Ten days after an angry public protest in front of the Save-A-Lot supermarket in south San Diego, the store has taken down its sign, leaving a big blank spot on its façade, and is changing its name.
An employee who answered the phone at the former Save-A-Lot, identifying herself as Maria Arzat, said that the new store name is "Su Mercado" ("your market") but could not give a reason for the name change. "It's just something he [owner Waleed ‘Wally’ Daoud] decided to do," she said. The Save-A-Lot sign was taken down on the morning of September 24, Arzat said, and the store will be keeping the same staff. "We're making some changes, but not a lot."
A spokesperson at Save-A-Lot corporate headquarters refused to say whether Daoud had lost the right to use the Save-A-Lot brand name or whether the corporation had anything to do with the name change. "You are trying to find negative information about the store," said media relations spokesperson Chon Tomlin, "and I can't help you with that." Tomlin stressed that the store is independently owned by Daoud and she said the name change is "a business decision of the owner."
The protest in front of the store by about 20 people on September 14 centered on a complaint by Berenice De La Cruz about what she said was rotten chicken purchased at the store. A Facebook page called “Boycott Wally’s Rotten Food – Imperial Beach” has been a focal point for recent protests.
There have been years of controversy, complaints, and petitions concerning two of Daoud’s stores in the area: Save-A-Lot and the nearby Wally’s in Imperial Beach. The complaints have claimed that the stores sell rotten and outdated food. More than once in the past two years, television news reports have found outdated food on the shelves at Wally’s, such as sausage that was a month past the expiration date. However, a surprise health inspection of both stores on the day after the September 14 protest reportedly did not uncover any health-code violations.
An employee who declined to give his name claimed that the name change was the result of the Save-A-Lot contract expiring. However, there are indications that the changes were not planned well in advance. Thirty-six hours after the Save-A-Lot sign was removed, there was still no new sign to replace it. The words "Save-A-Lot" had been marked out by hand in black ink on the price stickers attached to products packaged before the 24th (such as tortilla chips), and the newer stickers didn't include the store's new name. The cash-register receipts do read “Su Mercado” and include a message about a new website, wallysmercado.com, but no site was online on the evening of September 25th.
In a phone call to Save-A-Lot, a woman who identified herself as a supervisor put this reporter on hold and then left the building, according to the next person who came on the line. Previously, a manager reached by phone identified himself as "John Doe" and refused comment when asked about the rotten-food allegations.
(corrected 9/26, 1:55 p.m.)