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‘90%’ — In tiff with Seattle City Council over COVID-19 hazard pay, Kroger says most employees ‘chose to continue working with QFC’ but has no answers on what’s next for Capitol Hill grocery

Not much left to sell at the 15th Ave E QFC (Image: CHS)

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.

44 years of groceries (Image: Seattle Before and After)

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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Comte
Comte
1 month ago

Such BS. No one “made” Kroger close this location – they CHOSE TO CLOSE IT, period. It’s no secret the current property owners, Hunters Capital, which purchased the plot nearly four years ago, has been wanting to redevelop the site. Kroger is simply attempting to use the Hazard Pay issue to re-frame this into some sort of “warning shot” aimed at the City Council, when in reality they probably got a healthy kickback from Hunters to walk away before their lease runs out in a couple of years.

Bob
Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Comte

What are your thoughts on pizzagate?

Fairly Obvious
Fairly Obvious
1 month ago
Reply to  Comte

Don’t forget the CEO, Rodney Mcmullen, is a donator to the GOP and a Trump supporter. The GOP and Trump are not really known for supporting employee rights, including proper compensation and pay. Wouldn’t want to the extremely wealthy to be slightly less extremely wealthy.

RentalSilliness
RentalSilliness
1 month ago
Reply to  Comte

You have an incorrect sense of how long it takes for any kind of redevelopment plan to get approved in Seattle. Hunters wouldn’t want to pay their tenant to get out unless they had approved or near-approved plans, which they don’t (plans and permits are all a matter of public record).

QFC is on the hook to pay rent to Hunters (and likely maintenance, insurance, and property taxes if the lease is a “triple net” lease as many commercial leases are) for the next 2 years, even if they don’t use the building.

CD Rez
CD Rez
1 month ago
Reply to  Comte

Of course they chose to close it. The shrink was unsustainable. You can argue that the Corp could eat it but why would they? It’s not a charity.

Dolores
1 month ago
Reply to  Comte

It was going too cost $20 million in. Wages, FOR TWO STORES..
You forget what the gov. Takes from employers. I AM SHOCKED BY THE AMOUNT. THE LIST BY COULD BE CALLED, A MAFIAS PROTECTION TAKE. THEY PAY SS,FOR THE EMPLOYEE AND HAVE TO MEET IT OR MORE TWICE. UNEMPLOYMENT, MEDICAL, DENTAL,STATE,LOCAL,FEDERAL, TAXES,RUN OFF,TRASH PICKUP,THOUSANDS IN ELECTRIC BILLS. REAL ESTATE TAXES. PLUS HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS TOO SUPPLIERS. PURCHASE LICENSES FOR EVERYTHING. FOOD SERVICE,HEALTH, LIQUOR. AND IT GOES ON AND ON. THEY CHARGE$.99 FOR THAT APPLE, THEIR PROFIT, MAYBE $.07. I WOULD NOT BE SURPRISED IF 6 MORE STORES DONT CLOSE. IF THE CITY COUNCIL WANTS TOO RAISE WAGES, THE MARXIST SHOULD PICK UP THE TAB.

Fairly Obvious
Fairly Obvious
1 month ago
Reply to  Dolores

First off, where do you get $20 million from?

Secondly, you’re saying, very loudly, that a grocery store should neither have to pay taxes nor pay their employees livable wages?

Congratulations on finishing Atlas Shrugged! The Koch Brothers will be happy they got another sucker supporter of wealth consolidation!

I WOULD NOT BE SURPRISED IF 6 MORE STORES DONT CLOSE.

Unfortunately, Rodney Mcmullen ran out of stores that were already slated to be closed, to use as political ammo against those he disagrees with.

Derek
Derek
1 month ago
Reply to  Dolores

Actually to cover the extra hazard pay for the 109 employees at the two stores until June 2nd (the end of the proposed hazard pay ordinance) it would only cost Kroger 72k.
Essentially spending 1 day of Rodney Mcmullen’s wage to intimidate other cities from adopting their own ordinances.

Fuck kroger.
They never even responded to money-saving proposals from the Union. They were dead set on closing these stores (the two in the city with the smallest blow to their wallet).

Derek
Derek
1 month ago

Employees didn’t “choose” to stay with the company. It was either “get transferred here or you’re “voluntarily resigning”.

Alex
Alex
1 month ago
Reply to  Derek

You mean they still have jobs? That’s great.

Nope
Nope
1 month ago

Qfc has the lease for 2 more years so I don’t see anything happening.

John Thompson Parker
1 month ago

Kroger made 2.6 billion in PROFIT during the pandemic alone. Actually, the workers made it by sacrificing their lives and courageously continuing to work so we would have groceries on our table. This is the reward they get. To either be fired or relocate to an area that is not near their home, increasing driving time, gas etc which amounts to a further reduction in wages. The community should occupy the store and the politicians should use emminent domain laws to keep it running. Whether that is a winning legal argument or not is not the point. The point is to get the message across that the vital services to communities should not be sacrificed for profits which could only come about from the purchasing by that community and the labor of its workers.

RWK
RWK
1 month ago

“The community should occupy the store”

You are advocating for blatantly illegal activity, Karl Marx.

RentalSilliness
RentalSilliness
1 month ago

How will the community get grocery items onto the shelves? Will the community be paying the suppliers? Or should we occupy the suppliers too? I call being the leader of the Franz bread factory occupation, and I get all the donuts.

Maggie
Maggie
1 month ago

While employees died on the front lines to make record profits for Kroger, the company gave CEO a raise from $14 to $21M a year in compensation. He later went on to rescind hazard pay for workers at the peak of the pandemic. Don’t shop at Kroger. https://www.yahoo.com/now/quick-analysis-krogers-nyse-kr-073249939.html

RWK
RWK
1 month ago

It’s speculation that QFC/Kroger’s is lying about why they are closing the store….may or may not be true. It’s very possible that this small store has been “underperforming” for years, and the hazard pay mandate by our City Council was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Capitol Hill Girl
Capitol Hill Girl
1 month ago

A real loss to the 15th Ave East business district! Greedy move by Kroger.

Brian
Brian
1 month ago

does ‘all but’ mean it is or not?

Shari Austin
Shari Austin
1 month ago

I will cease to purchase from either them or Fred Meyer’s. Period

15th Resident
15th Resident
1 month ago

This saddens and angers me. I strongly support hazard pay for our workers. Sawant is my rep and she did absolutely nothing to fight back against Kroger after they called City Council’s bluff and closed QFC in retaliation. Now life in the district she supposedly represents has gotten even worse. I want a city council that follows through.

MAR
MAR
1 month ago
Reply to  15th Resident

And what, aside from assembling her army of red-shirted millennials to demonstrate at Seattle-area QFC’s, would be within her power to do about it?

Maybe the store was underperforming, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe this was truly Kroger’s way of saying ‘fuck you’ to the SCC. You and I will never know.

I also support hazard pay. But there’s literally nothing that can be done to stop businesses from closing up shop and moving elsewhere if they don’t wanna play ball.

15th Resident
15th Resident
1 month ago
Reply to  MAR

Ultimately it’s Kroger’s call, but I would have at least expected the SCC and specifically Sawant to do… something. Anything. A tweet at the very least to try to embarrass the company for hurting employees and a community in the middle of a crisis. Call attention to a company that is experiencing record profits throwing a tantrum about a temporary raise for front line workers at risk.

If they had done that they might have pushed back hard enough to get Kroger to back down. Instead the SCC have been completely silent. A pox on both of their houses.