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RALPHS PLANS TO CLOSE 15 SUPERMARKETS RALPHS CLOSING 15 SUPERMARKETS.

Byline: Evan Pondel Staff Writer

Ralphs Grocery Co. announced plans Wednesday to close 15 underperforming supermarkets, mostly in Southern California, because of declining sales.

The subsidiary of Cincinnati, Ohio-based Kroger Co. said the closures are not related to the recently resolved grocery workers strike, which caused Ralphs to lose at least $40 million in sales, according to analysts' estimates. Closings will take place within the next 60 days.

Approximately 600 workers will be displaced by the action and the company plans to find new jobs for them at other stores. The stores are located between Pismo Beach on the Central Coast and San Diego.

``These stores have a lengthy history of being unprofitable,'' said Terry O'Neil, spokesman for Los Angeles-based Ralphs.

The company currently operates more than 340 supermarkets under the Ralphs, Bell Markets and Cala Foods banners in California. Supermarkets like Ralphs, Albertsons and Vons have been under pressure as grocery stores including Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe's and even behemoth retailer Wal-Mart attract more business.

``All of food retailing has had a lot of competition from alternative classes of trade,'' said Stephen Chick, an analyst with J.P. Morgan in New York.

Competition from other chains was even greater during the five-month strike that ended two weeks ago. Kroger estimates the labor dispute and a work stoppage in West Virginia reduced earnings by $156.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2003. The company posted a fourth-quarter loss of $337.4 million, or 45 cents a share, compared with a net income of $381 million, or 50 cents a share, in the same period a year earlier.

Ralphs would not elaborate on whether other stores would close this year. `'It's always a difficult decision for us whether it's one store or many. But we do review the operations of our stores several times a year,'' O'Neil said.

Evan Pondel, (818) 713-3662

evan.pondel(at)dailynews.com

CLOSING

Here are the locations of the Ralphs stores being shut.Los Angeles County

Lawndale, 14310 S. Hawthorne Blvd.

Los Angeles, 2716 San Fernando Road

Rosemead, 8815 E. Valley Blvd.

Orange County

Anaheim Hills, 6336 E. Santa Ana Canyon Road

Westminster, 15471 Brookhurst Ave.

Riverside County

Corona, 1212 Magnolia Ave.

San Bernardino County

Brea, 2465 E. Imperial Highway

Chino Hills, 2959 Chino Ave.

Upland, 829 W. Foothill Blvd.

San Diego County

Bernardo Heights, 15727 Bernardo

Heights Parkway

Chula Vista, 1058 E. Third Ave.

San Diego, 8788 Navajo Road

San Luis Obispo County

Pismo Beach, 829 Oak Park Blvd.

Santa Barbara County

Orcutt, 4869 S. Bradley Road

Ventura County

Oak Park, 632 Lindero Canyon Road

Source: Ralphs Grocery Co.

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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 18, 2004
Words:443
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