The impending arrival of PCC Community Markets in the Central District probably won’t do much to change business at the neighborhood’s popular low cost, overstock, and closeout-filled Grocery Outlet.
But the 1962-era supermarket building at MLK and Union it calls home was due for some exterior work and a new sign or two.
“It’s a little bit of a facelift,” owner Steve Mullen tells CHS.
Mullen says the recent $400,000+ overhaul of the store’s freezer and refrigeration system was probably a bigger deal.
The upgrades, facelift, and changes to the MLK Way facing entrance to the market are part of continued commitment to the store. It’s good news for fans after the SoDo location’s closure was held up by some as another sign “Seattle is Dying.”
The SoDo store had a different local owner, Mullen said. But Mullen says he understand about deciding to close a grocery store due to crime and disorder. The problem isn’t new — he shut down his Rainier Valley store years ago due to theft. “A lot of it is driven by drug problems,” Mullen said.
The MLK store also has its issues with theft, Mullen said, but he plans to stay invested in the community for the long haul. His current lease on the 17,000-square-foot grocery runs through 2032.
The new look for the market will come as the Central District is slated to add a new grocery option this spring with the opening of PCC at 23rd and Union. Another PCC remains in the longterm plans in Madison Valley. It also comes as other large grocery chains are starting to rethink the use of the land they hold. On Capitol Hill, CHS reported on Safeway’s early planning for possible mixed-use redevelopment at its E John store.
Meanwhile, the Central District is still adjusting to the loss of the Red Apple that was demolished in early 2018 to make way for redevelopment from Vulcan Real Estate creating a set of two seven-story buildings with more than 500 new homes at the key neighborhood intersection of 23rd and Jackson. As of yet, no new grocery tenant has been announced for that soon to be completed project.
The sprawling 1.6 acre MLK grocery and parking lot property is owned by companies registered to Kin Properties, a privately-held commercial real estate investment company with more than 750 holdings across the country.
Grocery Outlet stores, meanwhile, are owned and operated by local management but the company is part of a large,
privately held publicly traded holding firm that owns the brand and handles things like the coming MLK overhaul. Mullen and owners like him across Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, and Pennsylvania sell the products that come through the stores on a consignment-like basis splitting the proceeds with Grocery Outlet’s corporate parent in California.
The result is a grocery filled with every day needs including staples like dairy and produce — albeit the shelf life might be a little shorter. Much of the stock is from overproduction as high-scale factories produce huge quantities for worldwide distribution. Other items are what happens on a planet full of unexpected twists and turns.
Mullen said one favorite example was what happened when Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps was suspended after being photographed with a marijuana pipe. The Grocery Outlet system sent the Madrona store “pallets and pallets” of Frosted Flakes boxes featuring the swimmer and Tony the Tiger that had been pulled from regular distribution, Mullen said.
It is also the folks in Emeryville who are driving the facelift in the Central District but it is Mullen who is on the line for making it work. The stretch of MLK between Union and Cherry is changing faster than just about anywhere else in the area. Across the street, The Valley development has added new housing and room for several new businesses including neighborhood longtimer Cappy’s Boxing Gym. Up the street, a fresh crop of townhouses are popping up. With the Outlet — and some help from the Madrona Farmers Market that takes place in the store’s parking lot during the season — the neighborhood has access to nearby groceries and, usually a surprise or two on the shelves.
Mullen says he is happy to be part of this corner of the Central District for at least the next decade.
“This is an awesome community,” he said.
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