Saturday will be the final day for the QFC in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood, and on Thursday afternoon, a somber crowd of soon-to-be former customers and neighbors, along with TV crews and a few political officials, gathered for a bittersweet send off for the store’s 51 employees.
Shortly after 3 p.m., around a dozen employees, some with tears in their eyes, filed out the front doors to a round of applause, warm words of thanks and individual checks of $205.88, courtesy of a neighborhood fundraising effort.
“QFC is certainly a place where a lot of us found comfort and refuge over the last year,” said Gabe Galanda, a Wedgwood resident who helped start the fundraising after hearing in February that QFC was closing its Wedgwood and Capitol Hill locations. “And again, we thank the people behind us who made that possible.”
A QFC spokesperson said all employees at both locations had been offered positions at other stores.
But Thursday’s event was also a broader lament — over the loss of a local convenience (the nearest major grocery, a Safeway, is half a mile south) and of another piece of local history: The location at the corner of 35th Avenue N.E. and N.E. 85th Street has been a grocery since 1959, when a Tradewell opened there; QFC took over the location in 2000.
“I’m not going to support a business that’s going to give up on their customers like that,” said Alice Hall, a customer of 10 years at the Wedgwood store, who decided not to shop at QFC or Fred Meyer, which are both owned by Kroger, because of the closure. “I don’t understand. They’re a mega corporation — and they can’t support the people once in a while?”
For all the heartfelt sentiments, the event was unmistakably political. Although QFC contended the stores were being closed because they were “underperforming,” the company said that decision was “accelerated” by the Seattle City Council’s Jan. 25 vote to require large groceries to offer $4-an-hour hazard pay to their workers.
“We need to lift up the workers who have been serving us during the COVID pandemic,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen, who represents the North Seattle neighborhood and who spoke briefly Thursday. “This was a welcoming place, and it’s devastating — the disappointing decision by the Kroger corporation to do this.”
A QFC spokesperson reiterated the company’s position. “While it is never our intent to close stores, it’s unfortunate that the decision was made for us,” spokesperson Tiffany Sanders said. “The Seattle City Council’s ordinance made it impossible to keep these two underperforming stores open.”
Pedersen said he had spoken with several grocery companies about possibly taking the location but had no firm plans to announce Thursday.
“It’s really just going down a list of grocery stores and saying you know, this may become available,” Pedersen said.
Reaction among store employees seemed mixed. Several said they were saddened by the closure but happy the company had found them positions at other locations. Dani Martin, a courtesy clerk at the Wedgwood store since 2004, said she’d been offered a position at the Northgate store, and tearfully described the company as being “really dedicated to me.”
Others said they were surprised by the closure, in part, because QFC had been investing money in the Wedgwood location, including in a partial remodel just as the pandemic struck.
Others were skeptical of the company’s claims of financial underperformance. Lennon Brown, a supervisor, said she’d seen store data showing that the Wedgwood location had exceeded the company’s financial expectations for 2020 and early 2021.
“Our numbers are upstairs, and they’re posted, and we can see them, and we are overperforming,” Brown said.
Sanders declined to share financial data about the location or confirm Brown’s assertion. “I don’t comment on rumor or speculation,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that the extra pay ordinance forced our decision. Expenses during the pandemic skyrocketed.”
For all the criticism directed at QFC, some participants at Thursday’s event seemed to suggest that the city council might bear some of the blame for enacting a policy without more carefully considering local impacts.
“We’re not here to get political,” Galanda said. “But I will say that more consideration needs to be given to [the] neighborhood by public and private decision makers before making decisions that impact the 51 lives [of employees] or the lives of all of us here in the community.”
Still, things were far more peaceful Thursday than they were in 1999, when QFC sought to take over the location from its prior occupant, an independent grocery called Matthew’s Red Apple Market.
Angry neighbors tried unsuccessfully to stop QFC through arbitration — some took tougher measures. Wes Williams, the property owner, said while most of the local opponents had remained civil, some had harassed him by saying “outlandish things” and in one case, a baseball bat had been thrown through his office window along with a threatening note.
“It saddens me,” Williams told The Seattle Times at the time. “I walk around the neighborhood, and I feel like I’m less of a person now as a result of this.”
A call to Williams’ company, Redmond-based Western Property Management, was not returned.
Twenty-two years later, the mood was less combative than resigned.
“It’s going to be a big loss for the neighborhood for sure,” said Derek Cockbain, lifelong Wedgwood resident and owner of the Wedgwood Broiler next door. “The neighborhood needs another grocery store.”