Vons closing in Vista deepens food insecurity for many

Many Vista residents rely on Vons located on Santa Fe Drive for their groceries. But the store closed on June 23. Now it’s closed, and residents like Mark Day and Freddy Avalos have to travel farther to get fresh food.

“Being able to have a grocery store so close and accessible has always been important to us and that is why we feel the strong effects of now being forced to drive in a good way to get fresh food,” Avalos said.

The store was less than five minutes from their home. Now, their commute to groceries has tripled.

But Avalos says the Vons closure came as no surprise, because in the past two years the mall has started to feel unsafe.

“There were a few times where I would get out of my car and get approached. I completely stopped going there at night. I haven’t been to Vons Center at night for at least 5 years,” she said. It simply doesn’t feel safe and I know people who frequent this mall, or used to, feel the same way.”

When asked about safety concerns, Andrea McCullough, the City of Vista’s communications officer, responded with this statement: “The Vence Center property is owned by approximately 12 different property owners. We encourage property owners to contact Vista Sheriff for any issues related to criminal activity.”

KPBS requested an interview with Vons to ask about the reason for the shutdown. The company did not respond. But we spoke with some Vons employees, who did not want to be registered for fear of losing their jobs. Some believe that the store closed due to the increase in homeless people in the area, and thefts that the store was dealing with on a regular basis. Others told us that the reason for this was the high cost of repairing the shop’s cooling system, and the shop not making a profit.

Regardless of the reason, the closing of Vons adds to the growing number of empty stores in the shopping center.

Avalos believes that Vista City Council neglected this part of town while making downtown improvements. She said, “They moved mountains to bring in great new stores, restaurants and breweries, and it wasn’t necessarily bad but we can’t focus on one part of our community and turn our backs on another part of our community.”

Avalos says she and her husband are lucky to be able to drive farther for groceries, but she knows not everyone has that privilege.

“People don’t have money to buy Uber, people don’t have friends or family that they can regularly take to the grocery store. Even when Vons was here, one of the saddest things I would have experienced – and this is what I see every day – is that poor people and their families carry groceries,” he said. Avalos: “Sometimes in the scorching sun, sometimes in the rain. Without Vence, I don’t even know where they’ll get the groceries they’re going to take home.”

Tanya Thorne

Alexis White, a Vista resident, shops for groceries at WinCo in Oceanside, California, while riding her motorized scooter. June 30, 2022.

Seventy-six-year-old Alexis White does not own a car but does have a motorized motorcycle. “I put it in, put it back in and put things back,” she said.

White lives in The Grove, an older community across the street from Vons. She said that many of her neighbors relied on the store, and said, “It makes a lot of people hard. I never knew I’d miss it.”

Since Vons closed, White has taken a trip to WinCo in Oceanside, where she believes groceries are reasonable. She said, “I think WinCo is the cheapest shop and I think it’s not too far… I can take the bus or the train.”

Food insecurity is a problem for many Vista residents, said Corina Contreras, a city councilman, and losing a grocery store makes that problem worse.

“It’s really heartbreaking, I’m just afraid the quality of nutrition will go down because the most accessible there is CVS or 7-11. You won’t get the nutritional or nutritional needs of your children until they are older without health concerns.”

Contreras said the city council needs to discuss the safety concerns surrounding the shopping center and how nearby residents get fresh food.

“We can’t survive on fast food and fast food. We are human and we need real food to grow. And we need a safe place so we can shop,” Contreras said. “

It says the city has no information on what will replace Fons because it is a private sale, a statement echoed by a statement from Communications Officer McCullough: “The city has no information regarding the sale of this property. It is not owned or operated by the city. The property is intended for commercial purposes, Which means that the property can be sold to a buyer who fits the requirements of the commercial district and the seller/buyers do not need approval from the city. They are not required to provide any information to the city and they have not, other than to say they are in escrow.”

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Tanya Thorne

Pictured is the facade of Funes in Vista, California, after being closed with doors and windows clad in plywood. 5 July 2022.

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