Earlier in the day when I drove past the store, picketers were out front holding a "Shame on Fresh & Easy" labor dispute banner. In the evening, they were handing out flyers. One picketer was out there in the cold holding his toddler in a Baby Bjorn. Does anyone know what it's about? I read that they pay a minimum of $10/hour, and prior to opening they had want ads out for positions paying $13/hr with benefits. I had the impression they were good to their employees.
Pulling in anyway, every parking spot was taken and cars were circling waiting for a spot to open up. I remember when it used to be an Albertson's and there was always plenty of parking. Strange when it has a new face, but it's the same place, and now it's packed.
When Albertson's closed, the building remained vacant for a long time which wasn't good for the neighborhood. (Although I can't say I was sad to see Albertson's go, as I had stopped shopping there a long time before, after 2 consecutive visits I came home with spoiled chicken.)
So all this excitement about the building being newly occupied again, an upscale grocery store in our neighborhood, and an alternative to Whole Foods and Trader Joe's - I couldn't wait.
Q: Did it live up to all the hype?
A: Sadly - No.
What happened to the Organic items?
I had read that the store was "green" environmentally friendly and they had many organic items. However, after shopping there, I was very disappointed to find only a few organic items:
1) Chocolate (I snagged a bar.)
2) Milk (I stock up on organic milk from Costco which is a better deal, is really fresh with a later expiration date, and I don't run the risk of running out.)
3) Juice (Nice to have but my family rarely drinks juice.)
4) Frozen peas and corn (I snagged a bag.)
5) Amy's frozen pizza (I snagged one.)
Unlike Trader Joe's, there wasn't even a small organic produce section. Nor were there any organic eggs to be found (there was cage free as if that's any consolation prize). But the kicker came when I went to look for organic cereal for my 2 1/2 year old daughter. I couldn't find a single one! (Lots of Fresh & Easy knock offs though.) Both Whole Foods and Trader Joe's have shelves stocked with a variety of organic cereals. Also, their meat section was lacking of any organic (or at least "all natural" hormone/antibiotic free) fresh products (including poultry) that I shop for at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.
Nor were there any organic or "salt free" snacks (like pretzels and tortilla chips). I found their selection to be less upscale, and more the "Doritos" kind of snacks that a Ralphs keeps in stock.
Decor that shouts minimal and cheap
I like their signage, (props to the graphic designers), but the store's decor reminded me of a Costco wholesale type store with it's merchandise packed into opened cardboard boxes stacked up on flimsy plastic shelving.
Problems with the Layout
They definitely didn't do a good job with the interior layout (no Feng Shui that's for sure). Many of the aisles are too narrow, or partially blocked with poles holding up the roof, which makes it difficult to maneuver around other shoppers. It might just be the mad rush of opening day, but it was MAD getting around that store. Shopping cart traffic jams everywhere. Also the check out system is way lame. You line up in front of the cashier, which causes more congestion in front of the store, so people are stuck waiting in line while people are trying to get by them. It would make more sense to have customers stand towards the end of the register lane so that at least one shopping cart would be out of the way. But here everything is done up front. I also have to reach over the cashier's screen to sign my name on the credit card machine (just awkward).
What they did Right
1) They opened a store in my neighborhood. Kudos and long overdue!
2) They mailed out $10 coupons to the neighborhood, which brought in more customers. And after my purchase I received a $6 coupon (on my next purchase over $30).3) They have a decent cheese section (varieties from Holland and Britain).
4) They had staff assigned to direct traffic (both in the parking lot and at the registers).
5) Their staff was friendly and easily identifiable with their green Fresh & Easy shirts.
9) On the way out I heard one lady ask for a free bag - which they ran out of and said they'd have more tomorrow. So although I didn't receive one, it was still a nice gesture.
If they are listening - Great. If they're not, then I have to admit that as much as I like the idea of having an upscale grocery store in my neighborhood, there isn't a lot that I shop for in that store. It's conveniently located so I might make a quick stop if I need to run in and get an item or two, but other than that, I don't see myself shopping there for my weekly groceries. I hope they're listening. The store just didn't live up to the hype and my expectations (I was hoping for better), so it was disappointing.
The first thing my husband asked when he walked in the door was, "So how was it???" (Fresh & Easy)