The adage that looks can be deceiving might apply to the Fresh & Easy store on Nutmeg Street.
From a distance, Fresh & Easy’s second location in the city appears ready for business. Take a peak closer and the store resembles a ghost town with bare shelves and absent inventory.
The Fresh & Easy store, owned and operated by United Kingdom-based Tesco, was completely developed but has yet to open to the public. The company has not determined a date when the store will open, pinning the delay on a weak economy.
Fresh & Easy plans to publicize the opening date as soon as they receive a time frame when the store could open, said Brendan Wonnacott, a spokesman for Fresh & Easy.
“The economic climate is something we have to take into consideration as we expand. When we started out we had plans to expand more rapidly with stores than we ended up functioning (with). We currently have several stores in various stages of the development process,” Wonnacott said.
Fresh & Easy developed another store in Loma Linda that has not received an opening date either, he added. The opening date for that location has been on hold for two years.
“The Inland Empire has been particularly hard hit without a doubt and that did factor heavily into our decision on when and where we open stores,” Wonnacott said.
According to Bruce Coleman, economic development director for the City of Murrieta, the city has reached out to Fresh & Easy, offering assistance if necessary to get the store opened.
“This is a very good location. It is a very underserved area of the community,” Coleman said.
“We've been in contact with Fresh & Easy to open as soon as possible. We have not received any information at this stage, but we will continue to call and continue to try to let them know this is a very good opportunity. We will encourage them and try to help them understand this is a very strong market," Coleman said.
"…Obviously, they have to make their own business decision, but what we try to do, as the city always does, is encourage expansion."
Coleman pointed to a small number of grocery stores within city limits, with ample housing and a growing population creating demand for another grocery store.
“The fact that a supermarket is having a hard time during the recession is not a surprise,” Coleman said.
“Although Murrieta is mistaken as the Inland Empire, it functions more as an extension of the San Diego region. …We are often mistaken by retailers as being a part of the Inland Empire. The Inland Empire has economic distress levels that Murrieta is not experiencing. Murrieta is experiencing strong income levels, so from that point of view there continues to be opportunity for certain types of retailers.”
The City of Murrieta has been successful in accommodating businesses that needed to expedite expanding their operations or opening retail stores, such as Jerome’s Furniture on Village Walk Place and the new BMW of Murrieta opening next month, Coleman said.
“I just need a phone call to me and we will figure out what we can do to help them. The city wants to be very supportive of development and that’s the philosophy of the City Council and the City of Murrieta.”
On the other side of town, a has been open on Murrieta Hot Springs Road since September 2008. Fresh & Easy locations are unique in that they offer self check-outs and ready-made meals.