The Markets LLC to close Lakeway store in Bellingham

Just two and half years after undergoing an extensive rebranding effort, The Market at Lakeway grocery store in Bellingham will close in early 2014, according to a Dec. 12 announcement from the store’s owner, The Markets LLC.

A final liquidation sale begins on Friday, Dec. 13. The company expects the store will sell off its inventory shortly after the turn of the new year.

Company leaders provided some information about the closure in a news release, but declined to comment further. The news release indicated that despite building a loyal customer base since launching in July 2011, The Market at Lakeway failed to generate enough business to stay open.

“The company decided the best option was to exit the Lakeway location, rather than compromise the quality or customer service in the store,” read the release. “For The Markets, it is simply a matter of directing its resources to more profitable opportunities.”

“Like all businesses, [The Markets LLC] continually reassesses its portfolio of real-estate holdings and divests under-performing assets.”

The Markets LLC will work with local unions to figure out new options for the Lakeway store’s employees, according to the company.

It is not the first store The Markets LLC has closed this year. The company announced in August that its two Cost Cutter stores in Bellingham, one located on Meridian Street and the other in the Sunset Square shopping center, would close by the end of 2013.

The Markets LLC now operates 13 grocery stores in northwest and central Washington. It has five stores remaining  in Whatcom County, including Cost Cutters in Blaine and Ferndale, The Market at Birch Bay, the Everson Market, and a Food Pavilion in Lynden.

When The Market at Lakeway’s liquidation wraps up, the company will have no locations in Bellingham.

The Lakeway location’s closure is the latest in a series of recent developments for Bellingham’s grocery industry.

WinCo Foods, the Boise, Idaho-based discount grocery chain, opened a nearly 90,000-square-foot location at 300 E. Bellis Fair Parkway on Aug. 15.

Fred Meyer recently finished an extensive remodel of its location at 800 Lakeway Drive, which is across the street from The Market at Lakeway. A similar effort is underway at the Fred Meyer at 1225 W. Bakerview Road.

Bellingham-based Haggen Inc., which operates stores across western Washington, has completed remodels on its five Whatcom County locations. The company redesigned those stores under a new brand identity, Haggen Northwest Fresh.

Haggen is also phasing out its TOP Food and Drug discount brand, which has operated since the 1980s. Eight TOP locations around the Puget Sound area have closed or are slated to close this year. Three TOP stores that remain open are expected to be remodeled in the future as Haggen stores.

A renewed company

When it first opened in 2011, The Market at Lakeway was a prime example of its parent company’s new direction.

The Markets LLC emerged from the remnants of Brown & Cole Stores LLC, which had operated 20 grocery stores in Washington state under the Cost Cutter and Food Pavilion names.

Brown & Cole filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November 2006. The company exited Chapter 11 in December 2007 with help from Hancock Park Associates, a Los Angeles-based private equity investment firm that purchased a majority shareholdership  for $43 million.

The deal kept Brown & Cole mostly intact. Its union contract stayed in place, and employees retained wages, benefits and seniority entitlements.

Brown & Cole also remained headquartered in Bellingham as an independent company. Shortly afterward, it reformed as The Markets LLC.

Kevin Weatherill took over as president and CEO, replacing Craig Cole, who retired from his role as president after leading the company for 22 years. With Weatherill, The Markets LLC began making changes to its stores, using the money from its new majority shareholder to fund a series of improvements and redesigns.

“Really Local” strategy

The Lakeway store, which replaced an old Cost Cutter in Bellingham’s Lakeway Shopping Center, emphasized locally grown and crafted products, and also featured a deli, bakery and several in-store restaurants that offered dine-in or carry-out orders.

Its layout featured several specialty sections, including ones for organic produce and seafood, as well as “Beer City,” a walk-in refrigerated room containing hundreds of craft, domestic and imported beers.

The Market at Lakeway was the first of its company’s stores to introduce the “Really Local” advertising campaign. Products produced less than 35 miles from the Lakeway location carried special labels, and flat-screen televisions played video interviews with farmers and artisans in and around Whatcom County.

The ad campaign won recognition from the National Grocers Association in 2012.

Information from The Bellingham Business Journal’s archives was used to provide background reporting for this article.

Evan Marczynski, staff reporter for The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or evan@bbjtoday.com.  

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