Fresh & Easy neighborhood grocery stores moved one step closer to opening with the announcement Friday that four Valley stores will open by mid-January.
The Lemoore store, at the corner of Lemoore Avenue and Cinnamon Drive, is scheduled to open first, on Dec. 2.
Three more stores are scheduled to open Jan. 13: the downtown store at the corner of Tulare and R streets, another at Cedar and Nees avenues, and one at Shaw and Willow avenues.
The company, owned by British retail giant Tesco, is in the middle of a push to open stores in California, Nevada and Arizona.
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Fresh & Easy first acknowledged it wanted to open stores in the Valley last year but put the rollout on hold in April due to the recession.
Now plans are rolling again and six stores are scheduled to be open in the area by the end of February.
In all, the company plans to open 12 stores in Fresno, Clovis, Reedley and Lemoore. The stores emphasize fresh, healthy food and prepared foods.
Executives announced the openings inside the downtown store. The store is complete with shelves, coolers and signs for items such as sushi and wine, lacking only the food on the shelves.
"Downtown Fresno is 8 to 5," said City Council Member Lee Brand. "This symbolically says you have the services that people need who live here full time."
The Fresno Redevelopment Agency has pledged $100,000 to help pay for the enhanced design of the downtown store and parking lot-related expenses.
The mural on the front of the building by local artist Stan Bitters was recently finished.
The company is hiring 125 workers via its Web site for the first six stores. Jobs pay a minimum of $10 an hour and include a 401(k) with a company match. All workers are given the opportunity to work at least 20 hours a week, which allows them to get health insurance.
The company recruits within four miles of its stores and says more than half its employees live within that radius.