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In the market for a downtown grocery
When Jean Schanen opened FreshLocal on Fourth Street in downtown Bremerton a year ago, the location was picked more for cost savings than business strategy.
“Frankly, we looked for a place we could afford,” she said. “Downtown is much more affordable because it’s depressed.”
But she also knows downtown needed a neighborhood grocery store like hers, calling the area a “food desert.”
“Without FreshLocal, there’s no grocery store for miles,” Schanen said.
FreshLocal celebrated its one-year anniversary Nov. 19, with a party in the center of the “desert,” complete with a cake made in Port Orchard and chips with salsa made in the Evergreen Kitchen across the street.
Despite hopes for a new supermarket downtown and the potential of a Kitsap Food Co-op in Bremerton, downtown will stay a “food desert” for years to come.
Developer Ron Sher’s Bellevue-based Third Place Company, which owns the parking garage on Burwell Street and Pacific Avenue known as the old JC Penney building, has long mentioned a grocery store for its “Harborside Commons.”
However, Chris Cole, president of Sher Partners, said the company won’t even choose a grocery retailer for the spot for years, instead focusing on financing the residential portion of the project for now.
“It is still a couple of years out,” he said.
Bremertonians have talked of wanting a Trader Joe’s downtown, but a new Trader Joe’s was announced for Silverdale earlier this month.
Cole said Silverdale seemed a natural fit for Trader Joe’s and that Bremerton could find another quality supermarket for the property.
“It didn’t surprise any of us that they looked at Silverdale,” he said.
The Kitsap Food Co-op is another new grocery store set to arrive downtown. Last week the co-op announced it would locate in either Bremerton or Silverdale because of their larger population base compared to the rest of the county. The co-op Board of Directors hopes to open a store at least 6,000 square feet large with parking spaces that wouldn’t require customers to parallel park or use a garage.
The third requirement — opening the store on a major roadway — effectively rules out downtown Bremerton as a location, though Board of Directors President Laura Moynihan declined to specifically say as much.
“I can say that we have considered sites in downtown Bremerton, but it isn’t a major arterial,” Moynihan said. “Unless our criteria changes drastically, it doesn’t seem to fit.”
Sandy Schaut, of Bremerton, who attended FreshLocal’s birthday party, said she was worried Schanen might not succeed downtown because of the retail desolation there.
“I was very afraid for her opening in downtown Bremerton,” she said.
She conceded it was not the most convenient place for customers to shop, with its shorter hours - it closes at 6 p.m. - but she treats FreshLocal as a destination store, where she can get organic vegetables year-round that would otherwise be limited to farmer’s markets.
“I just want to support them,” Shaut said. “I like to see them succeed.”
Chazz Radford, of Bremerton, says FreshLocal can do more for the community than any chain store that might come along in the Harborside Commons.
“The money I spend here I know is going to local businesspeople,” he said. “I’d rather support my neighbors.”
It also does more for downtown Bremerton than the city’s attempts to attract tourists, he added.
“I imagine it brings more people down here than the art on Pacific Avenue,” Radford said.
Moynihan also aims to help local farmers and businesses with the Kitsap Food Co-op - something Trader Joe’s can’t do.
“Whenever you’re talking about a store that has a headquarters somewhere else, most of the money gets funneled straight out of the county, straight out of the state,” she said.
Schanen said FreshLocal offers downtown shoppers everything they need for a complete diet, regardless of the absence of a supermarket.
“There’s no room for a larger supermarket downtown, let’s face facts,” she said. “We really have pretty much anything that anybody needs in the way of food. It’s just restricted to a smaller number of choices, but it’s high quality choices.”
Radford, though he enjoys shopping at FreshLocal, said the store has its limits. Because he and his wife Tonne Radford are on a fixed income, they shop the sales at other stores, such as Safeway and QFC, and he said some of FreshLocal’s items are overpriced.
There’s also not much parking, limited to the parallel stalls on Fourth Street, he added.
East Bremerton resident Ted Gill said organic options like those found at FreshLocal are always more expensive, which can turn some people away.
“People are going wherever it’s easier,” he said.
The downtown location has sometimes set back business for FreshLocal, Schanen said, including a stretch in the spring when parts of Fourth Avenue were closed to vehicles because of construction on Pacific Avenue. But she has since recovered, expanding her stock and customer base, and looks forward to pressing on.
“We feel like we’re just ready to take off now,” she said.