Young’s Marketplace on Brundage to close this week
Courtenay Edelhart / Bakersfield Californian
Young’s Marketplace, an independent grocery store that’s a Bakersfield institution, will close at the end of the week.
Owner Brent Cruz is shutting down the business and will lease the 37,500-square-foot building at 3030 Brundage Lane to Dollar General Corp., a Goodlettsville, Tenn., discount retailer.
Dollar General is in the midst of a growth spurt and will open its fourth Bakersfield store on the site, said spokeswoman Emily Weiss. The company already operates stores on North Chester Avenue, Niles Street and Wilson Road.
In an interview Monday, Cruz insisted the 55-year-old grocery store is profitable, but he was making a pre-emptive strike.
“We keep hearing rumors that a big-box retailer is coming to the area. I’m sure you’ve heard the same rumors,” he said. “We think that’s very likely to happen, and if it does, it could affect profitability in the future.”
Although Cruz didn’t mention Walmart by name, that’s almost certainly what he was referring to. Rumors have been circulating for months that the world’s largest retailer was scouting locations on Brundage Lane, but the company denied having any imminent projects in the area when asked about that in March.
William “Bill” Young ran Young’s Marketplace for decades until his death in 2004. Shortly afterward, Young’s brother, Kenneth Young of Visalia, downsized what was then a chain by immediately closing a store in Visalia and closing a Niles Street store in Bakersfield the following year. He sold Cruz the Brundage Lane store in 2009.
The last surviving Young’s Marketplace has about 35 employees. As many of them as possible will be transferred to two smaller grocery stores Cruz also owns: Foodfair at 600 Norris Road and 11-C Market at 661 Roberts Lane.
“It saddens us, both for our employees and for our loyal customers,” Cruz said.
But at the end of the day, he added, he had to be realistic. There is a future for independent markets, he said, but smaller ones are better positioned to thrive than full-scale stores vying for the same customers as the big-box stores.
Independent supermarkets have been vanishing across the country, victims of a changing retail landscape. Supermarket profit margins traditionally are razor thin, so there isn’t much wiggle room to compete with big chains that use bulk rate wholesale purchasing power to offer lower prices.
“It’s very, very difficult for the mom-and -pops, especially competing against the behemoths like Target and Walmart or even the mainstream stores like Safeway,” said Jeff Green of Phoenix-based retail consulting firm Jeff Green Partners.
“I wonder how many of them could come back with ‘buy local’ marketing if they could just hang on until the economy turns around, but unfortunately that could be a long time from now and I’m sure they’ve had a rough couple of years,” Green said. “In this environment, people are shopping for value, and that’s across demographics.”
Even affluent families are going to Target and Costco, and there’s no way a small, family-owned market can compete with them on price, Green said.
This is the second high-profile loss of a locally-owned independent supermarket in Bakersfield in the last six months.
Green Frog Market cited competition from big-box stores when it closed the larger of its two stores last year.
The 34,000-square-foot supermarket at Columbus and Oswell streets closed in November, but a second, 18,500-square-foot location at Alta Vista Drive and Bernard Street was remodeled in 2009 and continues to operate.
Green Frog has been family-run since it opened in 1934.
In this, its final week, a lot of the shelves in Young’s Marketplace were thinly stocked, and much of the grocery store’s remaining inventory was marked down for clearance.
It was a far cry from the store’s heyday, when it was heavily trafficked and stood out from rivals with its ethnic flair.
Along with the usual staples, Young’s Marketplace carried extensive Asian food offerings, reflecting the founding Young family’s Chinese heritage. There was also a Chinese food takeout counter.
But in time the aging store had trouble competing with more modern and more affordable grocery stores that opened nearby.
When customer Curtis Green, 83, found out Young’s Marketplace was closing, he shrugged.
“We didn’t come here much, anyway, to be honest,” he said while waiting for his wife outside the store. “My wife just had a doctor’s appointment up the street so we stopped in for a minute.”
But others, such as 21-year-old Dillon Mowdy, were dismayed.
“I like the mom-and-pops,” he said. “It’s a bummer. I’ve shopped here my whole life.”
Mowdy said as sorry as he was to see the market go, he couldn’t say he was surprised.
“I was wondering how long they’d be around. The PG&E (electric) bill alone has to be more than they were making,” he said. “They’d only have two registers open every time you were here.”