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Why Not a New Market in Edmonds

by on 05/09/2003

I refuse to belong to any club that would have me as a member.
-Groucho Marx

When my wife and I moved to Edmonds, in the Summer of ’85, we were more than pleased with the number of local grocery stores. We lived within three miles of Albertsons, Haggen’s, Olson’s, Petosa’s, Safeway, and Thriftway. Mostly, we patronized two: Safeway, next to the ferry landing, anchored like an old but faithful tugboat, and Olson’s, a couple of miles down 9th, a quality food center before it was a Quality Food Center.

Grocery shopping in Edmonds was good — then it got better. In a newly built mini-mall across from Brosseau’s, Brodeen’s Produce opened. Every morning at 5:00 AM Lou bought fresh produce from Pike Place Market and trucked it to Edmonds. Over time, Brodeen’s added a deli, wines, fine breads, pastas, and other European style foods. Having Brodeen’s was akin to having a mini Pike Place Market in town with all the work of choosing and transporting done by partners, Bob and Lou.

Bob and Lou got along like a married couple — unfortunately, like a married couple headed for divorce. Eventually, Lou sold out to Bob and a while later Bob sold out. The new owners, unfortunately, mistook Brodeen’s for a convenience store — they brought in cigarettes and lower quality food — and two months later, Brodeen’s closed.

With the Safeway store giving way to the soon-to-become Edmonds monocrop — antiques — the good life for us didn’t last long. Corporate Pacman saw Olson’s swallowed by QFC, and then QFC consumed by Kroger. The Thriftway at five corners, never one of their good stores, disappeared as well. And Haggen’s became another QFC. Edmonds was left with a bunch of bland corporate supermarkets.

Not satisfied with saddling us with merely dull, the supermarkets, led by Safeway, foisted on us the so-called clubs, memberships, and loyalty programs. Not that I didn’t appreciate it. Who wouldn’t want to be a target of a shakedown? Before supermarket clubs: I would spend $100 on groceries and the clerk would hand me my receipt and brag, “You saved $24.17 today (on discounted items).” Since the advent of supermarket clubs: I drop $100 and the clerk hands me my receipt and exclaims, “You saved $15.92 today, Gary!” (Italics mine.)
Notice the personalized service and savings.

Since Safeway, QFC, and now, Albertsons, have succumbed to food club mania, I no longer have any grocery stores in Edmonds to go to, just ones to avoid. Where do we buy groceries now? Mostly, Trader Joe’s, a compact store that combines high quality specialty foods with low prices. But Traders isn’t a supermarket and has very little choice in produce, meat, and necessary household products. We fill in with Petosa’s, Costco, Top Foods, and Thriftway. That’s a lot of stores. It seems to me there is an opportunity for a first class independent market in Edmonds.

The grocery chains complain that they can’t compete with Walmart on price so they must finds ways to raise their margins. It seems that the warehouse style stores are doing to the supermarkets what the supermarkets did to the neighborhood grocers decades ago — killing them with lower prices based on buying power and a huge landscape of products. Unlike mom-and-pop’s, corporations don’t roll over. So the way they’ve found to fight back is through customer specific marketing: increase profits from good customers and make the rest less than welcome.

I know how customer specific marketing works; I’ve been on the butt end of it. A few years ago, my wife and I were asked by Bank of America to use the servant’s entrance — more accurately, to not use the entrance at all. No bouncers were involved but they sent notice that they were going to raise our checking account fee if we continued to dirty their carpets. On the other hand, if we agreed to limit our meager bank transactions to the ATM we could have a free account. A few years later, after refinancing our house through Bank of America, they rehabilitated us to here’s a customer we make money from. To celebrate, they gave us two free checking accounts, restored indoor privileges, and threw in two free safe deposit boxes.

For me, the food club issue is not so much about customer specific marketing. After all, I took B of A’s ATM only bribe and began using real live tellers again only because deposits get recorded sooner. Nor is it primarily about privacy (but this may change my mind). I’ve been compromising that for years by using credit and debit cards, by shopping over the Internet, by belonging to Costco. I hate food clubs because they insult my intelligence by inconveniencing me with their stupid cards (like I really need to sit on a fatter wallet all day), ultimately raising prices, then promoting with words such as “savings” and “loyalty,” while giving me nothing for my trouble.

Corporate supermarkets are businesses and have the right to try to increase profits, and I have the right to not shop at those supermarkets any longer. It’s one thing to screw me with a candid, “too bad,” quite another to do so and insist that it’s for my our own good. I get my fill of that with politicians.

As I said above, it seems to me that there is an opportunity for a first class independent market in Edmonds.

How could it compete? Don’t sell Cheerios; you can get them, or one of their clones, at any supermarket or warehouse store, and you’ll buy them from whomever sells them the cheapest. Serve customers by providing the best value and experience for the money.

Brodeen’s with its excellent produce. Trader Joe’s with its bargains on specialty foods and spirits are good models with which to start. The new downtown shops such as Olives Gourmet Foods and Arista Wine Cellars are indications that local residents and tourists will spend money. Rather than just overpriced pastries, why not a gourmet cafeteria? Brusseau’s would be perfect. Now add a book store and maybe even a news stand. You can’t compete with the breadth of Barnes & Noble and everybody sells self-help books and best-selling novels. The book store and news stand needs to be run by someone with a vast knowledge of what is the best of the best. Put all this in a building the size of Petaosa’s and have it designed by an architect who understands how to intermingle common and private spaces .

I believe that the demographics of Edmonds, could support a market like this and draw customers from out of town.

From → Edmonds

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