Tempe's 'Fresh & Easy' Mystery

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Remember all those eager reports in the news last fall ballyhooing the arrival of a Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market just a mile from downtown Tempe? The grocery chain was applying to the Tempe City Council for a liquor license. It sounded delightful, but more than six months later the building is still empty.

The building was vacated after Walgreens moved from the intersection of Broadway and Mill... to the intersection of Broadway and Mill. There should be a special circle of hell for corporate businesses that close and then reopen across the street, leaving the neighborhood with a wart of an empty building. But now you can pick up your prescription drugs from Walgreens without having to get out of your car, so that makes it all okay, right? Riiiight.

Enter Fresh & Easy, the savior of Tempe urban blight. The trouble is that the deal appears to have soured.

"I don't know who killed that deal or if it has legs now, but right now we're not working on it," says Alex Clark, who works for B.D. Baker, a real estate company actively looking for a tenant for the building. Clark says Walgreens still owes time on the lease and for the last month, he's been trying to sublease the property for the owner, Mark Stoneman of Stoneman Properties.

So what happened to the Fresh & Easy deal? And is it gone for good, or just in hibernation?

"Honestly, I don't have any details," says Fresh & Easy spokesman Brendan Wonnacott. "We don't announce stores until they are fairly far along in the process because, quite frankly, a lot of things can happen."

In other parts of the country, Fresh & Easy expansion plans have been scaled back because of the crummy economy and because Americans don't seem to be embracing the mini grocery chain the way its British parent company, Tesco, had hoped we would.

What's left is an empty building. Alex Clark of B.D. Baker says there has been one interested party, but it's still very preliminary.

"Bring me a tenant," says Clark. 

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