For over three decades, the facade of Super A market was a familiar sight on Main Street in Alhambra. Opened in 1981, it was part of a company that moved into smaller neighborhoods where larger chains did not see a viable market. But as development increased on Main Street, the market lost its lease in 2013. The announcement unleashed on Alhambra Source dozens of e-mails from loyal Super A customers, bemoaning where they would now shop. The site of the former market is now home to Pacific Plaza, which brings 120 residential units and 18,000 square feet of commercial space. Developers say they plan for residents to begin moving in this September, and that retail stores will include an organic market, a 85°C Bakery, and a restaurant.
Nathan Solis and Nate Grey on the rise and decline of Super A
The bold red sign with the A in the middle is an instantly recognizable symbol for anyone who grew up in Alhambra in the last three decades. But Main Street's Super A Foods is likely soon to go to make way for new developments on Main Street, following the route of the nearby recently demolished old library and Atlantic Edwards Theater.
An architecture firm is pitching designs to the city for a mixed-use residential and commercial project on the site. City officials have said that a new, highly desirable supermarket will be in the development, but have not revealed which one.
Louis Amen started the Super A Foods Company in 1971, with the aim to entice customers in smaller neighborhoods where bigger named grocers didn’t see a viable market. It opened in Alhambra in 1981, a time when there were few local grocery stores in the area. Today, newer kiosks and displays clash with the wood paneling that have adorned the walls since the market first opened. Amen recognizes that his market is in need of remodeling, but it requires “serious cash” that the company can’t afford.
Meanwhile, cash has flowed into development in other areas in the city as the city has welcomed a number of major chain grocery stores — such as Costco, Fresh & Easy, and Ralphs. “The store is not profitable and the city does not want to work with us on a deal,” said Jim Amen, vice president at Super A Foods. “How do you turn around and make a profit from this economy?”
It's not for lack of trying. Over the years Super A has changed its goods to reflect the diverse community in Alhambra. On its shelves are rare Asian spices and gelatinized coconut water (Nata de coco) from the Philippines, as well as more mainstream goods like name brand cereals, soda or frozen pizza. Not far away are Oaxacan cheeses, fresh masa dough for making tamales and tortillas, and even packages of nixtamal (corn cooked in alkaline, the step before masa) a common ingredient in pozole rojo. While these ethnic goods are available at any number of American, Mexican, Chinese and Filipino grocery stores, it is rare to find them all in one place — even in Los Angeles.
Irma Uc and Daniela Gerson on the last days of the market
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 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.
“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.” – comment by Alfred on 8.25.11 article
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.
Manuel Raymundo, 66, 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.”
“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.”- comment by Tony on 8.25.11 article