Despite Petitions, Protests and Pleas, Pico-Robertson Ralphs to Close May 15

The near-empty grocery shelves and parking structures say it all. Come May 15, barring unforeseen and unlikely circumstances, the Ralphs on Pico Boulevard and Beverwil Drive, will shutter for good.

For close to two months, the Pico-Robertson community has mobilized to convince The Kroger Co., which owns and operates Ralphs and Food 4 Less, to keep the store open. A Change.org petition was created and garnered over 4,700 signatures in days. Community representatives met with local politicians and Ralphs executives. Social media lit up, reminding Kroger that the Ralphs on Pico, which houses the Kosher Experience, serves a vibrant Jewish community and will be sorely missed. But to no avail.

On March 3, 2021, the L.A. City Council passed an ordinance that requires grocery stores to pay its workers an additional $5 per hour “hero pay.” In response, Kroger announced that it will close the Ralphs on Pico, a Ralphs in South Los Angeles and a Food 4 Less in East Hollywood on May 15. Ralphs claims the “hero pay” will result in $20 million in operating losses for stores that are already losing money. Ralphs has promised to relocate all employees to other Ralphs stores. The Pico Ralphs employs 108 associates; nine work at the Kosher Experience.

Ralphs operates 68 stores in the Los Angeles area. After the closures, 65 stores will remain, with three continuing to house the Kosher Experience — La Brea Avenue near 3rd Street, Sherman Oaks and La Jolla.

“Don’t get me wrong,” said Pico-Robertson resident Zev Hurwitz, 27, who created the Change.org petition. “For us in the neighborhood, it is an inconvenience. The real tragedy are the workers who are not getting the ‘hero pay’ they so well deserve and now have to relocate.”

Hurwitz said he buys flowers for his wife at the Ralphs every Friday for Shabbat. He also said when his kids were born, he bought their first baby food at Ralphs. “Yes, there are other kosher shopping options in the neighborhood, but I’m going to miss the convenience and selection of foods that Ralphs offered,” Hurwitz said.

David Louie, 58, who manages the dairy department, has worked at the Ralphs Pico location since it opened in November, 1996. “Goodbye and good luck,” a shopper sadly said as she spotted Louie arranging the dairy display. “Thank you,” Louie responded with a wave. If not for pandemic protocols, the brief interaction may have included hugs and tears. “I live 30 miles away from work now, so I am used to commuting to work,” he said. “I still have a mortgage to pay so wherever they transfer me, I’ll go.”

A recent visit saw shelves partially empty with no obvious intentions to restock. According to John Votava, director of corporate affairs at Ralphs, when a store closes the standard practice is to sell off existing merchandise so it doesn’t have to be transferred to another store. The only restocking that was witnessed was for perishables — produce, dairy, meats, fish and the cooked foods on display at the Kosher Experience.

“It’s sad and it’s scary for my co-workers,” Benyamin Solomon, 27, one of the kosher supervisors at the Kosher Experience said. “I will be okay since I work for the Orthodox Union, and I am not subject to ‘hero pay’ anyway. I know I will be transferred to a local kosher restaurant as their mashgiach (kosher supervisor), but I feel for the other workers who don’t know what the future holds for them.”

“It’s sad and it’s scary for my co-workers.”

Azalia Herrera, 37, who works alongside Solomon at the Kosher Experience department, tried her best to put a positive spin on the situation. “They have talked to me about relocation but I have no details. It’s hard being in limbo but I believe it will work out.”

Jose Castro, 35, oversees the produce department and has a similar attitude. A five-year Ralphs employee, Castro says he enjoys his work and feels confident he will find himself stocking fresh produce at another Ralphs in the near future. “I think it will be fine,” he said. “I just hope for the best.”

For years the Ralphs complex, which includes a CVS, One West Bank and Fish Grill, faced structural challenges. Navigating the parking levels, escalators that are typically non-functioning and long waits for the elevator have been an ongoing source of neighborhood complaints and frustrations.

Votava confirmed that in 2018 the shopping center was sold to Asana Partners, a Charlotte, North Carolina real estate investment company. Calls to Asana to determine plans for the property were not returned.

When asked whether it is possible the Kosher Experience would relocate to a nearby Ralphs (the most likely being on Beverly Boulevard and Doheny Drive), Votava was not optimistic. “We would love to, but it is a matter of space. The Ralphs on Pico is about 40,000 square feet. The Beverly / Doheny store is much smaller and simply not large enough,” he said.

“I have a hard time believing the ‘hero pay’ issue caused this,” Hurwitz said. “It just seems like there were also other problems perhaps with the landlord and the physical structure. Who knows.”

“Maintaining stores that are unprofitable is simply not sustainable,” Votava said. “We are as sorry as anyone that this had to happen.”


Harvey Farr is a community writer for the Jewish Journal.

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