A decade at the Met

Metropolitan Market celebrates 10 years in Uptown

Since 1994, a 45,000 square foot grocery store has sat at the corner of Mercer Street and First Avenue North. Until 2006, it was Larry’s Market, the now-defunct upscale local chain.

For the last 10 years, it’s been the home of Metropolitan Market, and the six-store chain is now looking to celebrate the milestone with a series of events and specials designed to say thank you to the neighborhood.

“The history of our company is based here,” said CEO Todd Korman.

While the local grocer marks a decade in Uptown, it can trace its history back almost 50 years to a location on Queen Anne Avenue.

While that store closed in 2012 to make way for a new development — despite interest from both parties, the cost and constraints were ultimately too much for either side to overcome — Korman said customers made the move to the location down the hill, which almost doubled in volume to accommodate an influx of new shoppers.

“We were really pleased with the support that we got from the neighborhood when we moved down,” he said.

But the CEO said factors other than the integration of upper Queen Anne customers have fueled the location’s growth in recent years. Over the last decade, Korman said, the completion of new mixed-use developments in the area have brought more people to the neighborhood, while the transition of both Mercer and Roy streets to two-way traffic have made the store easier to access by car.

The 10-year anniversary also coincides with the completion of the location’s latest renovation, and the addition of new product lines. Among those changes was doubling the size of the housewares and kitchen department, with new lines of cutlery, cooking tools, and gifts.

“We’ve really seen at other stores that this category is growing quite a bit, as people are entertaining with food much more often,” Korman said

Also new are approximately 25 to 30 lines of artisan chocolates and sweets, in addition to an exclusive partnership with Beverly Hills-based luxury candy boutique Sugarfina.

On a broader scale, the store has added a few thousand new items in the grocery department, and updated the layout to make the shopping experience more convenient.

In all, those renovations took most of the summer, with crews working nights to minimize the impact.

“We have many people who shop here every day or several times a week,” Korman said, “so that’s trying to avoid the disruption.”

Competition also looms large in Queen Anne, with both a Safeway and a QFC within several blocks of the store.

Korman said the strategy — not just in Uptown but at every Metropolitan Market location — is to sell the best tasting product. Many times, he said, that comes from small local artisans that don’t sell to the bigger chains. Approximately one-quarter of the store’s stock can’t be found anywhere else.

“Those items, and the service we provide in trying to educate people on why they taste better, how to pair them, how to serve and cook with them makes us different,” he said.

In tandem with that mindset is the chain’s private label selection, which the company is highlighting during the anniversary celebration. With six stores, the grocer is able to align with smaller producers and growers that don’t have the ability to scale up their production to supply larger chains. In particular, he cited partnerships with Walla Walla wineries to support its private label wine.

“We’re buying hundreds and hundreds of cases from them,” he said. “Our competitors would want, you know, 10-to-20-or 30,000 cases to furnish their private label and they don’t make that many. So there’s a size and quality benefit.”

The company selects items that can be differentiated by way of quality and taste, all straight from the manufacturer. But those merely looking for the lowest price may be surprised to find the store label doesn’t undercut the other options.

“They’re not necessarily the cheapest canned tomatoes, the cheapest olive oil because its much higher quality,” he said, “but it’s the best value because we’re buying it direct.”

However, Korman stressed that their approach means they’ll, “never have a private label toilet paper.”

The grocer also makes a point of providing a wider variety on various items than its larger competitors, despite having a smaller store footprint. As an example, Korman used the store’s selection of olive oil. While other stores may commit the same amount of space, he said, they’ll only have about 20 different types, coming in a variety of sizes. Metropolitan Market would have three times as many options, using the space to fit more options.

“A big part of what we’ve always tried to do is give the consumer far more choice,” he said. “Choice on conventional items you can use everyday, and on specialty.”

The company is also using the anniversary of the Uptown location to highlight its community ties.

Metropolitan Market is a sponsor of the weekly Queen Anne Farmers Market, and recently renovated the play storefront in the Children’s Museum at Seattle Center. Proceeds from events at the store throughout the month of October will go to benefit the Queen Anne Helpline, which was formed by company founder Dick Rhodes.

“Those are three partnerships that we’ve had for many, many years,” Korman said, “and we’re taking an opportunity with the 10-year celebration to strengthen that relationship.”

And as the company hits a milestone at one store, it will soon celebrate another. Next year, the grocer will add a store in Sammamish, its first custom-designed location. Korman said the company is always looking to update its programs, items, and stores to keep up with what shoppers want.

“We’re going to be doing that as often as we can,” Korman said. “It is a constant part of our business in order to be competitive and stay ahead of consumer demand.”

For more information on Metropolitan Market, go to www.metropolitan-market.com.