Disappointing Decision by Kroger Company to Shut Down 2 of its 15 Seattle Stores



our beloved QFC in Wedgwood, photo by Seattle Times

February 16, 2021: I was very disappointed by the decision of the Cincinnati-based Kroger Company to shut down on April 24 two of their 15 QFC stores in Seattle, including the beloved QFC in Wedgwood.

As soon as I learned of this (February 16), I called Corporate Affairs for Kroger/QFC to ask if they would reconsider. They confirmed that both stores had been already underperforming financially. While Kroger’s November 2020 financial statements show the company sitting on over $2 billion in cash and larger chain stores typically have the “economies of scale” to handle temporary financial fluctuations, Kroger seeks to have each store stand on its own profits, which is difficult because grocers typically operate with thin margins. Despite the “cause and effect” framing by some local media outlets, the City Council’s recent decision to require temporary hazard pay to frontline grocery workers during the rest of the COVID pandemic was not the cause of the closures, but rather solidified and potentially sped up the inevitable.

Kroger/QFC appreciated my reaching out and they are well aware of my ongoing efforts to provide a positive business environment for long-term employers in our city, including my votes against new payroll tax proposals during this recession and my recent economic strategy for an inclusive recovery. We discussed the extraordinary stress and uncertainty caused by the COVID pandemic, which makes our legislative votes as well as decisions by business owners more difficult and complex.

I offered to do whatever I could to help to retain the store and/or to have it reconstituted in some form.  I also connected with the store manager to offer any assistance that we can provide and to the union leaders representing the workers at both stores to ensure any transition to new workplaces within the Kroger family of companies happens as smoothly as possible. (I had already connected with the business community – as well as with labor leaders — prior to my vote on this temporary measure).

I realize this detailed and nuanced explanation from an elected official makes no difference if a beloved store closes in our neighborhood (I often shop at that QFC, too!) and so let me say, I will do whatever I can as the District City Councilmember to help secure a good grocery store there. (The store is located in District 4 at the border of District 5.)

The QFC will remain open at least through April 24 and, while not a permanent substitute for those shopping in person, nearby grocery stores include Safeway on 35th Avenue NE at NE 75th Street (and next to University Village), the larger University Village QFC store, the PCC Market on 40th Avenue NE and NE 65th Street, and the Metropolitan Market at 5250 40th Avenue NE. The Traders Joe’s in the University District (5555 Roosevelt Way NE) is probably too far away for most Wedgwood residents, though fans of that store will often go the extra mile.

While this particular bill felt overly rushed, the pandemic has thrust us into a fluid and extraordinary emergency situation and I was able to get answers to the following key questions as I considered how to vote on the proposal:

  • Is it a temporary measure? YES. (The bill calls for a review within 4 months. We need to make sure the bill sponsors keep their word to conduct that review and we need to speed vaccines to all front-line workers, including grocery workers.)
  • Is it providing relief to frontline workers during COVID? YES
  • Do my constituents generally support temporary measures providing relief to frontline workers during COVID? YES.
  • Does it exempt struggling small businesses? YES.
  • Would it impact primarily those businesses headquartered outside of Seattle? YES, though PCC and other locals are impacted.
  • Have I consulted stakeholders (in this case, the business community and the labor union)? YES, though I wish I had more time to have deeper conversations.
  • Did it pass review by our City Council’s Central Staff Analysts? YES.
  • Did Mayor Durkan signal early support for the bill? YES.
  • Does the final bill contain a provision that requires review of the impact after a few months? YES.

For additional context, here are the remarks made last month when this temporary COVID relief measure passed:

Councilmember Pedersen remarks, January 25, 2021 when the bill passed unanimously after the Mayor confirmed she supported it and would sign it: “After rapidly reviewing and researching this proposed ordinance to have larger grocery stores boost the pay of their frontline workers during the pandemic, I have decided to support it.  I consulted with both labor and employers.  I personally want to acknowledge that I think this legislation moved very fast. To hear the legislation at a Friday Committee and then adopt it on Monday can make it difficult for everyone to review it thoroughly. At the same time, I recognize we are in the midst of an public health and economic emergency and, therefore, would not want to further delay the temporary pay boost these workers should be receiving for the hazards they are facing until both shots of the vaccine are administered to everyone.  I will be voting Yes today. Thank you.”

Mayor Jenny Durkan remarks, January 29, 2021: “A disproportionate number of people of color are essential workers, and Seattle must continue to lead the way to provide relief and respect to those that have served our community throughout this pandemic. Grocery store workers have continued to work every day of this challenging time and I am glad we are finally able to recognize and compensate the effort that has kept stores open and communities fed over the past year.”

MORE INFO:

  • For the February 16, 2021 Seattle Times article about Kroger’s announcement to close by April 24 the two QFC stores (Capitol Hill and Wedgwood), CLICK HERE.
  • For statements from the bill’s sponsors in reaction to Kroger’s announcement on February 16, 2021, CLICK HERE and HERE.
  • For Mayor Durkan’s January 29, 2021 press release celebrating the passage of Council’s bill which would go into effect February 3, 2021, CLICK HERE.
  • For a link to Council Bill 119990, the “Grocery Employee Hazard Pay Ordinance,” which the Council adopted January 25, 2021 CLICK HERE.
  • For some historical perspective, check out this 2012 piece called “Groceries and Growth in Wedgwood” by the blog called Wedgwood in Seattle History: CLICK HERE.
© 1995-2016 City of Seattle