Tuesday, May 6, 2008

New Store Proposal: Tesco's Fresh & Easy Set to Propose New Store in Cathedral City, California; City Council Members Already Taking Sides

Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market executives and representatives of commercial real estate developer Goldmine Investments will meet tomorrow (Wednesday, May 7) night with members of the Cathedral City planning commission in that Southern California desert community to discuss plans the retailer has to built a new Fresh & Easy grocery store on Date Palm Drive in the city, according to a report in the Palm Springs-based Desert Sun newspaper.

Tomorrow night's meeting is on the Cathedral City Planning Commission's agenda, set for 6pm at City Hall. You can read the Planning Commission agenda for tomorrow night here.

Cathedral City is located in the Coachella Valley region in Riverside County. Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market's corporate headquarters and distribution center also are in Riverside County.

Tentative plans for the Fresh & Easy grocery market, which would be Tesco's first in the city of about 52,461 residents, calls for building a 13,000 -to- 14,000 square foot building on about two acres on Date Palm Drive, south of 30th Avenue, according to information on the Cathedral City Planning Commission's agenda.

Going before a municipal planning commission is the first step in California in terms of a retailer and developer proposing to build a retail store on vacant property. Plans for the building must be submitted, and city residents are given a period of time to comment on any proposed commercial development like a grocery store.

If ultimately passed by a city's planning commission, the community's City Council must still approve any commercial building's in California such as a supermarket.

Although the proposed Cathedral City Fresh & Easy grocery store has yet to even have it's first hearing by the city's Planning Commission, there's already a split on the Cathedral City Council regarding the pros and cons of the small-format, convenience-oriented Fresh & Easy grocery market coming to the city.

Cathedral City Mayor Pro-Tem Charles "Bud" England tells the Desert Sun he's for the Fresh & Easy store opening in the city, saying in his view the grocery market would benefit residents of the city.

Councilman Greg Pettis disagrees with Mayor Pro-Tem England though, according to the Desert Sun story.

Pettis tells the publication he doesn't think Fresh & Easy "is a good fit for the community" because of the grocery chain's current struggles with the United Food & Commercial Workers Union.

The United Food & Commercial Workers union (UFCW) is the union for supermarket and grocery store clerks in California and the rest of the Western USA. The UFCW is currently trying to organize Fresh & Easy store-level employees, with the goal of making Fresh & Easy a union shop food retailer like the majority of major grocery chains in California, Arizona and Nevada, where Tesco has its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market food stores, are.

Other current non-union chains of note in California include Wal-Mart Supercenters, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods Market, Inc.

A third Cathedral City Council member, Chuck Vasquez, seems supportive of a Fresh & Easy grocery store coming to the city.

"I don't know if Fresh & Easy is union or not,' he told the Desert Sun. "What I've heard is they're an asset to every community they come into," Councilman Vasquez said.

Tesco currently has two Fresh & Easy stores open in the Coachella Valley desert region which Cathedral City is part of. Those stores are in Indio and Palm Desert.

The grocery chain has plans to open at least five more Fresh & Easy grocery stores in the valley: the Cathedral City Store, two stores in La Quinta, a store in Palm Springs and the fifth store which will be in the city of Coachella.

Not all of the members of the Cathedral City Council have made up their minds on the Fresh & Easy store's coming to the city however. In fact, City Councilman Paul Marchand told the Desert Sun he would withhold all comments on the matter until the proposal works its way through the Planning Commission and that body acts on it.

The Cathedral City store is important to Fresh & Easy since it's retail strategy is to open a "critical mass" of the small-format, combination basic grocery, fresh and specialty foods markets in all the market regions it enters.

The ultimate goal is to have Fresh & Easy stores within about 1.5 -to- 2 miles from each other in these markets regions: Southern California; Metropolitan Las Vegas, Nevada; the Phoenix, Arizona Metro Area; the San Francisco Bay Area; and the Sacramento region.

Doing so will allow Tesco to build a "critical mass" in its marketing and advertising as well as to hopefully become the de facto neighborhood grocer of choice do to having so many of the small-format, convenience-oriented grocery markets in these specific market regions. Think Starbucks for coffee and Walgreens and Rite Aid as drug stores in terms of other retailers who use this "critical mass" strategy.

Generally, proposals like Tesco's for the Cathedral City Fresh & Easy grocery store take at least 30 days or more to work their way through a city's Planning Commission process. At the end of the process, the usually five-member commission votes on the proposal.

If the vote is positive, the proposal then goes to the City Council for a vote of approval. The council can either approve the proposal, send it back to the Planning Commission for further study, or kill it with a majority vote in the negative.

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