ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Gigante USA -- the Mexican retailer that is running into resistance in its efforts to open a store here -- is scheduled to take its case before the Anaheim City Council tomorrow.
If the company can't get approval to obtain a liquor license and open a store here, company officials said they would take the matter to the state and even to the board of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Gigante has already signed a lease to open a store in Anaheim Plaza, a regional shopping center. However, the city's planning commission voted 7-0 in late June to deny Gigante a liquor license for the store, claiming the area already has an over-concentration of liquor licenses and a high crime rate -- a move some industry observers see as a ploy to keep the Hispanic operator out of the city.
Justo Frias, president of Gigante Holdings International, which oversees the company's U.S. operations, declined to say the commission's action was motivated by discrimination. However, he said the vote "just doesn't make sense. I never expected the commission would turn us down over something as basic as a Type 21 takeout liquor license."
(A Type 21 license allows for the sale of alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption.)
The Anaheim City Council is scheduled to take up the matter tomorrow evening.
If the matter is not resolved to Gigante's satisfaction, Frias said he will take his case to the state's Alcoholic Beverage Commission in Sacramento. If Gigante is still not satisfied, it may take the matter before the board of NAFTA, "which has a clause that says one country in the treaty can't treat a company from another country differently than it would treat one of its own companies," Frias said.
Gigante opened its first U.S. store in 1999 and currently operates three stores in Southern California, with a fourth due to open next month.
The Anaheim Plaza site is a 54,000-square-foot building previously occupied by Orchard Supply Hardware. "OSH agreed to sublease the building to us," Frias said, "but when they saw how strong our financials were, they went to the property owners and asked them to let us take over the lease."
The owners are the California State Teachers Retirement System pension fund, which agreed to let Gigante take over the lease, Frias said. Gigante signed that lease in March.
Ron Holley, owner of RH Properties, a real estate broker working with Gigante, told SN the actions of city officials in Anaheim are clearly discriminatory, "especially given the Stipkovich letter."
That letter, written last fall to the property owners by Elisa Stipkovich, executive director of the Anaheim Redevelopment Agency, outlined reasons why the agency didn't think Gigante was an appropriate tenant for the regional mall.
"Our research has confirmed that Gigante is a more specialized supermarket that does not cater to the public at large," she wrote. Based on a visit to an existing Gigante store, Stipkovich said, the agency's staff noted "that the product selection catered primarily to the Hispanic market."
She also said the staff was "surprised to find that the store signage and music were predominantly in Spanish. Our demographic studies confirm that the surrounding region [of Anaheim Plaza] is comprised of an ethnically diverse population. We believe uses at the Plaza should cater to this wider demographic."
A spokesman for Anaheim told SN that it does not discriminate against Hispanic businesses, noting that four other Hispanic supermarkets are located nearby.