PORTLAND – A group of small Portland grocers say a city deal to bring Trader Joe’s to the corner of Northeast Alberta Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard will leave them holding the bag.
After weeks of speculation, the Portland Development Commission announced on Nov. 13 that Trader Joe’s will anchor a new $8 million retail development planned for a long dormant city-owned lot.
The developer, California-based Majestic Reality Co., will buy the land at a $2.5 million discount and a handful of local grocers are saying they stand to lose in the deal.
A big subsidy
For years the city of Portland has wanted to see more revitalization in this section of Northeast Portland. PDC has long envisioned a major retail development rising out of a two-acre lot it owns in the heart of the neighborhood.
PDC purchased the land for $2 million. Current appraisals put its value at just under $3 million. But the city will sell it to Majestic for only $502,160.
PDC said they've been trying to get a keystone development on the corner for 14 years and that a deep subsidy is needed to get investment flowing into the area.
Under the deal, Majestic will build two buildings anchored by Trader Joe’s, with four to ten other retails spaces and 100 surface parking spots.
Local grocers concerned
Cherry Spout is a grocery store a dozen blocks away on North Sumner Street. It sells produce from organic vegetables to collard greens. The owners, Amanda Wiles and Katherine S. Nichols, fired a letter off to the PDC on Nov. 14 saying their store could get squeezed out by a new corporate chain like Trader Joe's.
"[We] do not know how long we’ll last…,” said Wiles and Nichols. “The fallout of this PDC transaction will be devastating for the local grocers in the area.”
The two said sales have slumped since a New Seasons opened on nearby North Williams Avenue and that they don’t want tax money going to more competitors.
Wilks and Nichols have banded together with other small grocers like the P’s & Q’s Market and the Alberta Co-op Grocery, to let the city know they could stand to lose.
"We're all about growth,” said Emily Anderson co-owner of the P’s & Q’s Market. “People want [Trader Joe’s] because it’s cheap food, but it’s not local. All of us in the coalition support local farmers.”
Anderson’s store opened a mile north in the Woodlawn neighborhood in July. She thinks a Trader Joes could ultimately hurt her growth.
"I’d like the PDC to support more local businesses,” Anderson said. “That is what would make MLK stand out from other parts of town.”
Shawn Uhlman with the PDC said the city has worked with neighbors to get things this far.
"We've been looking for something for a long time," Uhlman said. "Our appraiser actually said the highest and best use of the lot would be apartments with no parking. But Trader Joes is what the neighbors told us they wanted."