These are frustrating times for former shoppers at the old QFC in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood.
On Monday, the Seattle City Council repealed the $4-an-hour hazard pay law that, according to QFC officials, contributed to the decision to close stores in Wedgwood and Capitol Hill last spring. That repeal led some Wedgwood residents to hope that QFC’s parent company, Kroger, would reopen the store, at the corner of 35th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 85th Street.
But on Friday, QFC shot that idea down.
Though “pleased with the Seattle City Council’s decision to repeal Hazard Pay,” QFC has “no plans to reopen our Wedgwood location,” said spokesperson Tiffany Sanders in an email.
That rejection is playing poorly among some Wedgwood locals — and not only because they miss their store. By several accounts, Kroger officials had previously suggested that the Wedgwood grocery might reopen if the ordinance was repealed.
Wedgwood resident Gabe Galanda says Sanders told him, in late October, “there was a possibility Kroger would reopen the QFC” if the city ordinance was “sunsetted.”
And Wes Williams, whose family owns the shopping center where QFC operated, was told by Kroger officials not long after the closure that “they would reopen if the hazardous pay [ordinance] was repealed,” Williams said Friday.
In emails Friday, Sanders said she was unaware of any such commitments. “I appreciate his passion but I did not say the store would reopen,” Sanders said.
Galanda, with an audible eye roll, acknowledged that Sanders “did not unequivocally say that they would reopen if the hazard pay sunsetted. She did, however, say that was a possibility.”
Friday’s back and forth is the latest twist in the intertwined sagas of hazard pay and neighborhood groceries.
The hazard pay ordinance, approved Jan. 25, required certain large grocery stores to pay workers an extra $4 an hour in part to “compensate them for the risks of working on the frontlines of a global pandemic.”
The law was sharply criticized by grocery industry officials, who warned that the bump in pay would be financially disastrous for a thin-margin business already shouldering new, pandemic-related safety expenses.
Indeed, when QFC officials announced the closures in February, they blamed hazard pay for a 22% increase in operating costs. They also said the stores in Wedgwood and in Capitol Hill — at 416 15th Ave. E. — already had been “underperforming.” The decision to close them had been “accelerated” by the hazard pay.
“While it is never our intent to close stores, it’s unfortunate that the decision was made for us,” company officials said. “The Seattle City Council’s ordinance made it impossible to keep these two underperforming stores open.”
Wedgwood residents acknowledge that their store was economically challenged. At 16,000 square feet, it was small in comparison to modern chain groceries.
But store employees had claimed the locations was exceeding company financial expectations at the time it was closed. Also puzzling: according to Williams, QFC was, and is, still paying rent on the lease, which runs though 2024.
What the lease indicates about QFC’s plans isn’t clear, says Galanda. The bigger concern, he says, is whether there’s “any hope for any grocer to come in there.”
Despite its small size, the QFC was the anchor in a neighborhood mall with half a dozen tenants, including hair and nail salons, a bank, a coffeehouse and the Wedgwood Broiler.
“All of them are great for the community, kind of local gathering places,” says Per Johnson, president of Wedgwood Community Council. If the QFC location remains empty, Johnson says, “what’s going to happen to the other businesses?”
Staying empty doesn’t seem likely. In 2020, the property was assessed at $21.1 million in 2020, according to King County records, and, as Johnson notes, was recently upzoned.
Williams says he’s not interested in selling or in developing it.
“I’ve been in business now for so long that I don’t think I have the energy that it requires to redevelop that center, so I’m not going to do it,” he adds.
But given the value of the property and the challenge of finding another grocer for such a small space, Johnson says, he and other community members are prepared for the site to be redeveloped eventually.
In that event, the community hopes that the next iteration would “include grocer as its key anchor tenant,” Johnson says. “We don’t have any sort of advance notice of anything — but we’re just kind of reading tea leaves here and trying to prepare for community change.”