Monday, November 24, 2008

Heritage: Downtown Bellevue Safeway

The downtown Bellevue Safeway store as it appeared on 26-January-2006

BELLEVUE, WASHINGTON - The downtown Bellevue Safeway store was an anachronism for most of my life. Today, for the first time I saw the building closed, and experienced the replacement building, just across NE 4th Street from its traditional location.

Opened twelve years to the day before I was born, on 30-January-1963, the old downtown Bellevue Safeway was built in what was called the "Marina" style after the Marina Avenue store in San Francisco, California, the first-built example. The history of the building was best told at Brian Lutz's website as the store closed in late June of this year, right after my last visit.

The "Marina"-style storefront defined Safeway to me. Whenever I saw a store in that style, all up and down the west coast, I knew what grocery store I was looking at. A number of these stores still remain; I even noted one in Winnipeg, Manitoba earlier this year.

A "Marina"-style Safeway was noted on Ellice Avenue in Winnipeg, Manitoba on 11-July-2008

Furthermore, this store had been the quintessential grocery store of my youth. There were plenty of other chains in Bellevue, but others tended to be higher-priced (like QFC or even Lucky) or simply not as convenient. The downtown Safeway store was what I would now consider walking distance from my parents' home.

There had been talk of the store being torn down for as long as I could remember. Located at one of the key intersections in the city, on the northeast corner of Bellevue Way NE and NE 4th Street, on land long since owned by developer Kemper Freeman Jr., it was inevitable that it would be replaced by a denser structure. Saved each recession, its number finally came up earlier this decade. Safeway agreed to move to a new multi-use development on the southeast corner of the same intersection with a new 55,000-square foot store.

Today was my first time to enter the new store, and it was a completely different experience. Gone were the simplistic meat and seafood departments of the old store. Instead, the interior of the new Safeway could be mistaken for the contemporary QFC located only about six blocks away. Most remarkable was an enormous wine section, easily five times the size of the one in the corner of the old store. Yet, the prices still seemed to be the modest Safeway norms. The QFC in downtown may be facing some serious competition.

The new downtown Bellevue Safeway at dusk on 24-November-2008

With another recession either looming or just starting, perhaps the building will be spared a bit longer. The Bartell Drugs still operates in the northern portion of the structure. Safeway, though, is gone, and with it another portion of my youth.

1 comment:

thesledgehammer said...

Thanks for the link. It was shortly after the old Safeway closed that it was announced that redevelopment of the site would be delayed for roughly 10-12 months due to the economic slowdown and the relatively large supply of condos on the market in Bellevue. For the time being, the Bartell Drugs there is still open.

Another post you might find interesting related to this store is an article (with photos) from 1969 describing girls from Bellevue High who were working there as baggers, which was rather unusual at the time since bag boys were the norm. The post can be found here:

Thanks again,