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New market opens in Compton, old issue remains unaddressed

Cynthia E. Griffin- | 2/13/2008, 5 p.m.

Tesco, the third largest retailer in the world, has opened its 43rd store in the United States in Compton, and the Fresh and Easy grocer is expected to contribute about $200,000 a year in property tax revenue to the Hub City economy.
The grand opening of the store, which is located at Rosecrans and Central avenues, was held last Thursday and drew a host of dignitaries including England's Prince Andrew Duke of York, Supervisor Yvonne Braithwaite-Burke and the City of Compton council members and mayor.
"We have another store, and it's whole foods, and for it to come to Compton is fantastic," said Councilwoman Barbara Calhoun about the arrival of Fresh and Easy in her district. "It's the English version of Trader Joe's. We want food that doesn't have preservatives. It's also beautiful and clean," added Calhoun, who said that the opening of the store is the culmination of a long search for a top-tier food outlet to come into the city.
"What this represents is another step in the birthing of a new Compton," added Mayor Eric Perrodin.
The Compton Fresh and Easy is built on a 10,000-square site, and features fresh fruits, meats, as well as staples like cereal, bread, juice, and more. It also sells magazines and fresh flowers. According to chief marketing officer Simon Uwins, there are no artificial colors nor artificial flavors added to the Fresh and Easy brand items, nor are there any added transfats. Additionally, only the preservatives needed to keep food fresh are used. Uwins also said about half the items in the store are Fresh and Easy products delivered from the company's Riverside warehouse, and the other half are national brand products.
"Three years ago, we went into people's homes and talked with them about food shopping. We looked into their pantries, and asked what they wanted from an ideal food standpoint. They said they wanted fresh food they could afford. And they were fed up with shopping in different stores to get different products.
"We set up a mock store in Hawthorne and we invited 200 people to shop in it," added Uwins about how they developed the store concept.
Fresh and Easy officials also vowed to be good neighbors by constructing and operating green stores like the Compton one, which uses 30 percent less energy because of its warehouse-like design with sky lighting and concrete floors, which are easier to keep clean.
Workers are paid an entry level wage of $10 per hour, and work no less than 20 hours per week. Uwins said this entitles them to full benefits, 75 percent of which are paid by the company.
They are also eligible to participate in the company's 401(k) plan and can earn a bonus of up to 10 percent each quarter.
But beyond the pay, Uwins said the goal was to create an atmosphere where employees were happy.
While this might sound good, a spokesman from the Alliance for Healthy and Responsible Grocery Stores wants Fresh and Easy to do more than just talk. They want the retailing giant to put the promises in writing in the form of a community benefits agreement, and during the grand opening hand-delivered letters to Prince Andrew and the head of Tesco, Timothy Mason, seeking the support of the prince and urging the CEO to negotiate an agreement.
According to Elliot Petty, a spokesman for the coalition, a signed community benefit agreement will commit Fresh and Easy to do what they say.
"They said they would have LEED-certified stores, but thus far of the 43 stores open, there aren't any. And they haven't announced any," explained Petty. LEED stores resulted from the coalescing of international groups to give buildings and facilities a designation on the varying levels of energy efficiency.
According to a Fresh and Easy spokesperson, the company has joined a volume certification program, and is expecting the LEED designation later this year.
"They said they were going to have clean trucks with new engines running clean technology, but from what we can tell, they do not have those up and running," Petty added. In fact, the coalition representative said that the company is fighting a state requirement for an environmental impact report at its Riverside facility at March Air Force Base.
The court case actually involves a challenge by a local coalition to an environmental impact report the company submitted, said a company spokesman.
"They say they have a commitment to being a green company, but we see them doing other things. That's why we want a real agreement that talks about accountability," Petty added.
"There is also the question of where they locate stores," Petty added. While he said the company is touting its commitment to locating in underserved communities, of the more than 70 liquor licenses Fresh and Easy has applied for, less than 10 percent are in communities that would be considered underserved.
In terms of employees, Petty said it is not about unionizing, but about making sure that the jobs are middle-income jobs that allow people a way to get promoted.
"We want them to come. We want them to be a leader. We want them to provide good jobs, and we want them to put a number of stores in underserved communities. One store in Compton is a great start, but we need more," said Petty of the $2 billion investment Tesco intends to make in the U.S.
"They say different things, and try to make themselves look different, but we see a lot of the same patterns. It's one thing to make a promise and another to follow through on it," said Petty.