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Uptown Market goes truly uptown

A newly remodeled supermarket in Lower Queen Anne reflects the changing landscape of the grocery business in 21st Century America.
Uptown's Nick Novack, lead customer service manager, and Paul Marth, store manager

Uptown's Nick Novack, lead customer service manager, and Paul Marth, store manager Ronald Holden

The renovated Uptown Market in Lower Queen Anne

The renovated Uptown Market in Lower Queen Anne Ronald Holden

Sometimes, all you want from a market is stuff you can throw together for dinner — a steak or piece of fish, maybe. Sometimes, though, you want more, much more. Even here, in laid-back Seattle, we want to do all our shopping in one stop, soup to nuts, flowers to toilet paper. No obsessive scurrying to find just the right brie, the perfect cupcake, the ideal teapot; ideally, they're all under the same, 50,000-square-foot roof, all with free (or validated) parking.

For grocers, it's not easy to find that much space in the densely packed core of the city — they might have plenty of hungry customers, but no room to build a completely new store. Still, that hasn't stopped Terry Halverson, CEO of Metropolitan Market. He started as a box boy on Queen Anne three decades ago and worked his way to the top of that store, ultimately buying it and then building the chain he runs today; this weekend he and his team are celebrating the renovation of his company's Uptown store in Lower Queen Anne.

Americans spend only 10 percent of their income on food, the lowest percentage in the world. (The French and Italians spend 15 percent, the Chinese and Russians 25 percent, Indonesians 55 percent.) America's 35,000 supermarkets collect $600 billion a year in revenue. “Away from home” food, mostly restaurant meals, accounts for another $400 billion, altogether a trillion-dollar industry that employs 3.5 million workers.

The giant of the grocery biz, Walmart, controls a quarter of the market (4,700 stores, nearly $300 billion in revenue), dwarfing Kroger's $76 billion from 2,500 supermarkets (which operate under half a dozen names including Fred Meyer and QFC locally). In third place is our own Costco, which has only 527 stores but rakes in some $45 billion from food sales alone. Safeway comes in fourth, with about $41 billion from 1,750 stores.

In this dismal economy, restaurants are bleeding (and bleeping) themselves with price cuts, but grocery stores, by and large, are doing well. Profit margins at supermarket chains have doubled from a miniscule 1 percent of sales 20 years ago to almost 2 percent last year. In fact, stores have been able to spend money on significant upgrades to attract and keep shoppers who might otherwise scurry to specialty stores. It's not a slam-dunk, but the analysts preach that tuning in to consumer data and retail partners' needs leads to success. Gobbledy-gook, better interpreted on a local level, which leads directly to the region's sole remaining locally owned player, Food Market Northwest, formerly Thriftway, now doing business as Metropolitan Market.

The locally-owned, six-store Metropolitan Market chain hasn't been immune to the grocery wars. They cut an underperforming, 5-year-old outlet in Federal Way's Dash Point Village at the end of 2009, but they're moving full speed ahead with plans to open their first Eastside store, in Kirkland, later this year. And they've jumped back into the potentially lucrative (and hotly contested) central-city market, where the very density that creates a captive customer base requires innovative logistical adjustments.

Much as we all like those quaint mom-and-pop neighborhood bodegas and enjoy the convenience of 7-Eleven-style stores, it's virtually impossible to operate a real “supermarket” at less than 10,000 square feet. The average American supermarket measures nearly 50,000 square feet these days with as much “live” selling space as a football field. One obstacle to building a store this big in an existing neighborhood: the large parking lot and easy street access required for those 40-foot semi-trailers to back into the store's loading dock. (A modern supermarket carries 50,000 different items that have to be restocked every three weeks.) Even the new, 10,000-square-foot Fresh & Easy stores, owned by Britain's Tesco chain, have so far all been sited in the suburbs of southern California and Arizona, where there's plenty of room for the delivery trucks.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Jan 29, 2:53 p.m. Inappropriate

I like the renovation, though I live a lot closer to Whole Foods. Personally I don't think the QFC on Mercer is nearly as nice as either one. I've also been surprised at what I can find at Pike Place if I ask around--I bought some eggs at Catanzaro's today in fact.

joshuadf

Posted Fri, Jan 29, 3:26 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes looks nice inside but what kind of cruel joke is it to paint the outside of the building & the upstairs buildings (Bartell's, Kinko's, etc.) black...BLACK!...in Seattle!
Not only is it ugly, it looks cheap.
(Where does the owner of the building live...?)

A neighbor

Brooknook

Posted Fri, Jan 29, 11 p.m. Inappropriate

Sorry, but this is a strange little article that seems to have little understanding of the history of the area.

Metropolitan Market wasn't merely a Thriftway (a name in this area associated with single owner stores in the old AG wholesale coop) but in fact the Queen Anne Thriftway built on top of the hill in '63 and changed to present ownership in '71. The name was changed to Metropolitan Market in '03 to facilitate expansion.

While some look at Whole Foods as a trendsetter such is not the case here. Most of the ambiance mentioned was, in fact, pioneered by Dick Rhodes in the QA Thriftway in the mid '70's but without the organic foods twist. The QA Thriftway became a nationally know model that influenced much of grocery store design development over the last 25 years or so.

Nor is this development something wholly remarkable for Lower QA. The Easy St. Records location was an IGA store until Tower Records/Books took over. Down the street was an A&P; taken over by QFC until it burned down and was rebuilt on the lot next door. Both the Safeway and the QFC were replaced simply because they had been allowed to deteriorate to the point of no return.

Also Larry's Market (a QA Thriftway copy-cat with better advertising and larger stores) did not move into the former Hansen's Baking Company. That building was sadly destroyed to make way for the present complex with Larry's and Bartell's as the original anchor tenants.

Captnp

Posted Sat, Jan 30, 9:39 a.m. Inappropriate

Now this is just spooky. It's like catnp was reading my mind and writing it down.

Yeah, it just broke my heart to watch them tear down the old bakery to build what you see today. Which a lot of residents now probably think looks kinda old-fashioned.

Posted Sat, Jan 30, 11:27 a.m. Inappropriate

The entity "Captnp" writes "...Thriftway (a name in this area associated with single owner stores in the old AG wholesale coop)..."

Although the Thriftway brand is in decline, at its heyday in the 80s and 90s, Uddenberg's Thriftways based in Gig Harbor owned dozens of stores throughout the Puget Sound area and employed almost 10,000 people, making it one of Washington's biggest employers. The chain was bought by QFC, which is one of the reasons why QFC is now so ubiquitous in this region. Prior to that you seldom saw a QFC outside King County.

I'm sad to see that the Dash Point Metro Market is closed. That leaves only the Proctor store to serve the South Sound. I'd love to see a Metropolitan Market store in the Gig Harbor / Port Orchard area. Thanks to empire building by the East Coast Kroger brand, three of the five supermarkets within a 10 mile radius of my house sell Kroger brands. The other two are Safeway and Albertsons, not exactly a tempting alternative. There's nowhere to go around here to get Western Family products, which I trust a lot more than the mega-chains' house brands.

dbreneman

Posted Sat, Jan 30, 2:08 p.m. Inappropriate

Don't forget the Roosevelt Square Whole Foods, on NE 64th between Roosevelt Way and 12th Avenue. Was in place around 8 years before the one on Westlake.

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