Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Writers-At-Large: Scott Timberg - 'New York Times:' The (Perhaps Not So Good) Changes in Los Angeles' Eagle Rock Neighborhood

Pictured above: The Eagle Rock neighborhood in Los Angeles: Lot's of changes in the last six or seven years. But also still a bit "old school." [Photo Credit: Stephanie Diani.]

The Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market grocery and fresh foods market in Los Angeles' Eagle Rock neighborhood (also referred to as Glassell Park) on the Northeast edge of "The City of Angels" was one of the very first Fresh & Easy stores Tesco opened when it began its rapid new store opening program in the fall of 2007.

The Eagle Rock store, along with five other Fresh & Easy markets in Southern California (a sixth store, in Hemet, California, had a soft opening about two weeks earlier but held its grand opening on November 8, 2007 along with the other five stores), were all opened on the same day by Tesco, November 8, 2007.

The six Fresh & Easy stores that officially opened on November 8, 2007 are:

>4211 Eagle Rock Blvd., Los Angeles
>3170 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim
>1000 W. Covina Parkway, West Covina
>133 E. Foothill Blvd, Arcadia
>176 S. Mountain Ave., Upland
>1709 W. Florida Ave., Hemet

And for Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, Eagle Rock has been one of the better store locations the grocery chain has chosen for one of its small-format, convenience-oriented, combination grocery and fresh foods Fresh & Easy markets.

The Eagle Rock-Los Angeles unit is one of a handful of the current Tesco Fresh & Easy stores that is averaging $200,000 per-week in average sales, which is the average sales target for all of the Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market stores Tesco had hoped to achieve before the end of 2008, an overall weekly sales target the 114 stores overall haven't yet come close to achieving.

Pictured above: A shopper checks out the ingredients on a package of snack foods at the Eagle Rock, Los Angeles Fresh & Easy grocery and fresh foods market

Just six -to- seven years ago Eagle Rock was a lower -to- middle income neighborhood, mostly blue collar. It's still mainly middle-income. But over the years the neighborhood has experienced gentrification, an urban planning term taken from the old British term "landed gentry," meaning the change that takes place when the "new gentry" moves into a neighborhood in masses and changes the character of that neighborhood or entire city dramatically.

In the case of Los Angeles' Eagle Rock neighborhood, that "new gentry" is what urban planners call the "creative class," mostly young professionals who, like they have over the last few years in urban neighborhoods throughout the U.S. (San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, New York, Boston, for example), discover a blue collar or lower -to- middle income neighborhood with fairly low rents and housing costs, and much "hip potential," and begin moving in and changing the neighborhood in ways young professionals do: More street life, which leads to more cafes, art galleries, hip boutiques and the like. The term "creative class" was coined and popularized by author Richard Florida in his best selling book, "The Rise of the Creative Class."

The members of this "creative class" who've been moving into the Eagle Rock neighborhood in considerable numbers over the six or seven years include Hollywood screenwriters and movie animators, music composers, Web site designers, artists, graphic designers and others in the mostly creative professions, but also young professionals in other less creative occupations.

This isn't a new phenomenon in Los Angeles. Similar gentrification happened long ago in once lower -to- middle income neighborhoods in the city like Silver Lake and Los Feliz.

Over the last six or seven years the look, feel and mix of businesses in Eagle Rock have started to change, reflecting a bit the changing neighborhood demographics. The neighborhood that once was filled mostly with auto repair shops, greasy spoon restaurants and similar businesses, now also has a few trendy boutiques, cafes and other "creative class"-demanded shops and businesses -- and a Tesco Fresh & Easy market.

Tesco saw this rapid gentrification -- along with the fact that the neighborhood was underserved by grocery stores that offer a decent selection of groceries and fresh foods at affordable prices -- and quickly acquired a site in Eagle Rock for one of its Fresh & Easy markets, which is now among that first wave of the grocer's stores that's been opened about 15 months now.

But the bloom is coming off Los Angeles' Eagle Rock neighborhood in the current economic recession, as it is in numerous neighborhoods in California and elsewhere in the U.S. that have undergone gentrification and upscaling over the last decade.

The "creative class," after all, isn't recession-proof. Far from it.

In fact, some residents of Eagle Rock are beginning to feel that a negative economic tsunami is about to hit the neighborhood in the form of a wave of numerous business closings (some closings have already started) and other recessionary downers.

Writer Scott Timberg recently wrote a profile of Los Angeles' Eagle Rock neighborhood for the Fashion & Style section of the New York Times. The profile piece, "When the Next Wave Wipes Out," captures the current feel -- and the feelings of a number of its residents -- in the changing neighborhood located in Northeastern Los Angeles.

We recently visited the Fresh & Easy market in Eagle Rock, our fifth trip to the store since it opened. The store was humming along pretty well in terms of customer-count on the day and evening we visited in late January.

The Eagle Rock-Los Angeles Fresh & Easy store benefits greatly from two things: It's just about the only full-service grocery market in the immediate neighborhood; and Eagle Rock has a very high-percentage of consumers aged about 18-34, (members of the Millennial Generation -- born 1980 -to- 2000 -- with a couple added years in our research), which is the one demographic thus far our research has identified as having started to develop an affinity among many of its members to the Fresh & Easy retail brand and format.

We felt the changes and feelings described in the New York Times' piece while in Eagle Rock as well, particularly the dashed hopes among many of the residents for the neighborhood because of the recession. For some those dashed hopes are a "good thing" as they don't want Eagle Rock to become another trendy Los Angeles neighborhood.

It will be fascinating to watch the evolution of Eagle Rock during this recession, which isn't ending anytime soon, and after. And the Tesco Fresh & Easy store in Eagle Rock offers a pretty good Anthropological outpost for doing so. And we observed, and talked to, numerous Eagle Rock residents when we were last in the store who were doing just that -- discussing and analyzing the current and future state of their neighborhood.

Below (in italics) is the New York Times' feature piece (published originally on February 25, 2009) by Scott Timberg:

New York Times Style & Fashion

When the Next Wave Wipes Out
By Scott Timberg
February 25, 2009
Los Angeles, California

WHEN Emily Cook, a screenwriter, bought a house four years ago in Eagle Rock, a neighborhood on the Northeast side of Los Angeles, she fantasized what the area might look like in a year or two, with cafes and boutiques replacing tattered old businesses. “It was like fantasy football,” said Ms. Cook, 38, who also sings in a band named Fonda.

A sad flower shop on the corner, she thought, could become a miniature Whole Foods. An upholstery store could be a gastropub where she and friends would grab a beer, and a neglected 1940s diner could become a retro spot for a quick meal.

But Ms. Cook has stopped fantasizing about what might be, and started worrying about what might shut down. The flower store has closed; no gourmet market is moving in. Lucy Finch, a vintage boutique, folded last month. That Yarn Store, a hangout for crochet-heads, didn’t survive a bad winter.

[Click hear to read the full story from the New York Times.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

ROFL... This article was too funny. It's obvious the person who penned this is only a "writer" and not a "local". I suppose we must be thankful he’s opening our eyes and making us aware of the “creative class” of young, hip, rich, urban professionals that have brought gentrification to our small, humble, low-income, ghetto, eh? The people who live here know what type of city Eagle Rock really is, obviously not too many others do. Hopefully we can keep it that way. Oh, and by the way… the article is supposed to be about the Fresh & Easy Market, yes? I find it humorous that the photo accompanying the article is of Eagle Rock Boulevard and a handful of mom-and-pop shops, and NOT of the usually empty Fresh & Easy Market parking lot. Then again, that would have completely contradicted this knight-in-shining-armor establishment that has come to save our ‘hood.