At 7:30 on a chilly Sunday morning, while many Elk Grovians were still snug in their beds, Sherri Simunich was standing outside , waving a sign that read, 'Save Our Store.'
Simunich and about two dozen of her neighbors had gathered to protest at 8787 Elk Grove Blvd by March. While Raley’s calls the store “underperforming” compared to the company’s three other Elk Grove locations, locals say they’ll miss its friendly service and the convenience of having a full-service grocery within walking distance.
"It's our community store, it's been here over 30 years, and we don't want it to close,” said Simunich, 48, who organized the Sunday rally. Behind her, protesters chanted, “We care! Save Bel Air.”
Protesters said the store serves senior citizens and others with limited mobility who live nearby and wouldn’t be able to drive even a few miles to another supermarket.
“I know a gentleman in a wheelchair who lives down the street and comes here to get his groceries,” said Diane Araiza, an employee who frequents the store. “Where is he going to shop?”
Others at the rally cited their sentimental attachment to a store they’d shopped at for decades.
“Our kids learned to count and do math here,” said Tom Dove, 54, who stopped by with his wife Ronie. “There are kids that were raised with ours and now we see them working here.”
In a neighborhood that rarely sees protests, Dove said this was one cause that inspired him to pick up a picket sign.
“I’m not an Occupier type,” he said. “I’m 54 and I’ve never held a sign for anything. But here I am.”
Like other customers at the rally, the Doves said they might drive the extra distance to shop at another Bel Air—or they might take their business to a competitor like WinCo Foods in search of lower prices.
Some protesters expressed concern that businesses were fleeing Elk Grove’s historic center for shopping centers on the outskirts of town.
“It’s taking away a store in central Elk Grove and all the stores are going to be on the perimenter,” sad Pamela Baker, a 30-year resident of the neighborhood. “There’s going to be nothing here for the people that have been here for years.”
Raley’s told Elk Grove Patch earlier in the week that increased competition in the local grocery market had played a role in the decision to shutter the store.
“It’s getting really difficult to be able to compete unless we can reduce our operating costs,” said John Segale, a spokesperson for the West Sacramento-based chain. “The feeling was that this was an area that could best be handled by the other stores we have there.”
Simunich, who lives down the street from the store, said she was “stunned” to learn of the planned closure earlier in the week and went online to vent her feelings. “Someone said, ‘What about an old-fashioned protest?’ and I said, ‘Yeah!’ ”
Simunich organized the rally through online message boards and Facebook, and by 8:30 a.m. Sunday had collected close to 50 signatures on a homemade petition asking that the store be kept open. Shoppers also vented their frustration on Raley’s Facebook page.
The rally was set to last until early evening Sunday.
“It’s nice to hear that we have some support,” said one store employee who spoke briefly with Elk Grove Patch. “I don’t know that it’s going to help us.”
Raley’s has said some of the store’s 81 workers will be eligible to transfer to other locations, while others will lose their jobs. The workers are represented by Local 8 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
The employee, who like other Raley's workers was barred by management from giving media interviews, said that he would be able to transfer to another store but added that it wouldn’t be the same.
Some employees had already moved to other stores, he said.
Segale, the Raley's spokesperson, said Sunday that the protest and petition drive “is definitely a sign of the type of community support we’ve seen throughout the company.”
“But at this time the decision is still final.”