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California

Gigante Breaks New Ground

Retail: Construction begins on popular Mexican-owned supermarket in South-Central L.A.

April 30, 2002|ELENA GAONA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ten years after rioters torched shops on the site, a growing Mexican supermarket chain broke ground Monday on a store to anchor a $10-million shopping center in South-Central Los Angeles.

Efforts to rebuild the shopping center at Vermont and Slauson avenues had been plagued by false starts, with Vons and ValuePlus supermarkets pulling out of development plans.

In 1998, Rocky Delgadillo, then Los Angeles deputy mayor for economic development, suggested bringing the Gigante supermarket chain to the site. The neighborhood, heavily African American at the time of the riots that began April 29, 1992, is largely Latino now.

"Part of my job was to advise on what makes the most sense," said Delgadillo, who is now city attorney. "I knew Gigante was going to come into L.A. in a big way."

The project was developed by the Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corp., a nonprofit organization that seeks economic growth for South-Central Los Angeles.

The development corporation struck a deal with Gigante, a billion-dollar Mexican-owned supermarket chain widely popular in Mexico that entered the U.S. market through Los Angeles in 1999. Gigante has stores in Arleta, Pico Rivera and Covina, said Justo Frias, president of Gigante USA Inc., based in Santa Ana.

A 50,000-square-foot Gigante store at the shopping center at Vermont and Slauson is scheduled to open in December and will be the first store the supermarket chain builds from the ground up in Southern California. The construction cost for the store is $3.5 million, and the chain has made an additional $3-million investment in inventory and supplies, Frias said.

The negotiations with Gigante took two years. In the meantime, the supermarket became unionized, making it easier for the project to win support in City Hall, Delgadillo said.

The Vermont-Slauson center is a $10-million endeavor the nonprofit corporation has been working to piece together for the last 10 years, said Marva Smith Battle-Bey, president of the development corporation.

The Los Angeles Community Development Bank, Genesis L.A. and the mayor's office helped finance the deal. A 4,000-square-foot Burger King franchise and 5,000 square feet of office space for the development corporation will fill out the shopping center.

"I'm relieved," Battle-Bey said. "It means other corporations are taking an interest in the neighborhood. We'll just go to the people who want to be here."

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