Forgive the Militant for being a late bloomer, but he had the sudden urge to check out the Hollywood Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market (and the chain itself) for the first time this weekend.
He took a quick Metro trip (the Militant will tell ya, having a monthly TAP card does wonders) over to Hollywood and Highland and two blocks later he descended the stairs down to UK supermarket giant Tesco's little experiment across the pond.
It certainly looks and feels different than a usual supermarket. Meant to be smaller in size, everything looked rather bland and uniform. Everything can be summed up into about 4 or 5 colors.
The weirdest part were the aisles; everything was uniformly placed into very-alike looking packages (pictured left). Surveillance camera pods hung overhead. Were they going for the Orwellian thing here? Double plus ungood.
But oh the prices! $1.99 for a pound of strawberries? Into the basket you go. Twice! Also got a container of sliced pineapples. Blue corn tortilla chips for 99 cents? Hola! Same goes for the bag of granola clusters...French Vanilla and Almond? Oui! And just for shitsandgiggles, a bag of F&E's white cheese puffs, which inevitably have to have a pirate-themed name which references the original product.
Checking out was...a lot like Home Depot. They had those self-service checkout counters (pictured right), which unlike most markets, are the rule here rather the exception. But boo on F&E for more annoying plastic bags (yes, the Militant forgot his reusable bag...) rather than having a paper option (which he loves for sticking junk mail and newspapers before going into Le Bleu Bin.
Many people have indeed drawn up the comparison between F&E and the Native Southern Californian Trader Joe's. The Militant will tell ya, THERE IS NO COMPARISON (well, except maybe for some produce prices...). TJ's has humor, personality, character...and Fearless Flyers. They also got free samples (The Militant has heard of free samples at F&E but they weren't there when the Militant came by...) and wonderfully-decorated locally-themed stores that exude community pride and flavor. And TJ's doesn't look as sterile and bland as a pharmaceutical lab. And did the Militant mention TJ's is a native Southern California product? Oh yeah, he did, but he just wants to stress it again for all those East Coast people who think TJ's originated out there (and who might be predictably inclined to think the SoCal TJs are inherently inferior to the ones "Back East," lol).
Fresh & Easy is alright, but they've been having trouble establishing market share for obvious reasons. Still, to their credit, it was interesting to see a chain supermarket in Los Angeles without an obvious parking lot, as the majority of F&E customers (at least here in Hollywood) make relatively small purchases on foot. But then, what other F&E anywhere can give you the experience of walking through the tourist/street entertainment mayhem that is Hollywood between Orange and Highland? Though a tired, cliched scene, it brought a smile to the Militant's face as he schlepped his two (plastic, damn them) grocery bags down to the Red Line station.