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The final days of Super A

Super A's interior. | Photo by Nathan SolisAlhambra's staple supermarket Super A Foods will close on Feb. 3 after 32 years on Main Street to make way for a mixed-use development. 

More than a year after a developer proposed new designs to the city, Super A finally lost its lease about a month ago, according to Store Director Nick Proposed designs for the new development. Sawaya. "The money is not the problem. They want to do development over here," said Sawaya, who worked for the Super A company for 24 years before coming to Alhambra a year and a half ago to be store director. “I wanted to remodel the place you know, make it nice. But the city had other plans. It didn’t renew the lease.”

Former City Manager Julio Fuentes announced during the Jan. 14 City Council meeting that a commercial and residential project will take Super A’s place. Sawaya said construction is set to begin in March. The city projects it will take two years to complete.

In previous meetings, council members have advocated for a supermarket in the new plan. “That market is the most critical point of the development, and it's really important because Alhambra is underserved by markets," Councilwoman Barbara Messina said at a September 2011 Alhambra Redevelopment Association meeting when plans were proposed. "It needs to be a market like a Trader Joe's or Bristol Farms, a market that is going to serve everybody. We do not need, and I don't mean this to be offensive, but we do not need an ethnic market there.” Messina later added that she had supported Super A remaining in the community.

Louis Amen started the Super A Foods Company in 1971, targeting customers in neighborhoods where bigger named grocers did not see a viable market. Super A opened in Alhambra in 1981, a time when there were few local grocery stores in the area.

Both regulars and new customers were upset by the recent closing sign and said the central location in Alhambra makes it accessible throughout the city. Many Alhambra High School students frequent the grocery next door because of the variety of snacks and affordable prices. Student Adam Atencio, 14, comes to the store to buy some drinks after a hard wresting team practice. “It’s located in a convenient place right next to the school which made it easier to stop by here and get snacks,” he said. “I’ll miss the store when it’s gone.”

When asked what he would like to see take Super A’s place, Atencio said, “It’ll be cool if it were a Trader Joe’s.”

Manuel Raymundo, 66, a resident of Alhambra for less than two years, was confused as to why the store was closing. “I am very sad to see this store come to a close,” Raymundo said. “I don’t understand why it has to be closed since it’s a good store and it has a lot of customers. It’s sad because this will probably become more apartments. We don’t need more apartments.”

Would you like another grocery store to replace Super A? Let us know what you think!

Which supermarket would you like to see replace Super A?

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32 thoughts on “The final days of Super A”

  1. I just hate what Alhambra’s decision makers have done with our city. I’ve been a resident since 1982 and the honest truth is that I don’t have any reason to shop here. I shop in South Pasadena, Pasadena, Arcadia and Los Angeles. Shame on you for not considering ALL residents when you decide what is best for our city.

  2. Liz, I don’t know if you know much about the Chinese community – but they are cold and distant with EVERYONE. Including their own people internally. It is a cultural thing.

    So if you don’t feel welcome, don’t worry – nobody does. It’s just that Western society tends to believe that if there’s not big smiles around then something’s wrong. Asian culture defaults to stoicism – it has been that way for thousands of years.

  3. Obviously Messina has not been shopping in the Asian markets. They do not welcome any other ethnicity other then there own. I will be shopping elsewhere. Alhambra will make less tax money. I have seen Messina and family shopping at the “ethnic” market (Super A). I don’t understand why she would agree to remove Super A. I guess Super A did not give her enough money.

    1. Liz, Super A Foods also didn’t give me enough money. I want them to leave also…

  4. Let’s be real folks, it all boils down to money.

    Who has lots of money? The recent Asian immigrants from Asia (namely mainland China). They are flush with liquid cash, they are smart investors, and the business interests will cater to them.

    So sure, maybe a Trader Joes but let’s be real, it’s going to be another Asian market because as a business you want to minimize your risk.

    1. The way Main St is going, there will eventually be room for both – A Traders AND a large Asian market.

      Let me also briefly comment about the mixed-use buildings on Main. They will continue to be built there, and I have no problem with it. The problem I DO have is with using wood frame construction for buildings where you have apartments(condos) stack on top of each other. I would never buy one.

  5. Maybe we need a medical clinic there so Ms. Messina can get her foot-in-mouth syndrome checked out. Yet anther poor choice of words from someone who is a city representative. Change your last name to Smith, Messina sounds pretty “ethnic” to me.

  6. They closed Max Foods at the Valley shopping center and now Super A on Main. I’m OK with Ralph’s but not as cheap and convenient as the other two. I have and will continue to drive to Rosemead to the newer Super A that has an awesome bakery and Carnicera.

    1. Well, I already made my first trip into Highland Park to shop at Food 4 Less. I was very pleased with most of the prices and the quality of the products. However, I found no pleasure in spending money in Los Angeles that would normally go to our city.

  7. Someone please explain to me how adding yet another large development to Main street is a plus. The canyon of bland looking and overscaled mix-use buildings already in the area does not seem to have added much life to the downtown strip. A lot of the units are bought by overseas investors so they remain empty or hardly used. April makes note of the empty storefronts from the 90s. Take a walk down Main street 2013 and count the empty businesses. What happened? Some of our neighboring cities like Monrovia and Temple City have shown they have a vision and are doing great. They have made their downtown people friendly and kept the Main Steet look that Alhambra has decided to throw out in favor of real estate and developer’s interests. So sad that the city could not have gone another direction. As a long time resident I am ashamed of the blight on Main street and all of the redevelopment money that was wasted on failed businesses.

    1. Linda, I don’t think you are giving enough weight to what has already happened to our economy. If you’ve forgotten, the subprime mortgage crisis that we are still slowly recovering from has affected not only our nation, but thousands of cities across our country, including Alhambra. You may not see these new developments as a plus, but you are only looking at it today. What about two years from now when this development finishes? Just look at the City Ventures project next door. It’s not even finished yet and the first phases are already occupied. Its apparent that people have decided to live at City Ventures despite the noise at AHS. Same reason when people decide to buy homes near an airport. It’s called a choice and everyone has different needs and wants. Some choose to live in a more suburban setting while there are many others who want an urban lifestyle. Last, by supressing growth in a high-density area, you only add pressure for the market to seek development elsewhere (such as the lower density areas in the Midwick Tract – just look at the stir the proposed CV project created).

      One thing I do agree with you on are the overseas investors (basicslly absentee owners/landlords) who buy these units as non-occupied buyers. These units are often paid in full (cash) or hold very low mortgages. They add very little to the community when they sit vacant. However, I still see this better than an un-occupied foreclosed unit. A foreclosed unit held by a bank deflates the surrounding property values and hurts the community. This isn’t exactly the case here. Units held by absentee owners in my condo complex are usually rented out or the owners usually visit every now and then. From what I have seen, they are not magnets for unscrupulous tenants or end-up being destroyed. These units are investments by overseas investors, and from what I have seen, they know how to invest and take care of their money. How would I know this? I’ve talked with tenants at the Alhambra Regency Plaza, escrow officers who facilitated deals from the Atlantic Times Square, and actual overseas owners who happen to be my neighbors. I also consider the experiences I’ve encountered from the rental properties I own myself. From my assessment, I see all these units eventually being occupied as the market recovers. The incentives will be there because in the investment world, an appreciating unit sitting empty means potential rental income lost. Owners will most likely rent it out or sell for a profit. Either way, the likelihood of units sitting empty indefinitely will not hold. Essentially, no matter how you see it, the SGV is still evolving and in my opinion, exciting times to be experienced…

      1. John, A city that has a large percentage of absentee landlords, empty condos and transient renters is a city without a soul. When I first moved here the city had a community feel to it, but with the rezoning and replacement of the single family neighborhoods with cheap apartments and condo units the city lost the important base that makes for public participation and interest in community affairs. That is why our council members run unopposed or few people vote. Why get involved if you plan on moving on in a year or two or just invest in the city to make money? I know you think the high-density route is the way to go, but it comes at a price. City Ventures did not make a good project on Main street. The development looks to be over built with just alleys and no public space. You really think that is good example of high-density?

      2. Linda, there are over 83,000 people in this city. I hardly feel it has no soul, especially during the busy nights on Main St. Did you ever participate in Envision Alhambra 2035 at Almansor Park back in 2011? At that time I suggested to the city on focusing higher-density developments in specific areas, instead of spreading them all out over the city and destroying the SFRs (the homes you are concerned about). The West Main St. Corridor, in my opinion, is a great location to place such projects as CV. These areas are generally full of people with the businesses, food, retail, and entertainment venues concentrated along a busy street. Why stick high-density projects elsewhere?

        You are absolutely right that the high-density route comes with a price. In reality however, everything comes with a price. Our suburban lifestyle today comes with the price of having longer commutes, traffic congestion, and paying expensive gas. The urban lifestyle being created now tries to mitigate that. It’s not a quick fix. I see it as a long transition where we must all be patient.

        As for the City Ventures project, I’m no big fan but I don’t hate it either. I consider not only its looks, but the functionality and purpose it serves for our city. It provides new housing and commercial stock away from R1 zones and provides anchor customers for the businesses along Main St. Hopefully, the commercial space on the first floor will eventually see tenants and add economic vitality to downtown Alhambra.

        So do I think this is a good example of high-density? YES! The reason why is because we are creating a more sustainable and walkable community for OUR residents. Just go to Walkscore.com and type in a Main St. address. For example, if you look up Alhambra High School’s walkability index, it scores a 98 out of 100 – A WALKER’S PARADISE!

        We can still protect our suburbs, but we can’t have everything without defining everyone’s needs, understanding our limitations, and working together to find solutions.

  8. Another mixed-used development which will NOT benefit Alhambra residents & will only benefit those who can afford to live in high-priced condos & adding to the traffic congestion…meanwhile Main Street looks more & more like a ghost-town fast becoming a ghetto

  9. I’ll take gentrification over [the continued] ghettoization of Main Street or Alhambra as a whole any day. Please put in a Trader Joes or other food store of BETTER quality food.

    1. What “ghettoization”? It’s been straight gentrification for the past 15 years. You must not have seen the endless empty storefronts of the mid-90s.

  10. Although it will be sad to see a store that has been on Main St. for so many years finally close, I welcome the new project coming forth. This development will significantly change the landscape of Alhambra, filling in the gap created by the parking lot there now and giving more depth and identity to the Main St. corridor.

  11. I think the loss of Super A hurts because as much as there are ethnic supermarkets around Alhambra, most of them are Asian. The only Hispanic one that is near a major street is Alhambra Market on Main. The mainstream supermarkets have tried to compensate for its loss by selling more ethnic items like the Ralphs by Main and Chapel but the main thing that attracted consumers to Super A is its competitive pricing. But to me, this idea of ethnic market vs. American market is only a symptom of a much bigger problem in our city which is the rapid decline of its cultural sensitivity. More than the supermarkets itself, our city is losing its identity in the wake of major business developments. As Main Street is becoming more urbanized with the construction of more residential places and bars, we haven't really seen any project that allows the community to come together as a whole. With that said, I would like to see an auditorium or a performing arts center where we can celebrate music, theater, dance recitals, and even invite bigger artists to visit our city. We can also use it for city council meetings, Strategic Planning sessions with the local authorities, and more importantly, an open-for-rent space for anyone to hold meetings for their own purposes.

  12. For everyone complaining that we have too many Asian supermarkets, fine. But you do realize that ethnic doesn’t just mean Asian right? Super A use to serve everyone it didn’t just cater to the Asian community. Also people do realize that there is a retirement home right across the street right? May i ask where are they going to be shopping? A lot of them use to go to Super A to pick up their groceries now what? they going to walk to ralphs? albertsons? fresh and easy? poor planning on the City of Alhamnbra and their monstrosity multi-use buildings. do you really think anyone wants to live there? Want to get woken up by bells from the high school all day? and don’t tell me you can hear them, even the old people who live across the st can.

  13. If you ever actually shopped at Trader Joe’s you’d know that it sells a variety of goods — many considered “ethnic” — at low prices. My family currently travels from Alhambra to South Pas or Pasadena (Lake Ave) to shop at Trader Joe’s, not just for the low prices and great customer service, but for the *quality* of the food. Having the choice to buy organic, hormone-free food would be progress for *everyone*. And again, if you shopped at TJ’s, you would see how ethnically diverse their clientele is. People need to stop being so short-sighted. Having lived in Alhambra most of my life, and as an AHS student, I have avoided Super A like the plague — it was unclean and stocked full of unhealthy, preservative-filled merchandise. Who needs that in an obesity-plagued society? Messina has the right idea — a Trader Joe’s would be a healthy choice. Build it, and they will come.

  14. In terms of looks, anything will be better than what is currently there.

    Hide that hideous parking lot. Bring the new building right up to the street like the other new buildings.

    If the city insists on a super market in the lower level then that is fine. It will be needed considering all the new condos going in on Main ST. People can walk there for groceries.

    Go ahead and try a Bristol Farms type store. If it fails, then put a 99 Ranch in and be done with it.

  15. Poor choice of words and councilwoman Messina seems to go together a lot. Having said that, it seems to me that higher end retailers in this case would attract more affluent residents in the area–and affluent residents in Alhambra would have a reason to stay in Alhambra instead of going to nearby cities to shop for food. There are, looking at 2009-2011 ACS Survey for Alhambra, just over 20% of the households make over $100,000 income per year. Median household income being around $52K, it means there’s a sizable population from which the city can collect some sales tax revenue.

    As others have pointed out, there are loads of ethnic supermarkets along Valley. It’s probably not a bad idea to have a “non-ethnic” supermarket to replace Super A, and when you consider the uncertainty of Fresh and Easy, I think it’s a pretty good idea.

  16. Opposition towards an “ethnic” market makes no sense in a city whose demographic is decidedly “ethnic.” Placement of a Bristol Farms or Whole Foods will not do the general public any good unless the goal is to gentrify Main St. Like Ed Wu stated, an international market with a varied and affordable produce selection that multiple ethnicities can enjoy like that of Super King in Glassell Park would be an optimal fit for the area. High-schoolers will say Trader Joes will be a good fit, but few if any do any actual grocery shopping for a family. And has anyone ever seen a Trader Joes not swamped in vehicle traffic?

  17. Do not place ranch 99 or any Asian market. I am Asian myself and my parents have loads of markets they go to. USUALLY
    Hawaii (valley), 168(valley), Cali food market(valley), big lots (valley), Ralphs (main), Hong Kong market (Garfield), dollar tree(valley), rite aid (valley) & that one market that’s next to 168 . Not to intend to be racial, but the fact is that valley has so much Asian-markets and Asian-shops. main street is sort of american and should be american to fit in. Either Super-A stays or some other american shop goes there. Preferably supermarkets that actually get food from USA & not china & other countries.

  18. Just what we need…another mixed use monstrosity. Too bad our city council has a one track mind — keep those developer dollars flowing into their coffers.


  20. This new development will now make me have to go out of Alhambra to neighboring Los Angeles areas to find the “ethnic” items I used to buy at Super A. It’s elitist to think the general population would not otherwise shop at Super A.

  21. No offense to councilwoman Messina, but let’s get real here. Look at the population of Alhambra, and the surrounding communities. Do you really think that a Trader Joe’s or Bristol Farms or Whole Foods Market would do well in Alhambra, especially since South Pasadena and Pasadena have these establishments already? The average income level and ethnicities in Alhambra would not permit a Trader Joe’s/Bristol Farms/Whole Foods to do well.

    However, if an “ethnic” market like a Hispanic/Chinese/Korean one opened up, it would still serve well those lower to middle income earners that comprise the vast majority of the Super A customer base.

    Look at your population groups before targeting what stores will be successful.

    1. I have to agree with Ed’s comment. A Food 4 Less type store would probably do better in this city. Super A was far more affordable than Albertsons, Ralphs or any of the major supermarkets in the area. That’s why so many of us lower to middle incomers shopped there. I doubt many of us can afford Trader Joe’s or any of those other higher-end markets.

    2. Most likely what will happen is that Locals will be squeezed out and the Trader Joe’s type store will serve mostly residents from neighboring more affluent communities. The Locals will end up in Alhambra Market.

    3. Go shopping on Valley Blvd. if you want Asian markets. That’s all there is. Enough is enough!

    4. Agreed. Alhambra is not Pasadena and that is just fine. A Bristol Farms is absurd – and while Trader Joe’s is “cool” they don’t have the fresh & affordable produce section that we need on Main St. Alhambra’s demographic is “ethnic” (there are other ethnicities besides “Asian,” by the way) and there’s lots of subsequent demand for fresh produce.

      Plus, we do have that senior housing facility across the street – a Bristol Farms is going to be completely out of reach for them. The city put in that mixed-use project and while they might not think it’s sexy anymore, they’re responsible for it.