"The American worker and local businesses are becoming roadkill in Wal-Mart's march toward the worldwide domination of commerce," said Brown & Cole Stores President Craig Cole.
BELLINGHAM — Brown & Cole Stores plans to sell eight of its 31 stores in Washington state, “roadkill” from Wal-Mart’s advance into the supermarket business, the head of the company says.
The Bellingham-based company is selling two stores in the Arlington area and one in Stanwood, all north of Everett, and one each in Burlington, Yakima, Pasco, Kennewick and Okanogan, practically all “heavily impacted by Wal-Mart,” President Craig Cole said in a prepared statement. Most of the company’s stores operate under the names Food Pavilion, Cost Cutter, Food Depot or $ave-On-Food$.
Brown & Cole doesn’t own the properties, so the sales cover equipment, inventory and building leases. Potential buyers have shown interest, and the sales should be completed by the end of May, company officials said.
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“This is in large part due to two things,” Cole said in a prepared statement, “health-care costs and the deliberate saturation of the market by Wal-Mart.”
Brown & Cole is retaining its other 23 stores in towns ranging from Lynden to Woodland in Western Washington and in the lower Yakima Valley and Wenatchee areas east of the Cascades.
Wal-Mart has outlets near a number of the stores being sold and is planning others even closer to some.
Last year a grocery section was added at the Wal-Mart in Quil Ceda Village, six miles from Brown & Cole’s Food Pavilion at Smokey Point. Wal-Mart also has proposed a store with grocery sales less than a mile from Smokey Point and a few miles from another Food Pavilion in Arlington, as well as an outlet in the Stanwood area, close to Brown & Cole’s Thrifty Foods.
“The American worker and local businesses are becoming roadkill in Wal-Mart’s march toward the worldwide domination of commerce,” Cole said.
Julie Morse, vice president of the Smokey Point Area Chamber of Commerce, said Monday she had noticed a decline in traffic at area supermarkets in recent months.
“I doubt very seriously whether we’ll have another grocery store there,” Morse said.
Terry Blankenship, a commercial real-estate agent at SK Real Estate in Richland, said the prospects are brighter for Brown & Cole’s Food Pavilions in Pasco and Kennewick.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if another grocery store leases those stores,” Blankenship said. “The Tri-Cities market is still an excellent market with retail sales increases over the last two to three years in double digits.”
Founded in 1909, Brown & Cole provides health-care coverage for 95 percent of its employees, who are largely covered by union contracts, Cole said.
“It used to be accepted that good companies took care of their employees,” he said, accusing Wal-Mart of “inferior wages and benefits for its workers, outsourcing jobs to foreign producers and showing little regard for the environment.”
According to Wal-Mart figures, average pay for full-time workers in its Washington state outlets is $10.14 an hour, less than at Brown & Cole, and about half the hourly workers in the Wal-Mart stores are covered by the company’s health-care insurance. None have union contracts.
“To retain the talented associates [employees] that we have, we know that we need to treat them fairly, and we do,” said Eric Berger, a Wal-Mart spokesman in Seattle. “Ultimately, the customer chooses which businesses survive,” Berger said. “That is why we focus on serving their needs. We assume our competitors do the same.”