associates nationwide. You don’t get that way if you’re not doing something right.”
The department stores are not coming back. Michael Beyard of the Urban Land Institute predicts more shopping centers like the Grove at Farmers Market, where shoppers enjoy a sense of a town center, however fake. He predicts that increasingly those centers will include stores that once seemed too downscale to affluent shoppers.
“We are going to see big-boxes teamed, in the highest volume locations,” Beyard says. “You will see a trend toward mixing. You will see Beverly Hills matrons going to Wal-Mart. Though they probably won’t admit it.”
Rick Icaza of UFCW Local 770 found himself in a bit of a pickle this summer between Ralphs, Albertsons and Vons on the one hand and Wal-Mart on the other. Store clerks agreed to higher dues to create a fund to fight Wal-Mart’s incursion, and executives joined Icaza at two public hearings in July to support the proposed big-box ordinance.
Now, Icaza claims, management is citing Wal-Mart as its reason to cut benefits. He acknowledges that a long supermarket strike might make shoppers more enthusiastic about having a Wal-Mart Supercenter within driving distance. “But once they learn the issues,” he insists, “they will support us.”
But even if the three big chains keep their stores open during the strike, shoppers have plenty of places to buy groceries without crossing picket lines. They can shop at Ralphs’ sister store, Food 4 Less, which operates under a separate contract, or local union stores Gelsons or Stater Bros., which have committed to sign off on a UFCW contract once the big chains do, or nonunion stores like Bristol Farms. Or the limited grocery section at the Baldwin Hills–Crenshaw Wal-Mart.
Ralphs was once a small local chain like Stater Bros. It got its start just a few blocks from the first Broadway, on Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles. Today, it’s owned by the Kroger Co. of Cincinnati, and the chain’s 3,229 supermarkets did $51.4 billion in business in the U.S. in 2002, according to the Food Marketing Institute. It was enough to make Kroger the number two American grocer last year. Albertsons of Boise, Idaho, came in a distant third with $36.7 billion in sales, while California-based Safeway, which owns Vons and Pavilions, was fourth with $32.4 million. Who’s number one? Wal-Mart. Having eclipsed all department store sales combined, Wal-Mart entered the fresh food business in 1988 and last year became the world’s largest grocer, with $71.9 billion in food sales at its Supercenters and warehouse-like Sam’s Clubs. The company’s limited offerings of groceries, so far, in Los Angeles are just a morsel of what a Supercenter would stock.
The major grocery chains have only recently penetrated southern and eastern sections of Los Angeles, and some studies still raise concern over the quality of food available there. Amanda Shaffer, author of a 2002 Center for Food and Justice report on “The Persistence of L.A.’s Grocery Gap,” found the fewest supermarkets in poor and ethnic minority parts of town. The convenience stores that served many of those areas often stocked less healthful foods and fewer choices.
Wal-Mart’s Peter Kanelos says full-service Superstores would bring more choices to central city residents. Besides, he adds, the major supermarket chains have dropped the ball on serving South Los Angeles residents.