New Neighbor Takes Advantage
Don’t you hate when an out of towner comes to our small town and tries to reach into your pocket because you live in the 92651. You can live with it when it’s an expensive restaurant or another store because you can decide you don’t need those things. Those businesses will eventually fail. The free market will take care of itself. A grocery store on the other hand is different because you need groceries.
Haggen opened in the Albertsons spot in town last Tuesday. I was there Friday evening with my family to check it out. When you walk in, the first thing you notice is the produce area, which is nicely presented. The store is more brightly lit. About the luminous quality of Walmart. The store is cleaner and neater. Everything is in the same aisles they had been before. The employees are mostly the same. If you missed the signage at the front of the store you would hardly know the difference. One big difference stuck out to me. Prices.
There was a local in the ice cream isle with me. Evidenced by his Laguna Beach burgundy and white cap. He caught my eye. He was on the phone in the middle of a discussion with probably his wife, giving a critique of the new grocery store. He looked to me and asked, “can you believe these prices? “ He said with amused urgency. He must have recognized me as a local with my Laguna Cyclery hat on. With those words I looked into the ice-cream case and observed my favorite brand of ice-cream selling for a cold two dollars more than I normally pay at Ralphs. $3.99 for a standard 1.75 quart vs. $5.99 at Haggen. Shocked, I acknowledged his observation about prices. We ambled down the aisle pointing out obvious price differences of products. Me, him and his phone-bound wife traded critiques of our naughty new neighbor.
Haggen attempts to appeal to locals by advertising local produce and products. I appreciate organic produce and local items as much as anyone, but the strategy of presenting a locals vibe rings contrived. It’s a corporate smoke and mirrors show meant to mask the high prices on everyday items. The prices are a way to exercise aggressive free enterprise for tourist and guests at the Montage resort across the street. Free enterprise makes this country great, so don’t misunderstand. I resist the strategy here because the same high prices will be paid by anyone that lives in the area. Perhaps you don’t mind spending higher prices for groceries, but I think you would than prefer to shop at Gelson’s, which with its attractive upscale store at least gives the impression that you are getting you moneys worth.
Seeking an explanation, I spoke with an employee who quietly acknowledged the pricing as high and surprising to them (the employees). Store Director David Looney apologetically declined to answer any questions and the corporate referral I was given was unable to return to me in time for this story. This is not Beverly Hills by the beach. Laguna is a small town and we are proud of it. A first impression is a lasting one.
I was actually looking forward to a new grocery option in town. I was hoping for something that looked like Trader Joes and Albertsons had a baby and named it Haggen. Albertsons was expensive. So I saw an interesting opportunity for Laguna Beach with a new grocery store. Everyday items are expensive at Haggen, without the presentation of Gelsons, making Haggen’s prices feel like a scheme.
Like any new neighbor who does something unpleasant, in Laguna style you smile and let it go. Give a local a break, you might hear yourself saying. But you always have one eye on the neighbor who has tried to take advantage of you because they thought you weren’t looking. I am reminded of a sign that sits behind the bar of The Saloon downtown. I ask Haggen: Be nice or go to Newport.
Roderick Reed owns REEDesign Interiors in Laguna Beach. He lives in town with his wife Kathy and two sons Mason and Jack. http://roderickreed.com/.