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RETAIL: Fresh & Easy winds down operations

RETAIL: Fresh & Easy winds down operations

RETAIL: Fresh & Easy winds down operations

 Lisamarie Deatherage loaded her trunk with groceries from Fresh & Easy as it liquidated inventory on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, days after the El Segundo-based company announced plans to close its stores across California, Arizona and Nevada.

Lisamarie Deatherage loaded her trunk with groceries from Fresh & Easy as it liquidated inventory on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, days after the El Segundo-based company announced plans to close its stores across California, Arizona and Nevada.

DEBRA GRUSZECKI , STAFF PHOTO

Fresh & Easy, the European-styled twin to Trader Joe’s grocery chain, on Thursday was well into its final wind-down.

Shelves, dairy cases and produce bins looked as if they were almost picked clean at several locations.

The Torrance-based chain with 97 stores California, Arizona and Nevada – nearly a dozen in Inland Southern California – sent e-mail notices to customers on Wednesday, Oct. 22, to advise of plans to liquidate and close within a couple of weeks.

Layoff notices have also been presented to roughly 3,000 workers, several of whom work in the Riverside distribution plant.

One Fresh & Easy manager said her store could close for good as early as this weekend.

“We’re selling out fast,” Candace Nelson said, as she scanned groceries, plants and novelty items carrying discounts of up to 40 percent for customers in the Fresh & Easy store in Calimesa.

Signs posted at Fresh & Easy markets say the stores are being restocked daily. Store closures are likely to vary from place to place. In Fontana, just as that store’s shelves were emptying, a new shipment of products rolled in.

“Every location is different,” a Fontana store clerk said. “We’re still stocking.”

Lisamarie Deatherage, a Calimesa customer who has shopped at the store since British retail king Tesco brought the conglomerate of stores to Southern California just as the real estate bubble was about to burst, said she is reeling over the news.

The first Fresh & Easy store in the United States opened in Hemet in October 2007.

“I cried,” she said, as she stuffed the trunk of her car with bags full of ready-made meals, fresh squash, potatoes, vegetables, risotto and Jasmine rice. “I love this store.”

Deatherage said she relied on the store because it relieved the pressure of making a good meal for her family while commuting to her job in San Dimas. “It takes me two hours to get to work, so standing in long lines at other grocery stores has never been an option for me.”

Donna Orr, a Yucaipa shopper who bought hard-to-find non-dairy items at Fresh & Easy, said she is frustrated by news of the closing. “Now, the closest place I can go is Loma Linda,” Orr said.

Tesco gained a following of customers like Deatherage, but it wasn’t enough to withstand the recession or competitors that ranged from farm-to-table stands and grocers offering steep discounts on food. New stores followed new rooftops, too.

But when the housing bubble burst, many of those new homebuyers stepped out of view.

Press Enterprise : Real Estate