Grocery wars: Wedgwood veteran gives Queen Anne reality check on QFC

More than 300 opponents of a proposal to replace the Queen Anne Metropolitan Market with a QFC in a two-story retail complex got a reality check Jan. 4 at a packed community-council meeting.

Providing the perspective was Brian Swanson, the community-council chairperson in Wedgwood, where a pitched battle was unsuccessfully waged more than four years ago in an effort to stop a QFC from replacing a Matthew's Red Apple grocery store.

Speaking at the monthly meeting of the Queen Anne Community Council (QACC), he said the Red Apple was a long-term, revered neighborhood store whose planned demise sparked a crisis in the neighborhood.

"The shock galvanized the community like nothing else had ever done," he said.

Indeed, the dispute got downright nasty at times, according to Swanson.

But the Wedgwood community activists learned some hard lessons from the land-use battle, he said: "Hopefully this might help you in Queen Anne."

Public relations

To begin with, QFC and its parent company, Kroger, are not "an evil empire," he said. "They really don't care about Queen Anne, because they don't know what Queen Anne is."

Whether that's true, one thing is different about a QFC takeover in Queen Anne compared to the one in Wedgwood. "They had never faced any resistance from a community before," said Swanson, who added that the company didn't know how to respond.

In addition, QFC initially made "a huge tactical error," he said. "They wouldn't talk to us."

That won't happen in Queen Anne, according to Swanson. "You'd better believe they will throw their best public-relations people against you," is how he put it.

Public relations aside, QFC was more than willing to play hardball in Wedgwood, Swanson remembered: "When push came to shove, they shoved really hard."

That included QFC going back on an eventual promise not to build a store in the neighborhood if the community could demonstrate the business wasn't wanted there, he said.

The community collected about 20,000 signatures on petitions in Wedgwood saying just that, but it didn't do any good, Swanson said: "In effect, they (QFC) said, 'We really didn't mean it.'"

Still, activists in Queen Anne have collected hundreds of signatures in a recently mounted petition drive against QFC, said Lee Wierdsma from a new neighborhood group calling itself Queen Anne Neighbors for Responsible Growth, Stop QFC Project.

She remains hopeful that the petitions, along with pressuring city officials, will have some effect. "Despite what the owners and developer have led you to believe, this development is not a foregone conclusion," Wierds-ma said.

Words of advice

Swanson didn't mention any new groups being formed in Wedgwood to fight the QFC project, but he said people in the neighborhood were "coming out of the woodwork" in opposition to the store.

Some of them were more reasonable than others, according to Swanson, who warned, "Please keep the 'whack jobs' off the front line. Don't let the blow-hards take over."

He instead suggested putting kids and grandparents on the front line. "And get a good P.A. system," he added.

Swanson also cautioned people at the Queen Anne meeting not to go overboard, because there are consequences. For example, radical opposition to the Wedgwood QFC was responsible for a death threat and for throwing a baseball bat through a window at the grocery store, he said: "We lost some crucial credibility at that time."

Swanson also said threatening to boycott a new QFC in Queen Anne would be a waste of time. The chain store told the Wedgwood community it could handle ongoing losses for 50 years, he said.

Swanson suggested the neighborhood get a good lawyer, something that helped with negotiations in Wedgwood. "We ended up going to arbitration, and we almost won," he said.

Swanson added that having a good lawyer involved is also important because QFC could sue individual community leaders.

A community effort

Queen Anne Community Council chairperson Ellen Monrad noted that the organization could do only so much in any case. "We can't say, 'No, we don't want QFC.' It has to come from the community at-large."

Craig Hanway, who heads up the council's Land Use Review Committee, said the committee is not pursuing the issue as if it were a done deal. But he also added a caveat about the battle against QFC: "It's not going to be effectively waged by a committee like this."

Swanson said the owners of the Matthews Red Apple hated the owners of the property and joined the community in opposition to QFC. That, at least, doesn't appear to be the case in Queen Anne.

"We still have a good relationship with the Metropolitan Market," said Christina Cox, one of the property owners. "I want you to know that."

But Cox noted that she and her co-owner aunts negotiated for seven years with the Queen Anne Thriftway and later with the Metropolitan Market when the store was renamed a few years ago.

The result of the negotiations four years ago was a proposal for an enlarged store that would have included apartments above it, but that proposal drew objections for being too large and was abandoned.

"We had no alternative but to look for other tenants," Cox told the crowd.

Terry Halverson, Metropolitan president, said the mixed-use project just got to be too expensive for the store. But he made a point of saying that, unlike Wedgwood, the Metropolitan has a good relationship with the property owners: "They are good people."

Halverson also told the crowd that the store would like to stay. "We're just sort of sitting back and keeping our fingers crossed," he said of the possibility.

Making concessions

Assuming the QFC project isn't dropped because it runs afoul of land-use regulations concerning traffic and parking, Swanson said the Queen Anne community can still affect the outcome of the project by asking for concessions from Day 1.

In Wedgwood, the approach resulted in the new QFC being the only one in town that isn't open 24 hours a day, he said.

Other concessions included the new store not being enlarged and that it had a better appearance, Swanson said: "They let us design the storefront."

Passing time also has cooled tempers in Wedgwood, he noted. "There's no hard feelings anymore," Swanson said. "Life goes on."

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or 461-1309.

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