Fresh and Easy moved in, a few years ago, into a mid-century shopping center on the SE corner of Vanowen at Sepulveda.
The first time I went to this British import I left unimpressed. It was like buying groceries at IKEA. It felt impersonal and cheap.
But gradually, in these years of lots of want and little cash, the nearby store with its handy $5 off coupons, green cards, self-service checkout, and reasonably priced items, grew on me.
A very friendly store manager recognized me, and she always said hello. I would quickly come down the aisles, with my reusable canvas bag, and snap up bananas, packaged lettuce, shredded carrots, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, eggs, milk, cream, 99-cent French bread… and get out quick. Salmon and chicken, beef and pork, sausages and luncheon meats, everything was stocked and easy to get. Esoteric mustards, organic soups, Indian and British foods were mixed into the eclectic shelves. Balsamic vinegar, almond milk, coconut rice, clam chowder soup: oddness and affordability.
The parking lot was not crowded. It was easy to get in and out of.
And, unlike Trader Joes, the drivers were not eye-rolling, mirror-checking, sunglasses on botox bitches behind the wheel. The de-facto driver was that sweet 200-pound mama in black spandex in a 1994 Nissan, slow and steady and smiling.
But that all might change. Forever.
Now it seems that Fresh and Easy will be closing hundreds of its stores in the US. The official announcement has not been made for the Van Nuys location, but the rumors of its impending demise seem ominous.
If F&E leaves, we will have the dirty but interesting 99 Ranch Market, specializing in Asian foods and decaying fish smells; and the bigger and equally strange Jons up on Sherman Way, well stocked with produce, but short on anything eaten by college graduates or urban metrosexuals: jars of Armenian pickled vegetables, bins of dried chilis, Mexican carbohydrates and sugary desserts, Mexican sodas, Mexican pork fat, freezer fulls of pork butt, pork head, pork shoulder, and plastic wrapped two-dozen quantity chicken leg packages, 50 pound boxes of Sun Detergent and aisles of frozen Russian Vodka.
Fresh and Easy was Van Nuys’ last chance to reach out to the Prius crowd. People who shopped here were poor but grew up rich.
If it dies, so do the dreams of all young, pale, tattooed and hungry gamers, bloggers, consultants and artists who live north of Oxnard.