Following the closure of all six Haggen supermarkets in San Luis Obispo County, many shoppers were left with vacant buildings where their main grocery store used to be, just in time for the holiday rush.
But although shoppers were inconvenienced, several local grocery stores benefited; they are reporting more customers, bigger sales and longer lines than usual.
“Heck yeah, it’s been busy,” said Frances Gonzalez, the Los Osos Ralphs store co-manager. “We have so many new people in here.”
Gonzalez said the business has made about 25 percent more in sales this November and December than last year, and the customer count has risen by between 15 and 20 percent. She attributed much of that increase to Ralphs being the only remaining grocery story in Los Osos.
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Things that haven’t moved before are flying off the shelves now.
Frances Gonzalez, Los Osos Ralphs co-manager
“What used to not be busy for us is pretty hectic now,” she said. “Now it’s slammed between 2 and 7 p.m. Our old rush was after 4 p.m., when everyone starts getting off work, but now we are starting to see people earlier and earlier, around 2 p.m.”
Gonzalez also said the store has seen more demand for produce and organic items since Haggen closed.
“Things that haven’t moved before are flying off the shelves now,” she said. “We’ve really had to put our foot on the gas with produce. Von’s used to have a pretty good produce selection, and ours was a little small, but now everyone is coming in, and a lot of people want that produce.”
To cope with the increase in customers, Gonzalez said the store has been hiring new employees, including three former Haggen workers.
At Whole Foods in San Luis Obispo, store manager Steve Rhodes said the business also hired five Haggen employees, following a job fair Whole Foods hosted for former Haggen workers.
Rhodes said traffic at Whole Foods has gone up “a few percentage points” since Haggen closed, although he expects that to increase once construction is completed on the nearby Los Osos Valley Road overpass.
“We’re in a bit of a special situation, because of that project,” he said. “But we’ve definitely seen a bit of an upward swing.”
At California Fresh Market in Pismo Beach, a store manager said the store has seen about 40 percent more people since Haggen opened in Arroyo Grande in April. The manager declined to give her name because of store policy.
“We’ve gotten a lot more business, even from when Haggen first came in,” she said. “A lot of people saying they just didn’t like it.”
A store manager at Trader Joe’s in Arroyo Grande — the only remaining grocery store in the city — directed comment to the chain’s corporate office, which did not respond as of Thursday.
What is happening with Haggen?
All six of the former Haggen locations are closed, though three in Atascadero, Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo at Johnson Avenue are set to transition into Smart & Final Extras in the coming months.
Buyers were not found for the stores in Arroyo Grande, Los Osos and San Luis Obispo at Foothill Boulevard at the chain’s bankruptcy auction in November, so it is now up to the shopping center owners to find replacements.
Representatives for the shopping centers — the Five Cities Shopping Center, Los Osos Shopping Center and SLO Promenade, respectively — did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
As for Haggen, it sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Sept. 8, and began the process of selling off its assets. Since then, the chain has announced that it will also auction off its core stores in the Pacific Northwest. That auction is expected to take place in February.