31 March 2013

[PDX_liff] The Last Safeway On 82nd Avenue

2910.It's been a long time in coming, I suppose. Its sister down at SE 82nd and Foster closed about three years back, leaving the locals with the choice between Fred Meyer and Fred Meyer, the Albertsons at Eastport Plaza closing sometime before.

The closing of a Safeway seems to have bound into it the idea of a surrender, a giving-up. If Safeway can't make it in your neighborhood, there's not much money to be had from the locals. If business is good, fortune passes everywhere, so they say.

They say E. 82nd Avenue is 'distressed'. This in and of itself is worrisome; distressed can mean many things to many people, but when they start using it on a public policy level, that always seems to be code for here comes the developers and the gentrification. And if they aren't just down the road, well, hold on tight. They'll get there eventually.

The sign boasts that Safeway's been serving Portland since 1921. Whether it's this particular Safeway, at 101 SE 82nd Avenue, or Safeways in general, is unclear. And now we may never know.

Architecture matters. It lends character and form to a neighborhood, and in cases where it's unrelentingly commercial, soothes the eye if it's done right. The design of Safeway stores, the standard look … which is this:

 Is a welcome cool drink of water, visually speaking. Truth be told, SE 82nd Avenue gets fairly bleak south of here; there's a Lutheran Episcopal church (Sts. Peter and Paul) and then it's a succession of shabby used car lots and stores-that-had-seen-better-days until … well, on SE 82nd, it never really does end. Clackamas Town Center is about six miles away to your left as you look at the above picture and it's unrelenting commerce all the way. But I do not condemn it here, understand; I merely state it for the record. I make no judgements. It does not bother me as such; people live here. It is what it is.

The grace of the the wave-form roof has always been a beauty to me. Not so much a roofline as wings that are just waiting to take off from the top of the building. Gave the standard Safeway design a nice symmetry, even if the building is ultimately asymmetrical the curving roof is a dominant element that the entire design revolves around.

And, like other well-done designs of the 20th Century, in its way, timeless.

During the administration of Sam Adams, there was a big deal made about food deserts. Regardless of the press TriMet is peddling these days, it ain't what it once was; it's more expensive, less frequent, and goes fewer places.  Along 82nd, now, there used to be four or five supermarkets: There was once an Albertson's at 82nd and Holgate, two Safeways (82nd and Foster and 82nd and Burnside),  and a Food 4 Less (82nd and Powell). And, over the last decade, they have slowly, one-by-one, died. The Albertsons was the first to go, followed by the Foster Safeway; the Food 4 Less closed suddenly, with no advance warning, just last month.

The 82nd and Burnside Safeway was the sole survivor, and as though it heard its last comrade died, gave up the ghost almost in sympathy. Now, the Adams administration seemed to be saying if you didn't have a grocery store in walking distance, or within, say, half-a-mile, that made your nabe less livable, and going to the grocery store is like a trek to the nearest oasis. A food desert. And with the closing of the 82nd and Burnside Safeway, the nearest supermarket is the Fred Meyer on 82nd and Foster (about 2 and a half miles south). The next one is yet another Fred Meyer, 82nd and Johnson Creek Blvd, about 2 more miles beyond that. The next reasonably price food store is still over a mile south of that, the WinCo at 82nd and Causey. And Fred Meyer is not really a great choice when it comes to prices.

There are no food stores except a Plaid Pantry and a 7-Eleven on NE 82nd.  

Food desert? Sure, why not? This is a regular food al-Rub-al-Khali. Checking the nearest Safeways they recommend (helpfully tacked to the door):

Those are reasonably reached in a tolerable time only if you have a car. TriMet rides to these stores, with the fewer routes and reduced service, have become an ordeal for some.

If shopping for a family, using the city bus for transportation, seems a reasonable concept then, sirra, I would respectfully submit you have never actually done it.

Not one to waste an opportunity, I looked into the market with fascination. I've never seen a supermarket, much less a Safeway, look so danged empty before.

Pallets of bottled water stood in front of shelves as bare as the videos I remember of Russians desperately looking for food during food shortages back when there was a USSR back in the 70s and 80s. In a land of plenty, plenty of space. And it looked as though things were getting packaged up for shipment to … where? Who knows?

The meat and dairy section, pictured above, seemed most folorn. So brightly lit, and so empty. The left over beverages, the ones that didn't get bought in the clearance sale, futures uncertain, sit waiting. The shelves in cooler cases always struck me as funny … no matter how clean the store kept them, when empty, they always looked overworn and abused.

Thronging with customers, serving a neighborhood … well, that was then. This is now. God only knows what that store will become … either it will get pulled down and developed, or some appalling retailer will take up that space, one can only guess.

But the party's over, folks. East Portland, you face the future thus, wandering in the food desert, wondering why the rest of the city disrespects you so.

'S'okay. Don't fret it. I'm sure it was nothing personal.

It was only business.

(NB: Thank you, Laura C. Minnick, for pointing out that Saints Peter and Paul is an Episcopal Church, not a Lutheran one. The Times regrets the error.)


Anonymous said...

You're forgetting about Fubonn and Boo Han market. Both have fresh vegetables and meat and fish... And supposedly the Safeway on 82nd and Burnside will re-open as a Vietnamese grocery store, which hopefully will be better, but we'll see...

Samuel Klein said...

I wouldn't say I exactly forgot them. I would say I overlooked them, not intentionally. But I was exploring the paradigm of the disappearing typical American supermarket, so I hope that overlooking can be forgiven to some point.

The era I grew up in was replete with these stores, of course. Not only were they an economic force, but a cultural one, conditioning us to a certain level of convenience, price, and availability. Most supermarkets were like one another save for marketing styles, so you knew, pretty much, what you found at one would be found at another. They targeted the average, middle, undifferentiated American shopper.

The mix of what amounts to the American citizen has changed so much, of course.

It's true that the Asian markets down 82nd do remain. I'd advise people to check them out; they're quite exciting. I do wonder if the person likely to shop the 82nd and Burnside Safeway would see those as a true replacement for them though; do the prices, value and selection compare favorably? And not everyone owns a car; I remember an article a while back in The Oregonian describing the travails of someone in the Cully neighborhood using TriMet to shop the WinCo on SE 82nd. The trip was a fair ordeal, and I'd imagine they used the one on 82nd over the one on NE 102nd or 122nd because the Cully neighborhood has really taken it in the shorts with TriMet cutbacks, and it's easier to ride one line (the 72) down 82nd than it is to transfer.

Anonymous said...

I'm someone who used to shop at the 82nd and Burnside Safeway and I would say I'm cautiously optimistic about the "supposed" plan to put a Hong Phat in the space, there is literally no way for the produce section could be worse, and since I pretty much always eat asian food, it should be a pretty good fit for me and my family, but we'll see...

Samuel Klein said...

I'll lay a few cards on the table, here: We've stopped shopping Safeway since a very long time ago. Time was, Safeway was the place to go if you were just scrapin' by. Ever since WinCo and other similar stores redefined the low-price category, most Safeways have been a little too expensive (we split the pennies … we have to) to bother with.

Anonymous said...

It is simply not true that the next nearest supermarket is 2.5 miles south @ 82nd and Foster! Just over on 102nd are the Gateway Fred Meyer, the Gateway WINCO, and the Mall 205 Target (which has a huge supermarket section with produce, lunchmeat, etc.) Also, barely a mile west is the QFC supermarket at 55th and Burnside. I loved your photos on this post! I, too, am a big fan of the sweeping rooflines of the old Safeway stores. If you've been in the BiMart at 122nd & Halsey, you'll see that although they tried to hide the rolling Safeway roof design with a miserable boxy facade on the front, it is unmistakable from the interior.

Samuel Klein said...

Well, there's nearest, and there's nearest.

While it's true that the markets on NE 102nd Avenue are closer as-the-crow-flies, to many who are not blessed with a car and who don't live near the important cross-streets of NE Glisan or Halsey, this can mean at least one transfer. And even the briefest waits on transfers can seem an eternity when you're going to and from a place where you're just going to be slogging up and down the aisles, and that's BEFORE you consider sweating getting your perishables home on TriMet.

It gets harrowing long before you get within shouting distance of home. Just taking one bus without transferring is long enough.

The newspaper story I referred to depicted the struggles of a family in the Cully area trying to get to and from the WinCo out by Clackamas Town Center. Being where they were, they had the supermarkets in the Gateway area much closer but decided to take the single bus route to the Clackamas store - much much farther away - to avoid the hassle of a transfer to Gateway, which speaks loudly to me about the potential hassles involved in transferring.

Your mileage may vary, so to say.

Thanks for the kind comments on the photos. I think all architecture matters, and that Safeway design was iconic and inspired. And we've shopped that BiMart you've mentioned on a semi-regular basis - yes, the gull-wing roof is evident from the ceiling view. The BiMart facade is drab. Now, I'm a fan of BiMart, but drab is drab.

Brenda said...

What The Husband™ didn't mention was that while we were in the parking lot taking those pictures, four vehicles and one pedestrian came by. All of them had at least one party go up to the door, read the sign, and peer into the windows forlornly. One optimist even tugged on a door. This store will be sorely missed.

No, we don't shop Safeway much anymore, but when we did, we defaulted to here for its superior customer service and homey feel. It felt like I belonged there.

The Wife™

kate kirkham said...

I'm disappointed that you are looking at 82nd through the same eyes most folks see 82nd. This is a street that has had a silent revolution over the last ten years and has suddenly become Portland's new ChinaTown, or Internatonal District. The street is dotted with an enormous amount of amazing Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, Japanese and Korean restaurants and grocery stores. It is a Mecca for getting amazing cheap Asian food.
Frankly, it was beyond time for that 82nd Safeway to go. It had become run down. The produce and meat sections were terrible and it had become very seedy and even dangerous in the evening hours. They even locked the doors on the North side due to shoplifting.

I, for one, am excited that a great Vietnamese grocery store is going in there. That just adds to the increasingly Asian flavor of 82nd.

Now I hope they change the silly name of Avenue of Roses to something more appropriate and Asian influenced.

Jason McHuff said...

Good post.

That store (and maybe the other old Safeway on Barbur Blvd that's been torn down) seemed dumpy to me when I went in.

Regarding grocery store access, it doesn't seem that hard to get to the Gateway Fred Meyer or the WinCo beyond it (especially if you're willing to walk from/to MAX) given the three different rail lines. And service along 82nd is still excellent.

As for the Asian stores, I really wonder if they have the mainstream selection that Safeway carries.

Also, the 82nd and Foster Safeway closed in 2004 per http://www.bizjournals.com/portland/stories/2004/12/06/daily4.html

And there's another Safeway turned Bi-Mart with a hidden roof line on SE Woodstock.

Anonymous said...

The max gets us where we need to go. If you live in the cully naborhood you take bus 71 to Albertsons or the red line max to Gateway where you can shop at 3 markets. If you go a few times a week with a granny cart you can do it.
We get milk, eggs, frozens and heavy idems at the corner shop. They also make icepacks and cooler bags.It's not bad and gives me exercise

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of what happened to a mainstream grocery store in Salt Lake City as demographics changed. An old Safeway was taken over by an independent operator when the company went bankrupt in the 80s, and by the early 2000s transformed into a "hispanic-centric" grocer.

I can't find record of the store now, so it's either shut down due to competition or changed hands somehow.

Unknown said...

It reminds me of a Salt Lake area former Safeway that become "Supermercado de las Americas" to match with the changing demographics of the neighborhood. However, they still kept the old 'SAFEWAY' Marina style remains at 1179 S Navajo St.