Changes ahead for Tacoma's Metropolitan Market

Store remodel set to take six months; interior to be rearranged, add more products

Staff writerApril 13, 2014 

Clean-up on aisle 1, and aisles 2, 3, 4, 5 ...

Nineteen years after expanding into the South Sound, Metropolitan Market plans to spend the next six months in a quest to move grocery shopping further toward a “shopping experience.”

Workers last week began the first step of a six-stage, six-month remodeling plan that eventually will offer Tacoma shoppers more space, a more efficient aisle layout and a few surprises. (Spoiler alert: Think pommes frites.)

In 1995, the Proctor neighborhood icon was third in a company stable that has grown to include six stores – with five in King County. Meanwhile, the overall brand has morphed from Queen Anne Thriftway to Metropolitan Market to accommodate growth beyond Seattle.

THE CHANGES

“Nearly every inch of the store will be remodeled or new in some way, shape or form,” the company said in a recent list of talking points.

The size of the Proctor property will not change — remaining at 26,000 square feet – but the interior space will be rearranged and expanded (by 11 percent) to allow more products (10 percent by the latest estimate) and new space for employees.

Among the phases:

• The floral department will be relocated and outdoor seating expanded; new meat and seafood departments. Coolers and storage expanded. New customer restrooms.

• New areas for wines and spirits; new housewares section.

• Grocery aisles reconfigured; frozen foods expanded; dairy section installed.

• Bakery and coffee shop combined.

• The deli gets a hot and cold buffet. There’s a new “salad garden” and olive bar. Cheese and charcuterie expand.

• New tables and coolers in produce.

But you say you can’t find the ketchup? You wonder where the Jell-O went?

Just look for one of the employees wearing a “Food Locator” T-shirt.

COMING TO TACOMA

Twenty years ago, Queen Anne Thriftway operated two Seattle stores.

“The industry thought people in Tacoma didn’t want quality,” said Brad Halverson, vice president for marketing, in a recent interview.

Conversely, he said, “We saw that customers were coming up from Tacoma. The surveys helped round out our hunch.”

It was a hunch that said Tacoma could support an upscale, specialty grocery store.

“It was very risky,” said Todd Korman, company president. “In order to create a format like this, it’s very expensive. Locating here was a risk, but we knew it was a strong community. It was an urban market that had been underserved.”

“We were astounded by the customer feedback,” said store director Kelly Heinzinger. “It was clear we had made the right decision. Sales projections were exceeded. I knew we were going to be a destination grocery.”

The store employs 120 people.

“We have a higher percentage of people who live here,” said Korman. “There’s a connection between the team and the customers. You have to understand what you can do better. We can’t beat Safeway, but how can we do better?”

While Korman answers, “service and quality,” Halverson looks to the staff.

“Our team is always impressed by the relationships, the camaraderie,” he said. “In the company, this is the one store where there is this magic, people looking out for each other. It’s not something you sit in a classroom and teach.”

CHANGING, REARRANGING

Another destination grocery in Tacoma, Stadium Thriftway, recently underwent a full-store remodel that disrupted shoppers for six months.

“It certainly is disruptive, but when it’s said and done, it’s worth going through,” said store owner Mike Hargreaves.

He said Stadium Thriftway did well during the remodel, and that he added staff hours with workers offering a version of the “Food Locator” guide program.

He said he welcomes the new look at Metropolitan.

“I wish them well,” he said.

Most of the work at the Proctor store will be done at night, with the store hours changing, closing at 11 p.m. and reopening around 6 a.m.

“Early on, we’ll have a coffee cart in the early a.m.,” said Halverson. “We will go back to 24 hours (when the work is complete).”

The company is privately held, and Korman preferred not to disclose the cost of the project. He hinted, however, that it would run to several million dollars.

Also, the company has renegotiated its lease with the building owners, extending the term to 2034.

“Proctor is one of our most successful stores, and it has the fewest new things,” Korman said. “We haven’t touched this store in 19 years,” he said. “It’s been a long time. We keep a list of projects — remodeling Proctor was on the list for 10 years.”

But the Sand Point store came first. Dash Point came and went, then lower Queen Anne, Kirkland, Magnolia.

“Each delayed the inevitable chance to come here,” Korman said.

“This is an investment in growth.”

C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535
c.r.roberts@thenewstribune.com

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