The Tacoma City Grocer, the first full-service store in the downtown core in decades, will close in the next few weeks, the store’s landlord said Wednesday night.
Employees of the store at 1250 Pacific Ave. were notified Wednesday, said Dan Putnam, who is one of the owners of Pacific Plaza, where the store is located. Customers and the public will see signs about the closure Thursday, he said.
Store operator Tyler Myers couldn’t be reached immediately Wednesday night.
The IGA-branded store opened to much fanfare in September 2011. The non-union store was picketed by a local union representing most grocery workers in Pierce County for 16 months, from opening day until until a year ago. Putnam said Wednesday it was unclear what effect that had on sales both during and after the picket.
Myers owns five other grocery stores in Washington and Alaska, but the Tacoma store was in an untested urban market. Putnam and his partners structured an unusual lease to encourage Myers to take the risk, but the store ended up operating at a loss for too long, he said.
“He’s not leaving because of small losses,” Putnam said.
The deli was successful, Putnam said, supported by the business community at lunchtime. The actual grocery store — meat and produce — didn’t draw as many residents as a market study had indicated, he said.
Putnam said he and his partners intend to fill the 16,000-square-foot space.
“We literally own everything but the food on the shelves,” he said. “We have a plug-and-play grocery store right now. We are committed to making something work there.”
The last grocer in the downtown core, Manning’s Market, closed its doors in 1972. Two stores have operated for years within the city’s defined boundaries of downtown: The Safeway on the Hilltop, and Stadium Thriftway in the Stadium District.
UPDATE, 9:45 p.m.: Myers said he had no regrets about the store and said the only reason the store closed was that there wasn't enough sales volume. It operated at a loss the entire time, and his company made an investment of several hundred thousand dollars. It was time to make a business decision, he said.
"Maybe we're five years too early," he said. "We put together the best store we could.
"I did think (sales were) trending in right direction. I’m at point where it’s not trending fast enough, and I don't see how that will change," Myers said.
The store employs 18 people including the manager, he said. His company will work to place them in other stores.
The union picket line didn't cause the lack of business. In fact sales went down when the picket ended, Myers said.
"It's a great store, great location. It just lacks volume to support it," he said. Tacoma's downtown is still really on business hours.
"Even Starbucks isn’t open on Sunday" downtown, Myers said. "Where does that happen?"