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.