Grocery stores in Wedgwood expanded with the growth of the neighborhood in the post-World-War-Two period of the 1940s and 1950s. Beginning with the economic downturn called the Boeing Bust in the 1970s, grocery stores and some other kinds of stores declined along with the economy, and there were fewer locally-owned small businesses in Wedgwood.
The year 2012 brought in a new era with a new apartment building in Wedgwood’s 35th Avenue NE commercial core, and its live-work units at the sidewalk level, some which have businesses operating out of them.
The new Wedgwood neighborhood acquires a commercial district
The end of World War Two in 1945 marked a time of population boom in Wedgwood, with stores and services scrambling to keep up with demand. Prior to the 1940s there had been only a few scattered mom-and-pop stores in the neighborhood, such as Fauld’s at the northeast corner of NE 95th Street, and Morningside Market (groceries & meats) at 9118 35th Ave NE.
The first big grocery store to come into the central shopping area of Wedgwood was the IGA Foodliner in 1946 at 8606 35th Ave NE, present site of the Jasper Apartments. In 1952 a small Tradewell was built at 8512 35th Ave NE (present site of Rite-Aid) and the growing population of Wedgwood easily supported both the IGA and the Tradewell grocery stores, even though they were across the street from one another at NE 86th Street.
Soon each of the two grocery stores sought to expand. In 1956-1957 the IGA remodeled and doubled its square footage, then was bought out and renamed Evans Thriftway. Russ Evans, age 37, had spent the previous four years working for the Thriftway chain in setting up new stores, so he was ready and able to have his own store. Evans moved his family to Wedgwood and became an active member of the Wedgwood Chamber of Commerce.
In 1958 Tradewell sought a zoning variance to build a big new store. They wanted to move from the north side of NE 85th Street to the south side, present site of QFC at 8400 35th Ave NE.
Neighbors along 36th Ave NE behind the proposed Tradewell development led a protest delegation because of concerns that the store would tower over and shade their homes. In spite of the protests the store was able to get its plans approved by the city zoning commission and the new, expanded Tradewell opened in 1959.
Economic changes and the Boeing Bust years
In the 1970s and 1980s many small shops in Wedgwood went out of business, unable to compete with big-box stores and the increasing mobility of customers who drove their cars elsewhere to shop. Once-successful, locally owned McVicar Hardware, McGillivray’s Variety & Gift Store and Bud Gagnon’s Wedgewood Pharmacy all closed in this time period.
The Wedgwood Community Club which had been organized in 1946 to address neighborhood concerns, dwindled out of existence in the early 1970s, and Wedgwood no longer had an active Chamber of Commerce, either. Perhaps people were so impacted by the Boeing Bust, an economic downturn caused by massive lay-offs at Boeing Aircraft, that they lost interest in community involvement. From 1970 until a reconstituted Wedgwood Community Council was formed in 1987, Wedgwood had no organized activist group which represented neighborhood concerns to the City of Seattle.
In 1983 Russ Evans closed his business, too, and the Evan’s Thriftway space at 8606 35th Ave NE was taken over by Matthew’s Red Apple Grocery Store. But business traffic in Wedgwood was no longer enough to support two grocery stores at the NE 85th Street “center” of the neighborhood, and Tradewell (present site of QFC) was the next store to close.
In 1989 Matthew’s Red Apple moved from 8606 35th Ave NE into the Tradewell building at 8400 35th Ave NE and became the only grocery store at that intersection. The IGA/Thriftway/Red Apple grocery building at 8606 35th Ave NE was leased to the Jewish Community Center.
Stirring up neighborhood activism again in 1999-2000
In 1999 came Wedgwood’s grass-roots Red Apple neighborhood protest movement when Matthew’s Red Apple at 8400 35th Ave NE lost its lease and was to be replaced by a QFC grocery store. The change represented the loss of yet another locally-owned, small-scale business, and Wedgwoodians got stirred up about it, with protest demonstrations attended by hundreds of people. Matthew’s ultimately did lose its lease and close, but the experience left a lasting legacy in Wedgwood, a renewed sense of activism and concern for planning and development.
Once it became clear that QFC would move in, the Wedgwood Community Council sought to have input into the design and the operating policies of the new QFC store which was to be remodeled and open in 2000. The WCC’s land use committee was chaired by WCC president Jack Robinson, and Brian & Stacy Swanson, who had led the Red Apple protest, joined in.
The committee met with QFC representatives about their remodeling plans and suggested a wood-front framework with a gable (triangular form) over the front entrance, to be in harmony with Wedgwood’s Cape Cod-style housing. Other issues were addressed, such as the noisy roof-top mechanical equipment. QFC agreed not to put up a neon sign and agreed to limit the store hours (the store would not be open 24 hours per day.)
Old building at 8606 and the condo controvery
In 2007 the old grocery store building/Jewish Community Center at 8606 35th Ave NE was to be torn down and replaced with a four-story condo building. This project set off a storm known as the “condo controversy.”
Reminiscent of the Tradewell protest of 1958, in 2007 neighbors who lived to the east of the proposed condo project objected to the height, bulk and scale of the condo as designed, because the building would tower over and shade their houses.
The condo project stalled in 2008 due to the nationwide crisis in economic conditions, which caused new building projects to be put on hold. The pause in the development project gave Wedgwood community activists time to examine options and explore City of Seattle resources for addressing the issues.
Ultimately Wedgwood benefited from the protest of the “condo crisis” project of 2007, because it stimulated involvement in the community council’s land use planning process, beginning with the writing of a Vision Plan for Wedgwood.
At the “condo controversy” site, a new building with apartments (instead of condos) was completed and opened in July 2012. The Jasper Apartments is the first building to be a full four-stories in height near the commercial center of Wedgwood at NE 85th Street and 35th Ave NE. The condo/now apartment project awakened Wedgwood’s concerns about planning, zoning, design, street use and traffic issues, all of which are the impacts of commercial development in the neighborhood. Concerned neighbors began to see the need to study City of Seattle plans for density and zoning, and formulate a plan for how Wedgwood’s commercial district will look.
In addition to its ninety apartments, the Jasper is the first building in Wedgwood to contain “live-work units” for a person to have a storefront for their business and live in the same unit. The City of Seattle approved a live-work unit ordinance in 2003. Live-work units are intended to have small offices, shops or art studios. In the Jasper there are six live-work units facing the sidewalk along 35th Ave NE. Three of the tenants live in their units and operate a business; three others use the unit as an office only.
A tall new building in the heart of Wedgwood
It remains to be seen if the live-work units in the Jasper will enhance the heart of the Wedgwood business district on 35th Ave NE at the NE 85th Street intersection. For many people in Wedgwood, it was a big disappointment to learn that the live-work units of the Jasper building cannot support coffee shops or other food outlets, due to the lack of the kind of mechanical and vent space needed for food service operations.
The condo controversy, now-Jasper Apartment building served as a wake-up call about changes in Wedgwood’s commercial district including zoning which allows taller buildings, such as the Jasper’s four stories. As buildings age and are replaced we can expect more interaction on the issues of height, bulk and scale, impacting the commercial district of Wedgwood.
The Future of 35th Ave NE neighborhood planning committee was formed in 2012 to actively engage City of Seattle departments for needed improvements in zoning, pedestrian access, walkability and traffic safety measures along the commercial corridor of 35th Ave NE. These improvements to the retail environment will be needed as new buildings impact use of the streets and sidewalks in Wedgwood.
An example of recent changes to the commercial corridor is the February 17, 2015 demolition of the Big Green House at 7321 35th Ave NE. The house was replaced by very tall townhouse buildings, another disappointment for the Wedgwood-area land use process. What is wanted by the neighborhood is stores and food outlets such as coffee shops, pubs and sandwich shops or restaurants in the commercial district.
The Future of 35th Ave NE request for adjustments in zoning in Wedgwood’s commercial district was presented to the land use committee of Seattle City Council in February 2015. To date they have not taken action on the proposal; meanwhile, more buildings have been torn down in Wedgwood’s commercial district.
For further reference: See more about the history of the Tradewell grocery company on the webpage of Seattle historian Rob Ketcherside. There is also a grocery history blog which has info about other national chains and the early years of “groceteria” which were the first self-service stores.