fresh & easy sold; about 50 stores will close

The deed is done.

fresh & easy has been sold.

And in the end, it wasn’t the expected buyers, the German company Aldi Nord, which owns Trader Joe’s.

Instead, it was the former owners of Food 4 Less and Ralphs — the Los Angeles-based Yucaipa Companies — who purchased the chain from Tesco.

However, the fresh & easy saga has yet to fully play out, as a) the Yucaipa Companies deal leaves out about 50 of its nearly 200 stores and b) those acquired stores might not retain the fresh & easy brand for long.

The as-yet-unnamed stores not included in the sale will begin shutting down as early as tomorrow (September 11), offering 25% discounts on most items, according to the Orange County Register.

The remaining stores might be used to relaunch Wild Oats Markets, which were bought out by Whole Foods in 2007.

Bloomberg reported back in June that Ron Burkle (founder of Yucaipa Companies) was in talks to purchase the fresh & easy stores and use them to relaunch Wild Oats.

Bloomberg was correct on at least one count.

However, today’s L.A. Times story on the sale quotes an unidentified source as saying the second count won’t happen.

According to the article:

“There will be an announcement about Wild Oats in the coming months. It will not be the rebranding of the Fresh & Easy stores as Wild Oats,” the person said.

Perhaps fresh & easy stores will retain the name, but will carry Wild Oats-branded products.

The fresh & easy blog puts a positive spin on the sale, noting that more than 4,000 jobs will be spared.

The L.A. Times article quotes fresh & easy spokesperson Brendan Wonnacott as saying about 400 employees will lose their jobs.

For now, Inland Empire fresh & easy stores can be found in San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Ontario, Chino Hills, Upland, Yucaipa, Hesperia, Calimesa, Riverside, Moreno Valley, Jurupa Valley, Corona, Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Palm Desert, La Quinta, Indio, San Jacinto, Murrieta and Temecula.

Click here to read more from business reporter Muhammed El-Hasan.

Update: The two stores closest to my house (San Bernardino and Rialto) are indeed closing. Getting reports via Facebook and Twitter about other local stores. We’re hearing the Ontario and Hesperia stores are reportedly closing, as is one of the two Upland (Foothill Boulevard) stores, plus Palm Desert, La Quinta and Indio. Hearing that both Yucaipa and Calimesa are apparently remaining open, along with the other Upland (Mountain Avenue) store, Riverside (Trautwein Road), San Jacinto, Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Murrieta and Temecula. Drove by both Rancho Cucamonga stores , which appear to be staying put, and I’m getting reports that the Fontana store is safe as well.

Another theory (from the folks behind Fresh and Easy Buzz) is that some of the non-closing stores will be converted to Wild Oats as a test, with the other stores perhaps to follow.