Gateway: Living

Loss of Gig Harbor Safeway a real shame

Employees of the Gig Harbor Haggen store huddle for a group photo in the produce department of the business last week. The store will close next month.
Employees of the Gig Harbor Haggen store huddle for a group photo in the produce department of the business last week. The store will close next month. Staff photographer

This column is dedicated to all the hardworking employees of Gig Harbor’s former Safeway, whose lives have been turned upside down by decisions made in the governmental and corporate stratosphere, with little regard for those employees’ well-being or the well-being of their customers.

I was upset last winter when I heard that our Safeway was being sold. Safeway was the store where I’d done most of my shopping since moving here in 1990. It was the closest large grocery store to my home and I liked its products.

I liked its people, too. Seeing the same folks, both clerks and customers, when I shopped there gave me a sense of community.

I know that when Albertsons proposed its merger with Safeway, the Federal Trade Commission ruled that a condition of the merger was the sale of a number of Albertsons and Safeway stores in order to protect consumers against a potential monopoly.

What confused me was the FTC’s assumption that the supposed proximity between our Safeway and Albertsons would create a monopoly. The stores are different. They are 7.2 miles — and two freeway exits — apart, and they serve two separate neighborhoods.

By March, Haggen had purchased our store, along with 146 others throughout the western United States. I gave Haggen a chance, but was horrified as I watched a vibrant, bustling store become a mere shadow of its former self. The staff tried mightily to wear brave faces as their hours were cut and the store faded.

I started taking action, not as a columnist, but as a consumer.

I called and emailed Haggen’s corporate office and got no response. I called the FTC and pointed out that their rationale for the sale of Safeway was a mistake, and asked if something couldn’t be done about it.

When I heard that Haggen was declaring bankruptcy and closing many of the stores it had just purchased, I called the Wall Street advisors responsible for those purchases and sales to see if they could tell me if our Haggen was one of the stores to be closed. The person I spoke with wasn’t able to tell me anything. When he said he was just a “pawn,” I lost patience and pointed out that the real pawns are all of the grocery employees who are in a state of limbo — many of them facing extreme difficulties. Not to mention us customers who are missing our store and watching helplessly as a family of workers is being torn apart.

When the news came that our Haggen would be closed, I decided to see if Albertsons/Safeway could buy back the store and make it a Safeway again. That way, all the previous Safeway workers could return, plus we’d have our store back. Idealistic, I know.

I spoke again to my contact at the FTC and he didn’t dismiss my idea out of hand. I contacted the corporate offices at Albertsons/Safeway and they said they truly regretted giving up their Safeway, and would like to be able to reinstate it. I emailed the Wall Street advisors to Haggen that I’d spoken to earlier, and suggested they sell the Gig Harbor store back to Albertsons. I wrote to our congressman about my idea.

Some may view my efforts as futile, and they may be right. But what harm is there in letting the powers that be hear from us consumers?

No matter what happens, my hat goes off to all of the Safeway/Haggen workers, from the checkers, to those who bagged my groceries, to the bakers, wine stewards, butchers, florists, pharmacists, deli workers, produce clerks, custodians, coffee baristas, bank tellers and management. I will miss you!

Reach Mary Magee at marymagee@harbornet.com.

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