Forgive the deja vu feeling at Rancho Santa Fe Road and San Marcos Boulevard, but Vons is back in town. The once-and-future store has made a dizzying and stomach-returning journey from Vons to Haggen to Albertsons and back to Vons over the course of two years.
Blink, and blink again, at 8 a.m. Wednesday, March 16 as the old Vons re-opens as — ta-da — the new Vons. “We’re excited to be back,” Carlos Illingworth, Southern California communications director for Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions, said Monday. “We’re very close to being open.”
This store at 671 Rancho Santa Fe Rd. will be full-service with a Starbucks and 80 employees when it opens, Guiseppe Gutierrez said as he supervised fix-it-up and installation operations that began around Feb. 15. An Encinitas resident, Gutierrez was a rehired Vons employee who eventually will settle in as store director for the Scripps Ranch Vons. Sam Whitten will be the new store director for the San Marcos location that will be open 6 a.m. to midnight, daily.
Safeway owned stores under its various branding labels are going back in to 14 former Vons sites across Central and Southern California with seven already re-operating, according to Illingworth. “Our La Mesa Vons and El Cajon Albertsons will open this week, followed by our San Marcos Vons next Wednesday,” he said. “We are thrilled to finally get to show our valued customers what we have been working on.
“We are also pleased to welcome back many of our former employees,” Illingworth continued. “This has been our top priority. The number of returning employees varies by store and is largely determined by how many apply, as well as seniority and other terms of our collective bargaining agreement with the union.”
Illingworth added: “Our San Marcos Vons will have a whole new look and feel and customers can expect us to be better than before – fresher, fuller and friendlier across all departments. In terms of merchandising enhancements, we have increased the variety and selection of organics…We have also added hundreds of new local wines and craft beers, and will carry offerings from Santa Monica Seafood.”
Unusual economic considerations
The Vons reawakening is part of strange, but true, economic scenario kicked off in 2014 by a $9.4 billion merger deal between Safeway, Vons’ parent company, and Cerberus Capital Management, owner of Albertsons. The Federal Trade Commission stepped in and required the new company to divest itself of stores due to competitive reasons.
Haggen stepped in, or rather overstepped. A sleepy Washington state company with a few dozen stores, Haggen bought 146 Vons and Albertsons supermarkets in the West, including 83 in California. San Diego County had 25 stores change hands, including the back-to-the-future Vons on Rancho Santa Fe Road.
Haggen’s eyes were bigger than its stomach. The company went bankrupt last fall prompting a Chapter 11 bankruptcy court to auction off its assets. Vons, Albertsons and Pavilions re-emerged as the big buy-back powers. Most San Diego County outlets went to one, or the other, of those Safeway operations.
Craig Rosenblum, a partner with the consumer goods and retail consulting firm Willard Bishop, said the realignment was unprecedented.
“I can’t recall in all my years in the business, the Federal Trade Commission forcing a retailer to sell off stores and enabling them to buy back the same stores at a discounted rate,” Rosenblum said.
“Haggen failed to do its homework on the local shoppers,” Rosenbaum said. “They didn’t get all the history of these stores, shopper information and promotion information.”
Albertsons initially was the lucky bidder on the San Marcos location, along with the El Cajon, La Mesa, Rancho Bernardo and Highland Village, San Diego locations. However, Safeway later assigned some of those stores to its Vons division.
“Opening this many stores in a short period of time has been a unique process with a lot of moving pieces,” Illingworth said. “It has required a significant investment of time and effort, but we could not have asked for a better way to start the year than with this opportunity. Our goal has been to do this right, both for our customers and employees. “
Haggen stores that have opened to date, according to Illingworth, included:
Albertsons – 8200 E. Stockdale Hwy, BakersfieldAlbertsons – 3500 Panama Lane, Bakersfield
Albertsons – 6240 Foothill Blvd., Tujunga
Albertsons – 8850 Foothill Blvd., Rancho Cucamonga
Albertsons – 12475 Rancho Bernardo Road, Rancho Bernardo
Vons – 163 S. Turnpike Road, Goleta
Vons – 26518 Bouquet Canyon Road, Saugus
Stores opening on Wednesday, March 9:
Vons – 5630 Lake Murray Blvd, La Mesa
Albertsons – 1608 Broadway St, El Cajon
Stores opening on Wednesday, March 16:
Vons – 671 Rancho Santa Fe, San Marcos
Albertsons – 1500 N. ‘H’ Street, Lompoc
Stores scheduled to open over the next few months:
7900 White Lane, Bakersfield
7895 Highland Village Place, San Diego
2010 Cliff Dr., Santa Barbara
In case that isn’t enough local supermarket naming from the ashes of Haggen’s bankruptcy, late last year, bankruptcy officials said other Haggen stored disposed of locally included:
Smart & Final:
955 Carlsbad Village Drive, Carlsbad
360 East H Street, Chula Vista
150 B Avenue, Coronado
13439 Camino Canada, El Cajon
2800 Fletcher Parkway, El Cajon
3681 Avocado Avenue, La Mesa
10633 Tierrasanta Boulevard, San Diego
10740 Westview Parkway, San Diego
350 W San Ysidro Boulevard, San Ysidro
9870 Magnolia Avenue, Santee
2707 Via De La Valle, Del Mar
730 Turquoise Street, La Jolla/San Diego
Good Food Holdings:
W. Washington Avenue, San Diego
Balboa Avenue, San Diego.