Council member O’Brien wants Central Co-op to anchor Capitol Hill Station development

Favorites-1-of-4-1-600x400Council member Mike O’Brien has made an unexpected endorsement, not for a political candidate, but for a Capitol Hill grocer.

In a letter to the developer of the four-site retail and housing project that will one day surround the Capitol Hill Station, the District 6 rep expressed his support for Central Co-op to become the development’s anchor tenant over Portland-based New Seasons Market. Both grocers are vying to occupy the future prominent retail space on Broadway, poised to be an extremely high-trafficked site given the thousands of light rail riders who are already moving through the block daily.

Members of the 16th and E Madison co-op announced in April to pursue a second location in the “transit oriented development” following reports that developer Gerding Edlen was in talks with New Seasons.

A group of labor organizations and Council District 3 rep Kshama Sawant previously voiced concerns about an “anti-union climate” at New Seasons stores. Citing Central Co-op’s early implementation of a $15 minimum wage and “spirit of sustainability,” O’Brien said the Capitol Hill-born grocer would be a better fit for the neighborhood.

“I was in the room when they announced their desire to pursue the TOD space,” O’Brien said in his letter. “I was inspired by the energy and excitement of hundreds of people, all of whom are owners of the business, turning their energy towards a common goal and vision.”

Positioning itself as a more appropriate reflection of Capitol Hill, a statement released by the Central Co-op in April said that “the space should be occupied by a truly locally-rooted business that has demonstrated its commitment to the community.”

Representatives for Gerding Edlen previously said they wanted to select an anchor tenant by this summer. The original construction timeline had the entire project opening in 2018.

Once construction is complete, a supermarket won’t be the development’s only retail tenant. Plans for a retail “bazaar” at Site A-North, called The Market Hall, envision “a mix of local retailers, served by booths of varying sizes to accommodate the start-up entrepreneur as well as more established specialty retailers.” Gerding says it plans to work closely with the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce to select a retail broker and future tenants. The Capitol Hill farmers market has also long sought to be part of the development.

Last year Gerding Edlen was selected as the master developer of 100,000 square feet of TOD housing, commercial, and community spaces. Gerding estimates the project to cost $124 million for three sites. Capitol Hill Housing was tabbed to develop, own, and operate a fourth site — a seven story, 86-unit affordable housing building.

Meanwhile, as PCC Natural Markets makes plans to open in the mixed-use project that will rise in the Madison Valley site currently home to City People’s, some neighbors are urging the grocer to back their fight to scale back the project. Members of the group Save Madison Valley recently wrote a letter to PCC asking that the grocery chain “exercise your voice and considerable power to help make this project one that PCC can be proud of.”

Here is the letter O’Brien wrote to Gerding Edlen project manager Jill Sherman:

Dear Jill Sherman,

I’m writing to express my support for Central Co-op to be the anchor tenant at the new Capitol Hill Station Transit-Oriented Development (TOD). As our city undergoes rapid change, our challenge as residents, business and policy leaders is to help ensure that growth is sustainable – for workers, for communities, and for our environment.

Central Co-op embodies this spirit of sustainability. They implemented a $15 per hour minimum wage, the highest in the nation, years before it was required. Almost 80% of their workers are represented by three local unions. They contribute thousands to local community groups while thriving financially as a not-for-profit business. Their commitment to local producers, sustainable sourcing and fair labor practices is embedded in the DNA of their business.

But Central Co-op also brings something intangible to this space – the cooperative spirit. I was in the room when they announced their desire to pursue the TOD space. I was inspired by the energy and excitement of hundreds of people, all of whom are owners of the business, turning their energy towards a common goal and vision. Since then, thousands of owners and neighbors have added their names to the campaign.

Thank you,

Councilmember Mike O’Brien

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57 thoughts on “Council member O’Brien wants Central Co-op to anchor Capitol Hill Station development

  1. I’m a 37 year resident of Capitol Hill and I don’t want the co-op to be there. I want something new, where do I get to voice my opinion? I don’t like that our city Council decides what grocery stores should be in my neighborhood.

    • I have real mixed feeling about it. I’ve been a member since they opened the store on 16th but I hardly shop there anymore. Despite their claims that essentials are affordable I still find their prices high. But what really keeps me away is the bad service. I don’t know they can’t train their staff at the juice bar and deli to greet customers in a pleasant way. All it takes is a “Hi, How can I help you today?”. It never happens. It’s always something like “What do you want?” accompanied with a dour looking face. I don’t know why they can’t get it together but I don’t really feel like forking over 8 bucks for a juice when the dude behind the counter is unpleasant.

    • I agree with Mimi. I’ve shopped there a few times, but never again. Quality is mediocre, as is the service, and prices are high.

    • Please, not the Madison co-op. Their attitude, crappy service, and overpriced products have kept me away after I really wanted to like that store. Maybe the Co-op management should visit a New Seasons store, or walk one block to Trader Joes to see what decent customer service is.

  2. They also stand behind the community members like no other grocer in the area, giving a community discount to those with low incomes. I do hope they get chosen for this site.

  3. I’ve been a member of Central Co-op since 1997 and hope they get the lease they are looking for. I’ve rarely had the type of service that Mimi describes and I shop there 2-3x a week. I’m wondering if Mimi has ever complained? Its sort of amazing what letting a business know you are thinking/feeling about an experience will accomplish. Being a member is being an owner.

    • I haven’t complained because I don’t have time or energy for that. (Plenty of time for commenting online though, ha ha.) I work customer service so I know first-hand it can be challenging, But it seems to me that the training at the co-op is really poor and that this is the root of the problem. The employees seem miserable.II agree that with the person who said that the customer service at Trader Joe’s is 100 times better. Given a choice I always choose them over the co-op these days.

  4. there’s already a central co-op on capitol hill; about a mile away from the light rail. let’s not have a situation similar to the two qfcs on broadway.

    how about variety and competition? let’s get something different.

    • Capitol Hill is awash in variety and competition when it comes to grocery store options. I get that there are people who just don’t like the co-op, but there is no shortage of different players in Capitol Hill’s grocery landscape. On the contrary, I’d say the market market is approaching oversaturation.

  5. The Central Coop is totally the right choice for the rail station. They are home grown, sustainable and a Seattle institution. The consumer owner model that includes employees clearly illustrates the things we value in Seattle. NSM is another corporate profit driven Whole Foods knock off. there’s enough of that around already.

    • If I had my way it would be a Metropolitan market. They are also homegrown, the nicest people in the world, wonderful stores, and almost every neighborhood the Capitol Hill.

  6. I like the idea of a grocery store, but I would also love the idea of having a more open market with smaller stalls that would allow for more flexibility in vendors as time goes on. This would be for a more permanent home for the farmers market, but also for smaller non-food related vendors looking to set up their own shop. I think this would be a better reflection of the community rather than having a grocery store so close to other grocery stores.

    • There is already a plan for the open market in the space just south of the grocery store. It will be a European-style covered market with stalls and boutiques and is based on the Norrebro market in Copenhagen – Google it for cool pictures. That said it must pencil in financially to be viable and move forward.

  7. That would mean there are four grocery stores very, very close to each other. 2 QFCs on Broadway, the Safeway on 15th, and then the Central Co-op in the station. It’s a high concentration- how about putting them in food deserts rather than already saturated areas?

    I’m not sure where and how to add this influence, but perhaps convincing the developer for smaller retail spaces rather than large ones like the Lyric (which remained empty for a long time)- would be friendlier in rent and atmosphere for Broadway!

  8. There are too many large-format spaces on Broadway already – banks, multiple supermarkets and pharmacies. If Central Co-Op wants another location, why not go somewhere that actually needs another (or, a) grocery. With at least 8 groceries within a mile and a half (3 QFCs, Safeway, Eat Local, Trader Joes, existing Central Co-Op, coming Whole Foods), Capitol Hill is likely the neighborhood that LEAST needs a grocery of any kind.

    • i’m having difficulty with this argument that there are enough grocery stores. obviously these comments are being made by people who live within central capitol hill (likely next to multiple options). try finding walkable options west of broadway; you’ll find a qfc and another qfc (sorry, eat local is: 1) not a real grocery store and 2) obscenely over-priced and whole foods is likely 2 years away from opening).

  9. To heck with Portlandia! I agree with Mike that on the public, Sound Transit property, we should have homegrown store, owned by Seattle workers and customers. Central Co-op!

  10. Why not just look after the taxpayer’s best interest, and lease the space to the entity that gives the best deal to the landlord? Picking and choosing grocery stores is not the government’s – and especially not the politician’s – place.

    • Agree completely. O’Brien has no business sticking his nose into this issue, especially since the development isn’t even in his district. But I doubt if many people care what he thinks anyway.

    • He is an elected official elected by a very left wing electorate, its his business to to do what he feels is the will of his constituents. Therefore if he feels like we would like a not for profit and worker owned store on publicly owned land why do you have a problem with this? If we left everything to the magical invisible hand it would be a Walmart.

    • @tuck

      “…its his business to to do what he feels is the will of his constituents.”

      but we aren’t his constituents. as @bob points out, this isn’t his district. try to keep up.

    • I know that, but he has the right to represents the city at large, and the city overall is left wing. The light rail is a city and regional asset. As well pro-union businesses like Central Co-Op pay their employees enough to still live in the city and they pay taxes in the city.
      I’m all for O’Brien doing this. Plus out own representative is very pro-union and already signed on to the campaign for a union friendly business to occupy a city public owned space.

  11. Capitol Hill is awash in grocery stores, while I see people in the Central District all the time having to take the bus (sometimes even with their kids) to grocery shop. Hard to feel sorry for the privileged crowd of Capitol Hill with so many choices (“oh, boo-hoo, too many chains…I want Metropolitan Mkt, I want Town & Country, I want another CoOp) while not far away people have *maybe* 1 choice– if they’re lucky. Talk about 1st-world problems. Some of you should just slap yourselves to save us all time, before you snap out of it.

    • hey, jim, why don’t you just let us people on capitol hill take care of ourselves and what WE want, in a neighborhood WE live in and you worry about your own neighborhood. i believe i remember you saying you live in the central district? maybe focus your time and effort on getting developers to put in grocery stores there.

      those of us here in capitol hill, that live 3 blocks from this new construction, have every right to voice our opinion about what gets built so close to the places we live/own. so maybe before coming down on people who are invested in their neighborhood you should “just slap yourself” and snap out of it.

    • Point taken, but I also share the feeling expressed by several others here that the Madison co-op is expensive and has a vaguely off-putting vibe. Still, it’s probably a better bet than New Seasons or (what I fear will end up being the case sooner or later) yet another QFC or Safeway. Fingers crossed.

  12. Coop is wasting member-owner resources on ‘enthusiasm’ w/o a plan. The management team, and the Coop historically, has no successful experience with scaling business to new locations. Doesn’t seem to reflect Co-op Values, and certainly could damage their ability to be sustainable. I love the Coop. And as a member-owner since 1989, I want to see a plan! One that addresses efficacy of competing with 2 QFCs and a new Whole Foods all on the same block, within less than a half mile.

  13. Yes to the Co-op–let’s stick with non-for profits that want to better the community and not just make another dollar!

  14. I applaud you council member O’Brien’s support of Central Co-op’s campaign, as well as council member Sawant’s earlier condemnation of Portland-based anti-union grocer New Seasons. I’d rather see good union grocery jobs in Seattle than an erosion of hard-won standards over decades. Which council member is with us next?

  15. I’ve been a Seattle resident for 10 years and been a co-op member for 7 and been living close by it for 5. I love this place! I don’t make a lot of money but can afford this store. Their produce is cheaper than say, QFC, their essentials are actually affordable and based off of actual market prices, and while the staff aren’t friendly in the fake-corporate-nice way, their employees have always been sweet as can be (you just have to treat them like humans and they will return that kindness — I say this because I’ve seen a lot of staff there have to deal with extremely rude customers and they handle it like pros in my humble opinion)

    I fully support Mike O’Briens letter and I hope that the co-op is able to relocate to this new space. They are a beacon of hope since they focus on local business, local economy, sustainable agriculture and small farms, which is imperative during this economic shift in our city.

  16. I do think it’s worth noting that should New Seasons become the anchor tenant that it would undoubtably put pressure on the other union grocery stores on Capitol Hill to lower their benefits/wages, which would be a huge strain on a large number of people who work and live here. Regardless of your feelings about the Co-op, I think it is totally reasonable to want to have a grocery store with a union background.

  17. This is nonsense and then some. I visited New Seasons in Portland long before this was an issue or politicized. I loved it. Friendly staff, great ambiance, a community resource. A true gathering place. The bullying of those who insist that only a unionized store is acceptable is just that – bullying. And I hope it is not permitted. I don’t know the details of the arrangement with the developer but if one has been chosen, they get to decide. They have presumably paid good money for the ability to manage the property. I assume that the deal did not include a union requirement, which would have likely impacted the price downward due to any restrictions. Before making a decision, head over to the nearest open store, likely still in Oregon, or Vancouver WA. Then check it out. Do the same with the coop. Talk to staff. Ask how they are treated, what their satisfaction level is like. Make a decision accordingly in terms of your preference. But until you risk your assets in taking on a development deal for which you are making serious financial commitment, don’t tell another business how to operate. And O’Brien, but out. You are doing your best with this sort of issue, homeless advocacy and other misdeeds, to be one of the most destructive influences on this city, along with Kshama and our esteemed Mayor.

    • The idea that union members standing up for their pay and benefits is “bullying” is silly if one doesn’t view PR campaigns on the behalf of private equity firms (vis a vis paid trolling) equally so. I’m glad we can both make a living, but please can the rhetoric.

  18. I am a lifelong Seattle resident and I love Central Co-op, and always have. It brings a strong sense of community, I think it would be the obvious choice. Broadway lost it’s community hub when they got rid of the Broadway Market. I would love to have something like that again.
    Central Co-op has such great, welcoming service and such passionate support for the community. I doubt that the people making these negative comments have even shopped there, or even are Seattle residents for that matter.

    • Amber, please note that this development will include a “Market Hall,” which will be a space for small businesses, carts/kiosks, startups, etc. This should provide a strong sense of community, along with the Farmer’s Market, making it unnecessary for Central Co-op to provide this element. Besides, who is to say the Co-op would be more community-focused than New Seasons?

  19. doesn’t it seem counter-intuitive to have a New Seasons go in there? the light rail station finally opened, allowing Capitol Hill to become what it now is. I know that a lot has changed over the years on the Hill and Seattle by and large, but what is Capitol Hill about a Portland-based grocery chain?

    • The new trolley cars were built in the Czech Republic if memory serves. The rail cars were built by a Japanese company in Massachusetts I believe. The computer I am typing this on was made in China as were many of the clothes I am wearing this evening. The music I listen to is composed around the world. Seattle based companies are thriving all around the world. Why on earth should local ownership be a deciding factor on the store. How about general value to the community. The Capitol Hill of now is informed by the world. Where were you born by the way? If not Seattle, your being here is counter-intuitive as well I suppose.

    • I’m not entirely sure how much more value you need to bring a community already overserved by grocery stores, but if you’re actually chomping at the bit to have a New Seasons on Capitol Hill, then I suppose that’s something. you seem worldly enough to remember those Mervyn’s commercials from the early ’90s…I hope you’re outside every day whispering “open. open. open…”.

  20. Definitely hope New Seasons goes in there.
    I end up going to PCC in Fremont over Central Co-op due to service and selection. And the north hill is a grocery wasteland.

    As a chain New Seasons is able to get group bargain pricing from the natural foods distributor so the pricing is very good.
    It’s sort of like Whole Foods, just a lot nicer. And cheaper.

    Remember when people used to drive from all over to go to the one Trader Joe’s on QA? Then the one Whole Foods opened in the U District and it was the highest volume store in the country.
    These stores are going to open here – The Ballard one is going to open in about a year.

    • The voice of the customer or the developer is not relevant. What matters is the desires of self-appointed community guardians, union shills, and the politicians in their pockets. Surly Central Coop staff trump anything else, so long as they are in the Union.

    • Apparently, being a co-op is an unexamined good. I mean, it brings cheaper food (no), better service (no), better selection (no), union workers (yes, but so do Safeway and QFC) and “community involvement” (whatever that means). I think food co-ops once were a valuable thing but I’m failing to see how “community” ownership is bringing the community any benefits anymore. I suppose it does give people who like to spend money a reason to feel sanctimonious.

  21. Well, it’s clear where the money from New Season’s expensive groceries goes. Not to their underpaid employees, but rather to shills to come give positive comments on blogs.

    Seriously, read up on New Seasons. They started off as a positive, community market, but have since been bought by the venture capital firm Endeavour Capital. Since then, it’s become a place where employees and their benefits are taking more and more of a back seat to profits, as is expected with a venture capital owner.

    • Links? Also, have you given up on mobile phones and computers? Trying doing some investigation on how they are manufactured before throwing stones at New Seasons.

    • A quick Google search for “New Seasons Employee Treatment” will yield some results.

      The phone manufacturer I buy from doesn’t pretend to be some pro-employee, pro-envronment, pro-progessive company when it’s in fact not. New Seasons pretends it’s all that, but it’s track record has been steadily going downhill (it was never really pro-employee and definitely not pro-progressive, despite it’s pretense).

    • I can tell you that I have no financial interest whatsoever in New Seasons. I am merely a 30 year resident of the Hill who has visited one of their stores and liked it, and who happens to believe that those who have taken on the rights (paying dearly I assume) to develop the site get to make the call, not anyone else. On the other hand, I would wager that O’Brien and Sawant have received meaningful funds from Unions.

    • I have no love for or hate for the co-op, but I’d rather see Town and Country move in and start the Capitol Hill Market. As people have mentioned, Ballard Market and (the former) Greenwood Market are well run, well priced, locally owned and treat their unioned employees very well. Source: I know a few employees.

      Nuts to another corporate chain that is part of the race to the bottom of treating one’s employees.

  22. I’d much rather see a regular grocery store than a Co-Op or organic stores. QFC obviously won’t go there as they already have two stores very close by. But Safeway would be fine.

  23. I’d really enjoy a Metropolitan Market. Tacoma, West Seattle, Queen Anne, Magnolia, Kirkland, and Laurelhurst have one. It’s time for the densest neighborhood in the state to have one.

  24. Central Coop should not be selected for this site due to the fact they do not adhere in practice to coop principles, are not transparent and cannot be trusted. Look at what they recently did to the Tacoma coop location they recently merged with. They closed it without a 24 hour notice even. Likely because this opportunity captured their eye… Regardless, we were Madison Market members since early 2000’s and started leaning PCC. We saw more employee dissatisfaction at Madison Market/Central Coop and heard about it too as the managers pay scale kept rising and becoming more prominent. The attitude and unhelpful was of the employees also became prominent as we observed high turnover while at PCC we found pleasant long term employees always kind and happy to help. We are members of multiple coops and do not endorse the Centeal Coop as an anchor store for Capitol Hill Lightrail station because we don’t trust them to serve the community’s needs. While not a coop, we do appreciate New Seasons and are excited to hear they are on their way to Ballard. Hopefully they will eget the bid for the light rail spot too and Central Coop can continue screwing people and. Immunities over right where they are until their lease is up in 20 years.