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With vow to prevent ‘Retail Racism,’ PCC opens in the Central District

(Image: PCC)

(Image: PCC)

(Image: PCC)

Six years ago, the corner was a gas station and a quick market full of chips, soda, and beer. Wednesday, a new grocery store finally opened at 23rd and Union.

In a city consumed by weeks of Black Lives Matter protests and months of COVID-19 restrictions, PCC Community Markets marked a quiet opening of its first store in the Central District, Seattle’s core of Black history and culture where waves of redevelopment and rising costs have reshaped the communities that call it home.

“We heard from many people in the neighborhood that they had experienced retail racism. We want our store to be a place where everyone is respected while shopping,” the Seattle-based cooperative grocery chain’s opening announcement reads. “As a result, we trained all of our staff at Central District PCC on implicit bias and how to prevent retail racism. We are rolling this training out to all of our stores.”

PCC says it has also included community art and has tried to address affordability concerns for its new store as well as holding job fairs in the Central District and creating programs “to ensure equitable advancement opportunities for those who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color.”

Over the past six months, PCC has connected with Central District leaders and organizations to learn more about what’s important to them and how we can be a good neighbor. As we celebrate the opening of Central District PCC, we wanted to share some key themes that we heard and how we are taking action on those themes.

  • Retail Racism – We heard from many people in the neighborhood that they had experienced retail racism. We want our store to be a place where everyone is respected while shopping. As a result, we trained all of our staff at Central District PCC on implicit bias and how to prevent retail racism. We are rolling this training out to all of our stores.
  • Art – We heard from the community that art, specifically from Black artists, has been disappearing from the neighborhood. As a result, we commissioned local artist Jite Agbro, who grew up in the Central District, to produce an art installation for our new store. The piece, titled “In Forms That It Takes,” features panels that represent different Central District landmarks.
  • Affordability – We heard from the community that food affordability and access were a neighborhood concern. As a result, we brought in more products from Field Day, which offers organic items at a lower price point. We also will provide food to the community at no cost through our partnership with Byrd Barr Place. We will donate hundreds of pounds of food to them daily, along with fresh produce from local, small farms through our Food Bank Program. In addition, we accept SNAP benefits at our store through EBT.
  • Jobs and Career Path – We heard from the community that jobs are important, but ensuring that Black community members have a career path for advancement is most important. We launched a major recruiting campaign, and attended the MLK Day Career & Opportunity Fair and two open community “food and conversation” sessions at Garfield Community Center. We also hosted three job fairs at the Douglass-Truth library. Our efforts were cut short by COVID-19, but we intend to continue to hire from the community. In addition, our HR team is developing a career mapping program to ensure equitable advancement opportunities for those who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC).
  • Business support – We heard from the community that it’s important that products from BIPOC-owned companies are featured on our shelves. As a result, we are renewing our efforts to support diverse businesses. For the last three years, we have partnered with Ventures to fund training and support of BIPOC entrepreneurs and those with diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. We will continue that effort, in addition to rolling out a micro-grant program for diverse entrepreneurs this fall.
  • Continuing the Conversation – We heard that the community would like to continue the conversation with us. As a result, we will create a community advisory council that will meet quarterly to advise the team at Central District PCC.

These are examples of just some of the changes we have made, and will continue to make, as an organization. Our conversations with the community were key to us understanding what it means to be located in this historic and vibrant neighborhood. Our goal truly is to be a good neighbor — one that is respectful of the fabric of Central District. We look forward to future conversations and hope to see you at Central District PCC!

CHS broke the news in January that PCC was replacing the financially troubled New Seasons chain in the East Union mixed-use development on the northwest corner of 23rd and Union.

Developments from Lake Union Partners are rapidly transforming 23rd and Union where the developer has created two projects with a third on the way adding a combined 675 apartment units and more than 40,000 square feet of commercial and restaurant space. Its largest at the corner — Midtown: Public Square — is under construction on the southeast corner of the intersection and is set to have a Bartell’s drugstore as its commercial anchor. The Midtown block will also include a project from Africatown and Capitol Hill Housing that will create affordable housing and more commercial opportunities. That effort joins the opening of Capitol Hill Housing’s Liberty Bank Building at 24th and Union that opened last year and created 115 new affordable apartment units and street level commercial space.

Earlier this week, CHS reported that Black-owned Gardner Global has an agreement in place to purchase Mount Calvary Christian Center properties on 23rd Ave with plans to develop mixed-use projects on both sides of the thoroughfare.

At 23rd and Union’s East Union building, 18,000-square-foot space sat empty but ready for a new grocery tenant for more than a year after the building’s completion. Despite its large footprint, the space is a little smaller than most PCC stores. The new PCC location boasts around 150 50 underground parking spaces (the rest are for residents). The larger development across the street, meanwhile, will add another 220 or so spots in its underground garage.

A big grocery industry takeover in December signaled the death knell for the long-delayed New Seasons plans as the company was purchased by the South Korean grocery firm that owns the Metropolitan Market chain. The deal put an end to any New Seasons expansion and also included plans to shutter the existing store in Ballard. It also brought to an end a long effort from labor and community groups opposing the company’s expansion into Seattle and the Central District.

PCC said the new store brings around 100 80 “union jobs” to the neighborhood. Currently, PCC has around 1,600 employees across its locations.

The Seattle-region cooperative chain also announced a community partner for the store. “Like all PCC locations, the Central District store will serve more than just its members and shoppers. PCC is partnering with Byrd Barr Place, a beloved neighborhood institution, to address food and nutrition access needs in the community,” the company said. “As the newest partner in PCC’s Food Bank Program, the Central District store will provide a range of quality groceries to support those who trust Byrd Barr Place to bring food to their tables.”

PCC’s opening comes as another area grocer is temporarily closed. Company officials say the E Madison Trader Joe’s has been “indefinitely” closed for remodeling work in a move a group of employees says is retaliation for workers taking part in last week’s protest and general strike.

Capitol Hill, meanwhile, is also lined up to get a major new grocery store later this year. South Korean-owned H-Mart is set to anchor the thousands of square feet of commercial space under construction above Capitol Hill Station on Broadway.

In the Central District, the loss of the neighborhood’s Red Apple is still a painful memory for many. The development that replaced it at 23rd and Jackson may add an interesting new grocery provider to the neighborhood. Meanwhile, the CD’s Grocery Outlet is making new investments in its MLK and Union space.

Formed in 1953 as Puget Consumers Co-op, PCC now operates 14 markets around the Seattle area. This is its first location in the central city between 520 and I-90. Like the Central Co-op, PCC is also a cooperative, billing itself as “the nation’s largest community-owned food market.” The two co-ops share some lifeblood. When the Central Co-op opened in 1976 it was buoyed by financial support from PCC.

PCC currently boasts more than 58,000 77,000 members.


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18 thoughts on “With vow to prevent ‘Retail Racism,’ PCC opens in the Central District” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. They missed the part about astoundingly high prices. And why then build another one down in Madison park ? Seems like pcc has a complete lack of strategy or money to burn.

    • It does seem like oversaturation, yeah. Maybe they got a good deal on the spot after New Seasons pulled out?

      Given expected increases in density for Capitol Hill / CD, I think they could make the case that they could float two stores, as of now they’re my closest grocer, so I’m ok with it.

    • PCC has two stores in Greenlake and the Ballad/Fremont stores are a 1.5 miles apart – both those duets seem to be doing just fine.

      Anyway, glad to get another grocer in the neighborhood!

    • Did you read the article? They actually addressed just that. I haven’t been there and can’t say they have bargains, but it sounds like they didn’t miss that part

      • I stopped by yesterday to check it out. It’s still incredibly expensive. I live really close so I’m sure I’ll grab stuff I’ve forgotten there on occasion but you’d have to be rich or crazy to do any regular grocery shopping there.

    • Field Day mentioned in the article is a solid budget brand also represented at the Co-op. It depends on how broad the inventory. FD covers a lot of basic needs.

  2. Glad to see a store finally open up on that corner! And a consumer-owned co-op to boot! My only concern is for the continued viability of Central Co-op, but hopefully it’s far enough away to not take away too much of their business. Central seemed to survive the opening of Trader Joe’s a block away just fine.

  3. Boutique selection at high prices. The CD has been gentrified with far fewer POC living in it. I am sure the new white people will enjoy their new PCC. Seen this year on youtube, “Columbia City is a cute little area many people use as a first place to live in Seattle.” Oblivious to what has happened in the south end.

    • White people???? How about all the Indian and Chinese Amazon employees who’ve moved into the area and making six figures. If you’re going to be racist, at least be correct.

      • Yeah. You can start with being correct. Because the latest census demo does not support that. It’s mostly white. And way less black people than ever.

    • The last census that you’ll be able to find data from was in 2010….. and I would suggest that it should not surprise you that the neighborhood has seen a lot of changes in the last 10 years… While it may possibly be true that the numbers of Asians or East Indians living in the area have not risen significantly (though I’d make a bet they have risen, if even just because there are more people living here overall) you also may want to wait until the 2020 data is released before making any pronouncements.

  4. Gentrification Machine won’t stop. PCC attracts more affluent whites in the neighborhood that was once ours. We were redlined in and made it a tight-knit community. Now we’re blackballed out.

  5. I’m guessing expensive grocery stores are the only ones that can make any money with the cost of retail space being so high. While it would be great to have a lower priced market in this area, like a QFC or something, it’s nice to have a PCC. Is it better to have a gas station or a grocery store? Are people still surprised shocked and outraged that the city is gentrifying? Jesus.

    • Andy – I understand that gentrification in the CD has been happening for a long time now and that it seems like folks who have lived there their whole lives should not feel outraged or shocked for this long. I don’t know if anyone is shocked as much as they are mourning the loss of their home and culture. Sometimes these feelings are expressed as anger or frustration. This quote from Quintard Taylor, a professor of American history at the University of Washington and the author of The Forging of a Black Community helped me better understand gentrification in the CD.
      “We sometimes think that gentrification is new, it’s not new—it’s part of neighborhood secession, community secession and change has always marked these locales; it’s part of a continuum since Seattle was born. The Central Area was always a racially mixed area, it was the model of diversity when there wasn’t a lot of diversity.… But what makes it a ghetto is that blacks couldn’t live elsewhere in the city. Black people took that ghetto, which other people said, ‘this is the place you are forced to live, you’re confined …’ and within the confines of that, they created a rich and dynamic culture,” That’s the paradox. Now the question is: how do you maintain that rich and dynamic culture when the ghetto no longer exists. African-Americans are displaced from their traditional neighborhoods, there’s a lot of individual tragedy that operates in those settings; on the other hand, there is a lot of individual opportunity. People want to have an anchor, and they see that anchor being pulled away and they begin to drift. This is our home, but we no longer feel at home because the neighborhood is changing.”

  6. This is a genuine question: If PCC is so community-oriented why aren’t they more transparent about pricing? I cannot justify paying 50-100% more for items that I can get much cheaper elsewhere. I am a personal assistant so I am at several grocery stores every week and PCC is easily among the top 3 most expensive, the others being Met Market and the Co-op. Even working with the super generous budget of a wealthy Seattle resident, I can’t bring myself to pay those prices. It’s exploitation. Perhaps PCC can trial a new model here that provides prices that meet more realistic budgets in the neighborhood, anything else is a disservice to this community.

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