A rodent infestation and a nasty public spat over who’s at fault have combined to close the Hoopa Valley’s only grocery store.
The problem first crept into public view last week
, after numerous complaints to Humboldt County Environmental Health Services regarding a large rat infestation at Ray’s Food Place that left rat droppings, gnawed products and the smell of urine throughout the store. The store initially announced it would close some parts of the store, then announced it would fully close until repairs could be made. Now Ray's is announcing that it’s terminating its lease.
There has been a volley of finger pointing between the tribe, which owns the building, and the store, C&K Markets, Inc., which owns the Ray’s grocery chain and is officially the tribe’s tenant. The tribe has maintained that C&K has been callous and indifferent to problems at the store — the only place for tribal members to buy groceries in a 10-plus mile radius. And C&K has pointed the finger back, saying the tribe hasn’t kept the building up and has been unresponsive.
That trend continued Friday, when both sides issued accusatory press releases announcing the split.
In it’s release, Ray’s maintains it has not heard from the tribe since June 17 and that for nine years the store has been trying to negotiate for a long-term lease that would allow the company to make improvements to the store property, but that the tribe “did not respond to our inquires, so we’ve operated on a month-to-month basis.” The company says it has been working to address the rodent issue but wouldn’t reopen without a long-term lease from the tribe.
“Smooth store operations require a good working relationship with the landlord; we do not have that partnership with the tribe,” the release states. “Given the tribe’s lack of interest in talking with us about retaining us as tenants, we are giving notice that we will vacate the store on Aug. 31, 2016. The store will not reopen. … We cannot operate a store when the building owner ignores us and does not respond to us.”
The tribe, on the other hand, said in its release that it has made every effort to make the store a safe place to shop. “The rodent infestation inside the store, which appears to have developed over an extended period of time, is reprehensible and unacceptable,” the press release states. “Ray’s should be ashamed of themselves for expecting tribal and community members to purchase products contaminated with rat feces, oils, and urine.”
Regardless of who is at fault in the situation, for the foreseeable future tribal members will have to get by without a grocery store in their community, which poses as a problem as some members do not have cars and public transportation options are limited in the valley. The tribe states in its release that it’s “working diligently” on short and long-term solutions to ensure access to safe and healthy food. Some of these may include grocery distributions and free transportation to stores in Eureka and Arcata.
See the full press releases from both entities copied below:
From the Hoopa Valley Tribe:
The Hoopa Valley Tribe has made every effort to work with Ray’s Food Place and C & K Markets, Inc. in order to ensure that Ray’s Food Place in Hoopa is a safe place for community members to shop. The rodent infestation inside the store, which appears to have developed over an extended period of time, is reprehensible and unacceptable. Ray’s should be ashamed of themselves for expecting tribal and community members to purchase products contaminated with rat feces, oils, and urine.
The Tribe has therefore determined that the severance of our business relationship with Ray’s and C & K is in the best interests of the community due to health and safety concerns. The Hoopa Valley Tribal Council Members want to assure the membership and the community that they are working diligently to develop both short-term and long-term solutions that ensure access to safe and healthy food. The Hoopa Valley Tribe will make every effort to publicize any and all temporary services we provide on an ongoing basis, including grocery distributions and free transportation to stores in the Eureka/Arcata area, which will assist them with their household shopping needs.
The Tribe will continue to use all communication avenues at its disposal to provide updates to the membership and the community regarding our efforts.
Press release from Ray’s Food Place:
Our last communication from the Hoopa Valley Tribe was Friday, June 17. This is not an unusual situation, as the Tribe has often been unresponsive to us. For the past nine years, we’ve expressed our interest in negotiating a long-term lease, so we could make improvements in the store. The Tribe did not respond to our inquiries, so we’ve operated on a month-to-month basis.
Last week, we voluntarily closed Ray’s Food Place in Hoopa due to rodent issues that were not acceptable to us. We also took the initiative to hire contractors to seal the exterior of the store to prevent further rodent entry. Over this past weekend, our contractors removed refrigeration systems and started other in-store eradication efforts. Planning and completing this work required that the store be closed to the public. Earlier, we indicated that we would reopen the store as soon as we had a long-term lease with the Tribe.
Despite numerous attempts to communicate with the Tribe, C&K management has not heard from them for almost a week. Smooth store operations require a good working relationship with the landlord; we do not have that partnership with the Tribe. Given the Tribe’s lack of interest in talking with us about retaining us as tenants, we are giving notice that we will vacate the store on August 31, 2016. The store will not reopen.
We will offer Hoopa store employees positions at other stores, but we know that may not be an option for all of them. We also realize that our store is a very convenient place for people to shop, and closing will mean that many will have to travel to obtain food. Yet, we cannot operate a store when the building owner ignores us and does not respond to us. We extend our appreciation to our employees and customers for their support over the years.