LONG BEACH (CBSLA) —Kroger is closing two of its stores, Ralphs and Food 4 Less, on Saturday after the City of Long Beach mandated that the company pay employees $4 extra an hour in "hero pay" amid the coronavirus pandemic.
As customers came by the store on Saturday, there wasn't much left to buy and the shelves were visibly empty, but people in the neighborhood said they wanted to shop there one more time.
"I came to get the last minute deals and say goodbye to the store," shopper Nick Savala told CBSLA's Joy Benedict. "It's almost like you're losing a part of your family because you get to recognize the faces you see when you come shopping. So, it's a real bummer."
Santiago Vasquez has been working at the Ralphs part-time for about a year, handling pick up orders and helping out in the meat department. He said all of his coworkers were offered jobs, some of them in nearby stores. But Velasquez said the offer of a transfer didn't make much sense for him.
"I was offered to stay with the company in Huntington Beach and Seal Beach," he said, "...but I'd rather just work a minimum wage job around where I live."
Employees tell CBSLA that the empty buildings are slated to be used for storage and then eventually shutter, leaving residents with little idea about what's to come of the properties.
"I have no idea what the property value is," Brian Bogey, a customer, said. "I know there's open real-estate next door. So, there may be some kind of deal going on. The land may be pretty valuable."
Kroger announced back in February that it was closing the two stores — Food 4 Less at 2185 E. South St. and Ralphs at 3380 N. Los Coyotes Diagonal — directly in response to the passage of the new law.
"I'm very sad about it," Ricardo Galvan, a Downey resident, told CBSLA Friday. "I love coming here, especially after work. It was great coming here to get something to eat. We're definitely going to miss it."
In December, the Long Beach City Council passed an ordinance that requires grocers with at least 300 employees nationwide to provide their employees with an extra $4 per hour in hazard pay for at least a period of 120 days.
"That's disappointing," shopper Ashley Carlton said. "I think these guys, they toughed out the pandemic and they deserve hero pay."
Kroger maintained that he extra cost of temporary hazard made make it impossible for them to operate what they called "underperforming stores."
However, customers told CBSLA Friday that the stores were not underperforming, and in fact were often very busy.
"This is the one we prefer to come to, and the lines are long sometimes," shopper Jose De La Cruz said.
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