The Rémy Martin Louis XIII Cognac is $1,549.99, but with your Ralphs Club Card it’s only $1,499.99. The Opus One is sold out, but the Dominus Estate Red is available for $139.99. There’s organic fruit and a dozen different pasta sauces, including Rao’s and Silver Palate. Need a dry cleaner? It’s in the store. How about a winetasting? Every night.
For more than 50 years and several mayoral administrations, residents and city leaders and activists have begged for a full-service supermarket to come downtown. Now, with a Ritz-Carlton going up a few blocks away and a 30-story condo building being constructed within sight, the newly opened Ralphs Fresh Fare supermarket on Ninth Street just east of Flower is doing a slam-bam business. Most people would have settled for a run-of-the mill Ralphs. But in a sign that at least one major corporation believes that the downtown boom is real — even as the condo market seems to be softening — Ralphs went upscale in its long-awaited move to the city’s center by installing one of its Fresh Fare stores on the ground floor of the 267-unit Market Lofts condo complex.
“We believe it has everything a shopper could possibly want in a supermarket,” says Dave Hirz, president of Ralphs. Store director Art Postajian likens the Fresh Fare stores to the “Bristol Farms of Ralphs.”
The new Ralphs is the first supermarket downtown since 1954 and the first Ralphs in the area since 1950, when the company’s store at Seventh and Figueroa streets closed. The first of the chain’s supermarkets, named after founder George A. Ralphs, opened in 1873 at the southwest corner of Sixth and Spring streets.
After the riots, city leaders persuaded Ralphs to commit to serving the urban core and, in 1994, the company opened a basic store, now thriving, at Adams Boulevard and Vermont Avenue. The luxury-housing boomlet motivated Ralphs’ downtown return — but it’s not just upscale downtowners who are coming to the new store.
“The store has far exceeded our projections, and part of the reason is that it is attracting customers from across the bridges in Boyle Heights and across the freeway west of downtown,” says Terry O’Neil, director of public relations for Ralphs. “We didn’t expect people to drive here.”
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O’Neil says the store has been so successful in its first two weeks that the company is considering opening a second store downtown, possibly as part of the proposed Grand Avenue project. “There is definitely room for more supermarkets downtown,” he adds.
“It’s not only about the Westside and the rich white people,” says Sylvia Vasquez, an early-morning shopper from Boyle Heights who attends the Fashion Institute nearby. “People downtown and on the Eastside like good stores too.”
“I hope the move by Ralphs will cause other stores to rethink their policy about urban supermarkets and have confidence to invest downtown,” says L.A. City Council-woman Jan Perry, whose 9th District includes the Ralphs. “I hope the movement will spread to the Southside. People here have to eat, and they will spend their money for a good selection of food and quality.”
Betty Day, a longtime Watts resident and member of the Watts Neighborhood Council, couldn’t agree more. “Did you ever see the meat they sell at these so-called stores in Watts or South-Central?” she asks. “You wouldn’t even want to feed your dog that stuff. Ralphs needs to come to Watts.”