A grocery store unlike any other on the Eastside opened its doors Friday. People live above it. Patrons park beneath it — those that...

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A grocery store unlike any other on the Eastside opened its doors Friday.

People live above it. Patrons park beneath it — those that drive. The store’s owner expects half the customers to arrive on foot.

The new Safeway at Northeast Fourth Street and Bellevue Way Northeast is the kind of supermarket that had been found only in the densest, most walkable precincts of Seattle. It is both a response to and a reflection of the transformation downtown Bellevue has undergone.

Almost no one lived in the city center a decade ago. Now it boasts about 5,000 residents, mostly in newer condos and apartments. Bellevue’s planning department reports 3,000 more units under construction and 2,500 in the permitting process.

Greg Sparks, president of Safeway’s Seattle division, says the new store was designed with those new urbanites in mind.

“This is our flagship lifestyle store,” he said. “We have a lot of stuff in this store that we don’t have in any other store.”

Like a 26-flavor gelato bar. A sit-down sushi bar. Eighty kinds of roasted nuts. And a dozen varieties of pre-made kebabs, for downtown residents or workers with no time to cook.

“For the growing number of people who live in downtown Bellevue, it’s going to be a valuable resource,” said Patrick Bannon of the Bellevue Downtown Association.

The 55,000-square-foot grocery is on the ground floor of Avalon Bay Communities’ seven-story Avalon Meydenbauer project, which includes 368 apartments and 18,000 square feet of additional retail space.

It replaces a 25,000-square-foot Safeway across Northeast Fourth that opened in 1963 and hadn’t changed much since. Safeway swapped that 2-acre property for the 3.3-acre site of the new store in 2005 in a deal with Kemper Development, owner of Bellevue Square, Bellevue Place and the Lincoln Square mixed-use development to the north.

Kemper has announced plans for a two-tower mixed-use project on the old Safeway site that would include 545,000 square feet of office space, 392,000 square feet of retail, a 120-room hotel and 200 condominiums.

Sparks said the new $20 million Safeway was designed to appeal to upscale shoppers without scaring away those who look for value.

“We’re trying to be the best in the middle,” he said.

Brian Fritz, vice president of development for Avalon Bay, said the first of the two five-story apartment towers at Avalon Meydenbauer opened early this year and is now completely leased. The second tower began leasing this month.

Rents range from $1,125 to about $2,800 a month.

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or epryne@seattletimes.com