Local residents disappointed by the closure of the Whole Foods Market in east Vancouver have begun campaigning to save the store — but in a new location.
Shoppers were informed two weeks ago the Whole Foods Market in the Mill Plain Plaza shopping center — the only Whole Foods inClark County — is scheduled to close on or around Aug. 18.
Several shoppers on social media said they hoped the company could find an alternate location for the store. One took it a step further by creating a Change.org petition urging the company to consider relocating the store to the downtown Vancouver area.
The petition had more than 450 signatures as of Wednesday.
The campaign taps into a longstanding frustration among downtown residents: the lack of any full grocery store in the core downtown area. The closest options are the Fred Meyer at the Grand Central shopping center and the Safeway on Main Street near 39th Street.
The petitioners also lament the lack of healthy food options in Vancouver, and argue that the closure of the Mill Plain Whole Foods will affect shoppers as far away as downtown Vancouver because residents were willing to drive out to the city’s east side to purchase Whole Foods’ healthier products.
In a June 21 statement, Whole Foods announced it had opted not to renew the lease at its Mill Plain store, but did not elaborate on the reason. Anonymous tipsters who contacted The Columbian — spouses of employees who worked at the Mill Plain store — said the company had been seeking an alternate location for the store prior to the closure but had been unable to find one.
“We’ll continue to serve our Vancouver customers through our surrounding Whole Foods Market locations, which provide a more modern shopping experience,” the company said.
Whole Foods has a strong presence in the Portland metro area, with four stores in Portland and four more in suburban cities to the south and west. But the 815 S.E. 160th Ave. location in Vancouver is the only Whole Foods in Clark County, and the only Whole Foods east of Interstate 205 in the metro area.
Moving store may be tough sell
Petitioners pushing for a new location in downtown Vancouver might have a tough time making the case.
The city of Vancouver has struggled for years to find a grocery store partner to occupy a future development on the vacant city-owned Block 10 near Esther Short Park, but the Vancouver City Council abandoned the effort in March after concluding downtown lacks the density to attract a full-size grocery store operator.
The Change.org petition disputes the city council’s change of direction. It argues that The Waterfront Vancouver project, recent apartment construction in downtown and Uptown Village, and the presence of upscale restaurants serves as evidence that the downtown population is growing.
“Vancouver’s City Council continues to suggest that the Downtown area would not support a grocer, but the residents disagree,” the petition creator wrote in the description.
Block 10 is apparently off the table for good, and there aren’t many other completely undeveloped blocks left in the downtown area.
There is one pre-built option: the Kauffman Center at Kauffman Avenue and Fourth Plain Boulevard, which was once home to a Thriftway grocery store. While it’s a bit closer than the current nearby grocery stores, it’s not inside the downtown area, and it faces a similar density problem.
The main anchor building has sat empty since at least 2004, and property owner Richard Baranzano has repeatedly told The Columbian he wants to see a grocery store return to the site. In fact, it’s the only use he says he’ll consider, and he’s willing to hold out as long as necessary. But it’s been 15 years, and so far no grocery store has been willing to give the site a shot.
Whole Foods did not reply to an email seeking comment for this story.