As the shelves empty at the Gig Harbor Haggen Foods, so does the staff room. Most of the long-term employees, people who had worked at the location for Safeway previously, worked their final day in Gig Harbor on Friday.
What remains now among the empty aisles are the memories — for employees and customers alike.
Many of these memories surround the strong relationships between the employees, many of whom have worked together for more than 20 years.
“We really grew as a family here,” said employee Mona Armstrong. “The people who work here in this store take care of each other.”
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This family feeling is evident in the concern the employees feel over the future for the location’s long-term special needs employees, Bianca Edison, Allison Grose and Audie Graham. This trio have been working together for more than 15 years.
“Change is hard for them. This is their life,” said Terri Carley, a 35-year employee at Safeway/Haggen. “I’m having trouble understanding all this, how do we explain it to them?”
A job coach is currently working with Edison, Grose and Graham with the goal for them to be hired together at Fred Meyer so they can continue to work together.
“They’re such a huge part of the community,” said Jolie Snook, a 31-year employee, fondly as Edison, a 25-year employee, waited nearby wearing a medal given to her by Safeway.
While Edison, Grose and Graham remain familiar faces in the community, the two people that stand out to their fellow employees are Bob Silcott, store manager and 40-year employee, and receiving clerk Mike Cooke, a 38-year employee.
“Mike and Bob are the heart of this store,” Snook said.
Silcott, who has moved to a Safeway store in Belfair, worked extra hours on the phone to find jobs for as many employees as he could, returning even after his last day at the Gig Harbor location to check up on his work family.
“I couldn’t speak more highly of the man,” Snook said. “(He is) one of the nicest, kindest men I’ve ever met.”
Carley agrees: “The best store manager ever.”
Some of the employees will be staying locally, accepting jobs at Fred Meyer and Albertsons.
Many of the long-time employees have accepted positions at Safeway, which has worked to hire back as many previous employees as possible. They will be working at various locations from Tacoma to Belfair and Silverdale.
For the longtime employees, separating from each other is hard, as is leaving the community they’ve worked in for decades.
“We’ve seen children grow up and now their children are shopping here,” said Cooke, who is moving to a Safeway store in Silverdale.
For Armstrong and Kim Sigafoos, a 36-year employee, this is the store they grew up shopping in, before being hired as employees years later.
“It’s sad to see it shut down,” said Sigafoos, whose father also worked at Safeway, running the meat department. “We were a Safeway family way back.”
The closure is difficult for loyal shoppers as well.
Carley told of a longtime customer in her 80s, who cried about the closure in the checkout line the week before. The customer had shopped at the Gig Harbor Safeway her entire life, even staying loyal for the employees after the shift to Haggen.
“It’s so heartbreaking,” Carley said.
The liquidation for the Gig Harbor Haggen is set to begin Oct. 30, with a final closing date set for Nov. 24.