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Gen-X in a Millennial World: More business losses in the neighborhood

By Genevieve A. Suzuki

Can the powers that be please stop selling off pieces of my neighborhood?

Several months ago I wrote about losing Coco’s on Lake Murray Boulevard; my family still hasn’t recovered.

We have yet to find a place to land for Sunday morning breakfasts and my mom every now and then interjects a sad, “but it would have been nice to go to Coco’s” whenever we decide to go out to celebrate. A little irritating, yes, but a whole lot of truth, too.

And then on Aug. 26, after doing some business at Wells Fargo, I looked up at Haggen, only to see a large, garish banner announcing “Store closing! Everything must go!” There were other signs as well, promising customers, “Nothing held back!”

Uh, sorry, Haggen, but I’m not buying what you’re selling.

Haggen just opened in March after taking over Vons. The store was rebranded by the grocer, which described itself as cross between a Vons and Whole Foods, according to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

After a price glitch on approximately 1,000 items, Haggen had lost credibility among some consumers. The mistake, coupled with what seemed to be a wary unfamiliarity around this part of town, cost the supermarket dearly. Every time we would go to Haggen, which we adopted as our store due to its proximity to our home, we worried about the empty parking lot.

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Months after taking over the former Vons store, Haggen is closing. (Photo by Genevieve A. Suzuki)

“No one’s coming,” my mom said.

It wasn’t too much of a surprise then when we read in the daily newspaper that Haggen was closing several Southern California stores, including the one in La Mesa.

But I have to say — something smells about this whole mess. How many chains do you know open a store only to close it several months later? Something was held back, Haggen. You’re just lucky my name isn’t Jessica Fletcher.

I have two problems with Haggen closing. The first is the more selfish and lazy reason: I have to drive farther to buy my basics. As with many busy families these days, mine is one that forgets to buy milk, eggs or flour until we’re halfway into a recipe, wondering why we didn’t make sure we had everything before beginning to cook.

A quick run to Haggen took a whopping 15, maybe 20 minutes, if even that.

Now we have to make the decision to either drive across Fletcher Parkway to Vons, all the way down Lake Murray to Albertsons, which isn’t technically in La Mesa, or even farther to Sprouts near the Village.

Nevertheless, as my friend told me, “It’s not like you have to take a horse and carriage there. Sheesh!”

The second problem I have, however, is much more significant, because I am once again losing the people in my neighborhood.

Mister Rogers sang, “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” Well, Fred, I don’t know, because they keep losing their jobs and/or moving away. (Don’t get me started about the San Diego Chargers.)

My favorite cashier, Leinaala, who has a lovely Hawaiian name and a matching smile to go with it, worked for Safeway, Vons and Haggen for a whopping 36 years. I met her when we first moved to La Mesa. Seeing a friendly face with a familiar name helped this Hawaii expatriate feel more at home.

When I walked into the store in August to buy some succulents in memory of my grocery store, I saw Leinaala and began tearing up.

“Don’t look like that, you’re going to make me cry,” she said.

“I don’t get it,” I said. “I thought we had more time.”

“Yeah, these signs are a surprise, huh?” she said sympathetically, as though it were my business closing. “But you know what really bums me out? Not seeing your kids grow up.”

Told you she was my favorite.

Ideally, another grocer will move in to fill the void and keep these wonderful people in my neighborhood. Until then, I will continue to shop at Haggen for my milk, eggs and flour, and refuse to give up my comfortable routine. I just wish I could refuse to give up my people as well.

—Genevieve A. Suzuki is a La Mesa resident who practices family law. Find out more on her website, sdlawyersuzuki.com.

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