Local News

Friday, Dec 28 2012 06:57 PM

Dollar General promises market goods, too

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    The Dollar General Market at 3030 Brundage Lane is the former location of Young's Supermarket.

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BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer smayer@bakersfield.com

The Bakersfield family that for decades owned the iconic Green Frog Market sold the property about two months ago for $1.6 million.

It was understood from the beginning, Green Frog President Scott Hair said Friday, that national chain Dollar General would be moving into the building on Bernard Street and Alta Vista Drive in east Bakersfield.

Hair allowed that he may have been vague in explaining Thursday that the closure of Bakersfield's oldest supermarket is "the result of an expiring lease."

While "The Frog" is leasing the property from current owner Cross Development, it was always understood that it would be a short-term arrangement.

"My first and foremost hope is that this community will rejoice in what it had all those years because it may never come back," Hair said. "And if it does come back, it's going to be in a different place with a different format."

Green Frog announced Thursday that the east Bakersfield landmark will close its doors Jan. 13 -- and that the store will open again in a new location.

But on Friday, Hair said plans to open elsewhere remain uncertain, that negotiations to acquire a store site have been "a roller-coaster ride."

"Yesterday I was 60 percent sure we would find a site, this morning that dropped to zero, and now it's up to about 50 percent," Hair said Friday afternoon.

When asked whether the family is simply cashing out, Hair was adamant.

"No," he said. "No. No."

They've been searching for months for a suitable location, he said.

"If God is willing and the creek doesn't rise, we'll make it there."

The store's 20 or so employees were informed over the last couple of weeks about the store closure, Hair said. He let them know they would be welcome to work for Green Frog "if and when the opportunity arises."

Last year Hair closed the company's larger Columbus Street store, citing growing competition from big-box retailers. When several laid-off employees complained they were not paid in full, the state Labor Commissioner's Office investigated but closed the case in December 2011, saying it had no jurisdiction over a matter governed by a labor contract.

That situation will not be repeated, Hair said.

"Absolutely not. This is a different situation. There will not be any of that with this closure," Hair said.

Dollar General spokesman Dan MacDonald said Friday the company will be leasing the Bernard Street site, and expects to open for business around August 2013.

He understands that there's a lot of history and nostalgia surrounding the loss of Green Frog, MacDonald said. But he believes customers will be pleased by the quality of the national brands and the low prices offered at Dollar General.

The Nashville-based chain has multiple store formats, and the Dollar General Market replacing Green Frog will include fresh produce and meat just like a traditional grocery store, MacDonald said.

A regular Dollar General is typically about 7,000 square feet, whereas a Dollar General Market is 18,000 to 20,000 square feet, he said. And while the name sometimes gives people the impression that it's a 99-cent store, only about 20 percent of the products cost less than a dollar.

MacDonald compared it to a Walmart -- without the football field parking lot -- that you can get in and out of in 15 minutes.

One thing is certain: Dollar General is coming to Bakersfield in a big way.

While MacDonald couldn't verify whether all the stores on his list had opened as of Friday, he counted six in greater Bakersfield, with more "in the pipeline." And at least two of those will include the "Market" format.

Good or bad, it's a trend that seems inexorable in Bakersfield and in communities across America -- powerful chains replacing locally owned retailers.

Why is it happening?

People may love the local stores for their charm and their personalized customer service, Hair said. Locals may express sadness, even grief, over the loss of Green Frog.

But in the end, it's not a landmark or an icon or a historical time capsule.

"It's a business," he said, "and people vote with their dollars."

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