SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -

The Santa Barbara Mesa is now a two grocery store neighborhood.  It was clearly a need for the area, where there is a wide mix of incomes. Customers said their  needs  were not always met by the current offerings.

The site was formerly a Haggen store, that closed last year. Haggen's expansion plan into California came apart a few months after it opened and the Mesa store was one of the locations that went dark.

Residents who do not drive, or go downtown much, valued the local market when it was an Albertsons and were upset when it changed hands and eventually closed.   One neighbor Virginia Marquez was particularly pleased saying, "Oh honey  very much so  cuz I'm just a couple of doors down. We're very blessed to have this store back because everyone was so nice and wonderful."

One customer said sometimes a downtown trip or to the other side of town can take longer than it seems. "And a lot of us  especially when there are things going on downtown it is so nice to be up here (on the Mesa) We have the parking,  we have the restaurants,  it's great to have our market," said Tracy Shawn.

The newly remodeled store has more than a $1-million in improvements but the 10,000 square foot store has not expanded it's footprint in a crowded shopping center.  It is one of the smallest stores in the new jointly owned Vons and Albertsons chain.

Vons Communications manager Carlos Illingworth says the store "packs a punch."  It has mainstream selections, locally produced products, organic fruits and vegetables, and higher end items for those looking for specific choices in that range of offerings, without going to a specialty store.

"They wanted a combination of main stream items and those specialty items that were organic and local," said Illingworth. For companies supplying some of the newer items, "some of which this is their first store in which they are being carried,  they are super excited to have their local product in a main stream grocery company."

During the grand opening today, the store also said some of the former employees were hired back from a few years ago, and among them were some disadvantage workers who are assisted with employment through the Pathpoint organization. A $1000. donation was made to Pathpoint.  A second $1000. donation was made to Monroe Elementary school nearby.

There were many free items today including samples of McConnell's ice cream, Lori's Original Lemonade and reusable shopping bags.

Nearby Wayne Kjar's business Your Cake Baker had a special for Vons customers with a receipt. They were given a free cupcake.   He said while the store was closed, that side of the shopping center saw a noticeable decline in business.

Parking spaces were full today.  All day.

(check back more details and video will be posted here later in the day)