As the light rail line gets ready to open to open this summer, neighbors around the Othello station in South Seattle are buzzing about the big changes coming to the area.
While the arrival of light rail could bring a flurry of new businesses and residents to the area, neighbors are also worried that one big, important business might be leaving before the first train rolls through Othello Station.
Last Saturday, a small group of Othello Park residents stood outside the Safeway on Othello Ave S and Martin Luther King Jr Way S to inform neighbors about the fact that they could soon be left without a grocery store. Since September 2008, Safeway has been looking to sell its Othello property, putting up a website—which has since been taken down—promoting the 56-year-old, 26,000 square foot store as “an intriguing redevelopment opportunity in South Seattle.”
"If [the store] does sell, that would leave us without a grocery store,” says Othello Park resident Granger Michaelsen, who collected signatures outside of the Safeway on Saturday to oppose the possible sale. “We’re doing what we can to assure you that somehow, somewhere there’s a full service grocery store at the intersection of Othello and MLK.”
Neighbors like Michaelsen have complained about the state of the store for years, citing flies in the fruit section and a greater selection of chips and beer than meat and fresh vegetables. “There’s no pharmacy, there’s no bakery, the produce is limited and it’s a small store,” Michaelsen says, adding that Safeway hasn’t been responsive to complaints. “It’s one of the oldest Safeways in Seattle…that served a different era. It certainly needs updating. We’re living in a different age now.”
Neighbors are also concerned that Safeway—which is in the process of building a large "green" store in North Seattle—is not only looking to leave, rather than upgrading the store, but that the company is blocking the way for another grocery chain to take over the property.
According to a deed restriction posted on the Othello Safeway webpage, whoever purchases the property would have agree not to build a grocery store, pharmacy or gas station at the site. According to records from the King County Assessor's office, the site remains unsold.
It’s possible that Safeway is planning to build another store in the area—they currently have two other stores in the Rainier Valley, several miles away—but Michaelsen worries the chain is bailing on the neighborhood just as it’s about to grow, as at least rental 700 units are expected to be built along Othello in the next year. “There are a lot of people that depend on that store,” Michaelsen says.
Safeway’s corporate office did not return a call for comment.