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Planned Closure of Downtown Vons Worries the Aged

March 05, 1989|CHRIS WOODYARD | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Jantina Hoyt picked out sugar, cigarettes and soap from the shelves, then braved a long line at the checkout counter.

Hoyt, 72, did not seem to mind the wait, even though the counter next to her was closed and bright red signs swinging from the ceiling informed patrons that all cash registers would be open during rush hours.

What bothered her was the fact that on Monday the Vons supermarket will close permanently.

Like other senior citizens on the west edge of downtown Long Beach, Hoyt said, she depends on the store at Pacific Avenue and 4th Street, a short walk from her apartment. She said she has shopped there several times a week for four years and knows the checkers by name.

Now, Hoyt said, she will have to take a half-hour bus ride to a Ralphs near the Traffic Circle. She acknowledges that she would have a shorter bus ride by going to one of two other Vons stores within a mile, but says she is too perturbed by the closure to patronize Vons.

Difficult for Seniors

Other senior citizens may find the adjustment even more difficult, Hoyt said. Some of the elderly people in her building walk with the aid of crutches and have difficulty using buses, she added.

Although supermarkets often come and go without notice, the closure of the Vons on Pacific Avenue is drawing complaints. The store caters almost entirely to the working poor, elderly and handicapped, said Marie Gomez, a resident who has spearheaded a petition drive to save the store.

The store's customers often don't own cars, she said. And some of the handicapped or elderly people even have difficulty using public transportation, she said.

"If they take that market out of that area, those people won't eat or won't leave their homes," she said. "You can go to that market on any given day and see someone walking down the alley with four bags of groceries. (It's) hard getting on and off a bus."

Gomez, who plans to turn over her petitions with 500 signatures to the city and to Vons, took her case to the City Council last week. The council asked the city's community development director to try to find a solution. Mayor Ernie Kell said he would write a letter to Vons' management.

No Others Interested

The store is one of 172 former Safeway supermarkets acquired by Vons last year. Last week Vons closed a store at 2300 E. 7th St. and another in the Los Altos Shopping Center.

Councilman Tom Clark said the closure of the store in the shopping center will be inconvenient to senior citizens who, like those in downtown Long Beach, frequently walk to buy groceries.

Council members were told that no other market chains are apparently interested in operating in the Vons store on Pacific Avenue. Although a smaller independent market operator might be found, shoppers say, they fear that they would have to pay substantially higher prices that would strain their fixed-income budgets.

A Vons official said the antiquated market was closed because it is eight blocks from another of its stores at Broadway and Atlantic Avenue and seven blocks from a Vons at Long Beach Boulevard and 10th Street. There are no other major supermarket chain stores in downtown Long Beach.

Ben Rockwell said he and other disabled people are going to have a difficult time getting to other markets. Rockwell is one of 44 handicapped residents of the federally funded Beach-Wood Apartments five blocks west of the Pacific Avenue market that is closing.

"The transportation to get to other markets is so hard," he said in an interview. "There is no other market in less than a mile and a half from here."

Peter Horn, senior vice president and general manager of Vons, said the stores being closed are small and inefficient by modern supermarket standards.

He said the income levels of the customers did not play a role in the decision to close. "Demographics do have a say on it (whether to close a store), but the fact of the matter is that everybody has to eat," Horn said.

He said Vons executives are concerned about the impact of the closures on customers and that executives are willing to meet with city officials to try to find a way of aiding the Pacific Avenue store's patrons get to other Vons stores.

"We would be willing to talk with the city and (if) necessary, we'll come up with some creative way of helping those folks get to those stores," he said.

Susan Shick, the city's newly named director of community development, said she had planned to meet with Vons officials before the closures to see what kind of plans they have for Long Beach. Now, she said, she will also try to find a solution to fill the void left by the Pacific Avenue market.

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