Milpas businesses hoping new Fresh & Easy Market will be boon for neighborhood

As Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market prepares to open on Milpas Street in Santa Barbara, businesses along the corridor hope the new storefront brings new traffic.
The 11,680-square-foot international grocery chain at 336 N. Milpas St. is set to open May 1. It will replace a handful of local businesses, including Whitefoot Meat Market, El Pollo Nor Tenor, a nail salon and a dry cleaner.

The butcher shop was one of the last of its kind, and Tri-County Produce owner John Dixon said many locals were sad to see it go.

“It was very tragic to lose Whitefoot. That was there for 40-plus years, and it was the last Mohican — it was one of the last of its kind in town,” Dixon said. “It seems to be the way of the world in many areas. Big corporate America tends to buy out small mom-and-pop stores.”

He added that it’s a double-edged sword — Milpas Street loses some of its “old-school charm” but gains aesthetic upgrades.

While it may be sad to bid familiar storefronts farewell, any change is good, according to Fast Lane Lube & Oil Change General Manager Terry Brantley. He said the area needed a facelift and some long-term occupants.

“I’m sad to see them go, but there’s always change,” Brantley said. “And if there’s change, what better way to change than to have a beautiful grocery store on Milpas that will bring more people down here, bring more money to the community and more jobs?”

Dino Frangos, whose family has owned Frango’s Upholstery & Drapery at 325 N. Milpas St. since 1950, said he wasn’t thrilled with some of the changes. Frangos told the Santa Barbara City Council last year that the city failed to involve the community in design modifications. While the council granted his request to shrink the building size to accommodate a larger sidewalk, it would not decrease the 8-foot cinderblock wall to 6 feet.

City staff said Frangos had been legally notified at the beginning of the planning process, and the 8-foot wall was an adequate sound buffer.

“They have not been good neighbors. They just do what they want to do and have that corporate mentality,” Frangos said. “But I wish them well. The last thing we need is another empty building next to us.”

Hayes Commercial Group partner Michael Martz said that hopefully Fresh & Easy gives shoppers a reason to head down to Milpas Street to check out nearby stores.

“This could be the turning point for that stretch of Milpas, with some fresh vitality and a new center opening,” he said.

Fresh & Easy operates more than 170 stores in California, Arizona and Nevada. It carries fresh-prepared meals, meats and produce that have no artificial colors or flavors, no added trans fats and no high-fructose corn syrup, as well as national brand products.

On average, Fresh & Easy stores use 30 percent less energy than a typical supermarket and are LEED certified, according to the company’s Web site.

It joins several other Milpas Street grocery stores, including Trader Joe’s, Scolari’s, Tri-County Produce and Chapala Market.

Although Dixon was worried when Trader Joe’s came to Milpas, he said it ended up bringing more people to the neighborhood.

“This could be the beginning of many changes,” Dixon said.