The numbers behind the decision may not exactly add up but the 15th Ave E QFC is still set for its final day of business Saturday as Ohio-based parent company Kroger continues to point the finger at specific Seattle leadership for its decision to cut the store over the city’s $4 per hour COVID-19 hazard pay.
The 15th Ave E location has been an active grocery store for 77 years.
“While it is never our intent to close stores, it’s unfortunate that the decision was made for us,” a company spokesperson told CHS Thursday. “The Seattle City Council’s ordinance made it impossible to keep these two underperforming stores open.”
The dispute is also a sore spot between the company and United Food and Commercial Workers 21, the local chapter of the powerful union representing grocery workers. UFCW 21 has protested the closure decisions and held mock “donation collection” events in front of stores set to close “to help raise funds for the top supermarket chain in the country to pay its workers temporary hazard pay and call on Kroger Co. to keep stores open.”
Kroger says “90%” of the employees involved in the shutdown took new jobs at other QFC locations.
The spokesperson declined to provide “specific store information” to CHS “as it is our policy not to share store sales data.”
There are two other QFCs on Capitol Hill — both on Broadway — and nine more across Seattle.
CHS reported in mid-February on Kroger’s decision to shut down two Seattle stores over the city’s COVID-19 hazard pay claiming its most expensive locations on Capitol Hill and in the Wedgwood neighborhood needed to go given the rising costs of operations. The closures joined other shutterings by the company following hazard pay ordinances in other cities.
In Wedgwood, neighbors held a farewell event for employees Thursday afternoon with “a round of applause, warm words of thanks and individual checks of $205.88, courtesy of a neighborhood fundraising effort,” the Seattle Times reports.
On Capitol Hill, there was no celebration or farewells — and no checks.
With only two more days of business, the shelves are all but empty on 15th Ave E with shoppers who wander in turning to the small selection of snacks at the nearby Walgreens or walking a few blocks south to the Safeway at 15th and John.
“We appreciate kindness and generosity the community has shown our store associates,” a statement from the company reads.
Earlier this year — a month before Kroger’s announced decision to close the stores — the Seattle City Council approved emergency hazard pay legislation for the city’s grocery workers facing the ongoing risks of COVID-19 outbreak. Teresa Mosqueda’s bill had wide support on the council and was co-sponsored by councilmembers M. Lorena González, Lisa Herbold, Tammy J. Morales, Kshama Sawant, Dan Strauss, and Andrew J. Lewis.
QFC said this week that though it filed federally required paperwork for the elimination of the 109 jobs across the two stores, most of the workers will continue with QFC.
“We had over 100 associates affected by these two store closures. QFC met with every associate over the past several weeks and provided opportunities for transfers and over 90% chose to continue working with QFC,” a company spokesperson tells CHS. “We are continuing to work with associates on last minute placement options as they wish. Everyone that wanted to continue with QFC is still working and receiving the Extra Pay and benefits.”
Given those hiring and hazard pays totals, Kroger’s decision the closures, then, comes down to locations and real estate. The 15th Ave E store had two more years on its lease, according to property owner Hunters Capital.
The Capitol Hill-based developer and real estate company Hunters Capital purchased the property for $11.25 million four years ago after it was gifted to the University of Washington following a death in the family that held the property for decades. The Moore Family Building property includes the 1944-built grocery. It was originally home to Moore family’s Price and Stephens store. The developer says that by 1956, the store had become a Thriftway and a building to the south was demolished to make room for the large surface parking lot.
The store’s large parking lot, meanwhile, is now home to a large new portable security camera system. “The camera was placed there for security purposes and we have them at many store locations,” the QFC spokesperson said but did not explain why it was added only a week or two before the store was set to close.
Hunters Capital has said the ultimate plan is to rebuild the block with what would likely be new multifamily housing and mixed-use development. It’s possible the early exit of QFC could move up that timing but the developer already has its hands full on 15th Ave E where its plan to redevelop the Hilltop Service Station property has advance fully through reviews and is moving through soil clean-up toward demolition of the old station, then construction.
For 15th Ave E, the loss of the grocery and the 17,000-square-foot market sitting empty could be a new challenge after months of COVID-19 related closures. Hunters Capital has said it is looking at options for putting the building to use and keeping the block-long storefront “activated.” But as of the last days before the closure, a representative for Hunters Capital said the situation around the building hasn’t changed and any discussions with Kroger about the remaining lease have not progressed.
Thursday, the grocery company told CHS it did not “have any information about the future of this site or the lease itself.”
QFC’s is planned to shut down for good at 416 15th Ave E on Saturday, April 24th. Hours in its final weeks of operation have been 9 AM to 9 PM.
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