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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fate of Highland Park grocery remains uncertain

When Ruben Perez opened up Figueroa Produce about four years ago, the vision was to operate a Highland Park grocery store featuring wholesome food that would not bust your budget. But soon after Figueroa Produce opened in a shopping center at the corner of Figueroa Street and York Boulevard,  the economy tanked and Perez and his business partners found themselves struggling with high rent and rising food costs. Now, after falling behind on the rent, Perez said that Figueroa Produce, which has become the hub of a popular Tuesday night food truck gathering,  might be forced to close if he can’t renegotiate a new lease with lower rent.  “Our intention is to stay here. We want to continue with our venture and our vision,” Perez said today. But, “if we don’t negotiate [a lower-cost lease] in the next four or five months with our landlord, we have to shut down and relocate.”

Housed at back of the shopping center in a former Thrifty Drug Store, Perez, who grew up in the area , recalls his father taking him to the former drug store for 5-cent ice cream cones.  When an approximately 6,000-square-foot space came up for rent, Perez, whose first job was bagging groceries at a Safeway market, thought it would be a good place to open a new grocery featuring wholesome food and an old-fashioned sensibility, a place where workers were on a first-name basis with customers.  But after the economy weakened, it proved challenging to find enough customers to support a local business when chain stores like Target were selling items for less.

But Perez has not soured on the grocery store business. He is helping his son, Andrew, open a  smaller market in Eagle Rock selling organic, vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free products.

44 comments

  1. I would love for this place to succeed but when I’ve gone the prices have been as high or if not higher than Whole Foods.

    • I’ve noticed the same thing. But it’s important to remember that a small business like Fig Pro doesn’t have the same profit margin as a big monster like Whole Paycheck –which can buy in much larger lots at much lower per unit cost than Fig Pro. Also, it’s important to remember that Fig Pro has a “moral core” or vision that favors quality and locale when considering its vendor base.

  2. I love this little grocery store! The vegan sandwiches from the deli were top notch. I hope they can find a way to stay.

  3. WHAT?!? NOOOOO!!! I really really hope they can stay. I love this place!!

  4. Oh no. Figueroa Produce is one of the best places in Highland Park and what makes this such an enjoyable neighborhood. Please stay open, what would we do without your affordable organic meats and great butcher?????

  5. So so sad if this goes, I am here every other day buying groceries. The prices are totally fair and the service is amazing.

  6. We’ll make a point of coming here more often. WF, TJ’s and others will all survive just fine.

  7. Sorry to hear. I like this place so much in theory (and really want to like it), but honestly not so much in practice. They don’t seem to have a ton of stuff, and what they do have is pricey. It also seems to be neither here nor there, like half catering to what conventional wisdom tells us is two demographics (which is becoming less and less true it seems), yet not really serving either. It’s a local business and not a chain, which is a plus, and definitely better than Vons or Ralphs, but not better than Super A or TJ’s, between which I’m pretty much covered. Has anyone ever had the chicken at Super A? The roast chicken in a bag? With the fresh tortillas and the homemade salsa? Holy shitsnacks is that shit good!

  8. Yeah, I like wandering thru there time to time, seeing all the interesting foods – but too pricey for me.

  9. I’ve loved Fig Pro ever since they opened, and always used to go in. However, I’ve wanted to consult them on their business strategy for a long time. Their produce is priced okay and I commend their organic approach to food, especially grassfed meats and special orders for customers. I like their meat, a lot, but I only buy meat once or twice a year! However, there are way too many raw specialty products and random things, good priced produce ocassionally for organics and love the local honey….though too pricey for me. There is interesting, probably amazing cereal that is like $7 a box sometimes which is way way way out of my budget (which is the kind of budget where you look for the lowest priced cereal at TJs or WF and watch every every penny and supplement it with nuts, raisins, apples etc myself) . I should be their target demographic — time bank member, produce exchange member, socially active and engaged with local business— but I’m left feeling like things are just too expensive there and if I need a specific item, such as chocolate chips for $3, sometimes available and other times not. Once I was shopping and needed to get sugar. The store was out of normal sugar and the only sugar available was $13 coconut sugar. If I had that kind of money, I’d buy it in a minute. But the reality is that I’m not and that other people are not as well. Figgie Pro, I want to see you to do well but I can’t afford to. What a horrible catch 22.

    • HighlandPark REagent

      If you had money to buy a bag of sugar for $13, you probably would not be living/shopping in Highland Park…this is a premium priced product in an affordable Los Angeles neighborhood – their business model needs to be tweaked to better reflect the income threshold of the neighborhood. After all, that is why we have El Super, 99 Cent Only Store and Food for Less rather than Whole Foods, Gelsons, and Pavilions.

      • Let’s talk about how grocery stores are rated. They do have a rating system similar to restaurants. El Super is not a grade A rating, but a B or C. And let’s not forget the mission and vision of Fig Pro, to bring a higher quality produce product to the community. That includes organic, locally grown. Where does the food come from at El Super, 99¢, Food 4 Less, Whole Paycheck, Gelsons and Pavillions? Is it local to California? Los Angeles? How about their organic pricing or offerings?

        Is lowering the standard really the option? I don’t think so.

        • HighlandPark REagent

          clvn,

          I certainly respect your conviction, but, unfortunately, no amount of conviction is going to convince people to spend more money on premium priced products in a neighborhood like Highland Park when they don’t have the disposable income to spare. We don’t have a BMW dealership of Ruth Chris steakhouse in Highland Park for the same reason. Most people in this neighborhood can’t afford these types of things…which also includes premium priced food ($13 bag of sugar when you can buy 13 bags for the same price across the parking lot).

          I’m guessing that the inevitable reality is that the store will eventually close because the business model if flawed, but in the event they don’t want to close, they need to find where the supply meets the demand for the neighborhood. This might mean offering less items so they can focus on a few high quality products (maybe grass fed organic meats) and buy in bulk to pass saving on to customers or lower their grade of food so it is still better than Food 4 Less and El Super, but lower than Whole Foods.

          They need a niche because trying to be a small Whole Foods is simply not working.

  10. I agree with the statements above. I like FP and have shopped there on occasion, but feel like I spend quite a bit more for staples and inevitably have to make a second stop to get everything on my list. Also, I think Fresco, just a 1/4 mile away, has filled the independent grocery store niche in the neighborhood. If FP goes under (I hope not) I encourage everyone to check out Fresco just on the other side of the 110. Such an awesome store.

  11. HighlandPark REagent

    I have gone there for lunch a number of times and definitely enjoyed their vegan sandwiches.

    Unfortunately, they don’t have a competitive advantage since their prices are comparable to Whole Foods which has a much larger selection and indoor seating for lunch and dinner patrons (yet, their rent should be cheaper which should allow them to pass that savings to customers). If they could establish themselves as the more affordable, locally owned, health food store, I believe their business would thrive… especially as Highland Park continues to make headlines as one of the best up-and-coming neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Although their profits drop per item, they make it up in bulk…

  12. I too love the idea of FP in theory. I was one of their early fans, and used to buy meat and produce there, but when Fresco opened, there was no more need to shop there anymore. As for the service, the muscle-bound dude and the butchers are nice, but there is one younger guy in particular who’s rather rude, but maybe it’s just me. Anyway, between the somewhat high prices and random, limited merchandise, plus Fresco just a stone’s throw away, I’m not surprised their struggling.

  13. Yeah, I hate to say it, but just because a business has good intentions, doesn’t mean it’s going to work.

    This place is poorly run, and way too expensive, and it’s not even close to a one stop, get all you need spot. This store probably wouldn’t even survive in West Hollywood.

    Not to mention all the wasted space they have in their store. If anyone has ever been to a well run Bodega in NYC, they would know this store could have way more stuff, in half the space.

  14. I would shop there if every time I went in the produce wasn’t rotting on the shelves and moldy.

  15. I love their produce and go often, but I agree — a lot of the packaged stuff is too $$ for me. While I shop at the Eagle Rock TJ’s all the time, we all know how mediocre (and over packaged) their produce is. FP usually has a good selection, at quite decent prices. I would love to see them thrive.

  16. I’ve found the way FP can fit in to my life and budget, I just know what I go there for. I get produce and meat, I stay on the outside aisles. Last week I got a bag of veggies and a couple of pork chops for $12. The way I do it it’s totally affordable, and preferable to our sort of sad HP farmer’s market, or the pre packaged-sell me more than I want-produce program at Trader Joe’s. No it’s not a one stop shop, but never in my life have I had only 1 grocery store. I love FP and I’ll step up my shopping there to help keep it afloat.

  17. How bout relocating further down Figueroa? There are tons of places for rent and have been empty for quite a while I’m sure they could get a good price. Maybe kinda like an Italian market.Focus on sandwiches, meats and have a few other items.

  18. Sad to hear they are struggling, but I’m not surprised. Most people are going to go to the 99 cents store before FP where they now have a great selection of fruits and vegetables.

  19. I love fig produce but I do agree with all of the above. Your way too expensive and you don’t offer enough. I’d much rather shop with you than fresco but your prices need to come down. I agree a better location in HP is needed and a better business plan. Stop buying all that ultra expensive kambucha and what not and spend your money on affordable quality products.

  20. Agreed. Way too expensive for the area. So is Fresco. But who am I to complain? Keep moving in to the neighbourhood, Yuppies. My house’s value keeps going up!

  21. The Store has not been welcoming on the outside like a farmers market, a Guererros
    ( at 56/York,) or a Whole Foods.
    They have umbrellas and crates of stuff outside. Unfortunately,
    Figueroa Produce is a drive by, and completely miss. And ,that strip mall is en eyesore. It’s always filthy, and a market as nice as FP hasn’t done a good job of requiring the other shop owners to step up and show pride of ownership. The 99 cent store parking lot is filthy, and yet it’s all you notice.

  22. The produce there is usually not in very good shape. I’ve found rotting/moldy items in bins and generally sad looking stock. This is a major reason for not going there. Probably not fast enough turn over and lack of refrigeration. Perhaps there are in too big a space?

    • I was so thrilled with FP when it first opened, and planned to shop there on a regular basis for my produce. Well, that sure didn’t last long. Their produce is deplorable. Bell peppers that are for sale, are all wrinkled and moldy. Not just once, but several times that I went into the store. Now you can even find produce as good, or better at 99 Cent store next door. And, need I say cheaper?

      I’m so sorry this store is doomed…..I really wanted it to prosper.

  23. I’ve been a vegan for a couple of years, so I check out all the “health food” places I run across in my roam of the city. And in my casual comparing of prices, I find FP to be just about the same as every place else. The niche that these guys are in is a specialty slot, sort of like Gallo’s and their soda pop. It’s a haven for people who have food allergies, diabetics, veggers looking for the latest technological stride in making some vegetable walk and talk like meat or cheese or ice cream. It’s where I buy my Vegenaise (which has completely supplanted Best Foods in my pantheon of essential food stuffs). The problem is that all that stuff is Expensive no matter where you buy it. Range fed meats and organic produce are never ever cheap. And if you think FP is expensive, check out the new Atwater Village Farm store.
    So demographics… Can this area support such a place, even in a recovering economy? Dunno. There’s lots of middle to upper income folks in the area. Why haven’t they embraced this place? From the first moment I stepped in the door, I sensed the fragility of the enterprise. Perhaps a smaller location would be a blessing. Shoppers like the sense of a place bursting with good stuff. Perhaps a more inclusive produce strategy that gives low income folks reason to find out what’s on sale this week. What about all those farmers at the farmers markets that sell “no pesticide used” produce that isn’t certified organic? I don’t see any of that showing up in markets.
    In any case, I’ll keep doing my specialty shopping there and keep sending good wishes to these folks in my neighborhood.

  24. This store is one of the very best places in our neighborhood. I sure hope the landlord can compromise.

  25. If you name your store “_____ Produce” then your produce should be spot on. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here. I REALLY wanted to love FP. Really. I’ve lived in HP for 15 years and we now have two small kids. We work hard for our money and we forgo certain things in order to be able to feed everyone healthy and organic food. I have come back to FP many times in the last few years hoping that I’ll walk in and find a glorious selection of organic produce. Sadly, it’s always sparse, wilted and often moldy. Not to mention that the actual “organic” selection is far from impressive. If you call yourself a produce store and your produce is pathetic, I’m definitely not going to venture over to the meat counter and purchase fresh meat. I think there is definitely a need for a small, local, organic food store and I hope that FP can make it happen but instead of opening up another store maybe they should focus on revamping the one that they have?

  26. I can make some really fabulous, organic meals at a really good price from what I buy at FP.
    The grass fed meat and free range whole organic chicken at FP is a total deal. You cannot get grass feed ground beef at Whole Foods on a regular basis – but you can get it at FP at a really good price. The bulk salad at $2.99 for a huge bag — is a really great price. Fresher, better quality and cheaper than TJ’s. The produce selection is hit-and-miss, which is too bad. Produce is cornerstone to the kind of business they have. (Must satisfy vegans and paleo’s – as well as ethnic eaters.)
    The meat department is way superior to Fresco because of all the pastured and grass fed choices.
    I love those guys, hope they can make a deal with the landlord so they can build and get it right.
    The location is dreadful. Don’t like that shopping plaza at all.
    The landlord needs to get real and re-negotiate.

  27. I’ve tried to love this place but never felt very welcome (not hip enough?) or — more importantly — as if I’ve gotten my money’s worth. After a recent unhappy experience at the meat counter, I give up. I should have known something was not right a few months ago when an employee tried to tell me that navel oranges aren’t seedless.

  28. Love the place, don’t go more than 1-2x/month, mostly because of the limited sundries, I think they are pretty average for price, but the deli counter, fresh produce, and fridge items are great.

  29. OMG, this is my favorite grocery store. The Vegan sandwiches are AMAZING! I’m a Vegan and I’d hate to see this place close. It’s so Vegan friendly.

  30. As a symbol of the “new” Highland Park, it really should stay and fight to improve and adapt. That shopping center is at the nexus of all the energy on York and all the energy on Fig. The entire shopping center is depressing. People hanging around in the parking lot are depressing. FP Is not depressing. It’s a great spot and I hope they make it.

  31. We all need to go in and buy groceries. This is a local treasure.

  32. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for. If all you want HLP to be is a place full of 99cents stores, food for less, and other places that sell crappy food then keep walking away from places like Fig Produce.

  33. This is unfortunate but I do think a part of the problem is location, location , location.
    That shopping center is not up to the caliber that can support a business like Fig Produce, which is also unfortunate because it CAN be just that. What it needs is a developer or investors that care as much about community building as it does profits.

    As mentioned, it is at the nexus of the two major streets in HP as well as potentially being a gateway to/from SoPas, it has a dedicated open space (Vet Memorial) and ‘good’ architecture (the bank on the corner w/ live-work units). But neglect, 99cent stores, water stores and a T-shirt store w/ no windows are all real obstacles to making a ‘place’ that can support a boutique market.

    Easier said than done, but if Fig Produce can cut their losses and relocate near York/Ave 50 which has pedestrian traffic and a sense of destination, it might become an awesome neighborhood bodega that thrives !

  34. coming back to this: i think that to go health food store model plus deli and meats, like grassroots, would also be smart. maybe also like granny’s pantry with more bulk items and bulk bins! that way it would also be affordable too. maybe cut the produce except for very small amounts, see how much sells, and go from there! i also think that if figueroa produce were to move into the old verdugo pet store location, it would be much more successful – i agree. and they could totally do interesting things and specials on art walk nights, etc. i hate to think that my analysis earlier of the dilemma of fig pro meant that i didn’t want to see it thrive. i think that, as business, they should go more niche. and bulk bins! that is a place for bulk bins if i’ve ever seen it. staples rarely spoil and the customer can choose their own price base.

  35. My two cents –Perhaps they can modify their business plan into more of a co-op similar to the Harvest Co-op stores in Boston, MA? I think a store like this would do well in HP. Follow a model like this, lower their prices, focus the product selection and move here – http://highlandpark-ca.patch.com/articles/new-owner-of-verdugo-pet-shop-is-brentwood-based-company

    More on Harvest Co-op – http://www.harvestcoop.com/

  36. When they offered a Groupon and sold a ton of them, they took a perverse delight in tormeting the numerous people who came after the coupon expired. Lots of posts on the Northeast LA list about it, and the owners were super defensive and plain rude. I tore my coupon up and never went back. Thats when they started the quick decline. Customers will forgive wilted lettuce, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

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