The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

July 1, 2008

In with the New: A Tour of the New Downtown Bellevue Safeway

Filed under: Bellevue — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:06 am

As discussed previously, last Thursday marked the end of the 45-year run of the old Marina-style Safeway in downtown Bellevue.  Although a largely intact 1960s supermarket may invoke nostalgic longings for days long gone, it was clear that this store was outdated, and that even if it were not being replaced it would have fallen victim to the rapid growth and development of downtown Bellevue sooner or later.

In its place, a brand new Safeway store has now opened a block to the South in the new Avalon Meydenbauer development found near Bellevue Square   Even though there are currently only three Safeway stores operating within the Bellevue City limits (this one, a store located at Factoria Mall and one in the Overlake neighborhood,) Safeway has long been tied to the Eastside, having maintained a distribution center since 1958in the Overlake area, along with an industrial bakery and soda bottling plant.  In keeping with the increasingly urban character of Bellevue. this new store has become Safeway’s new flagship store for the Pacific Northwest, and provides an interesting snapshot that shows a number of ongoing trends in supermarket design as Safeway moves upscale in many of its local stores to keep up with high-end competition from stores such as QFC and Whole Foods Market.  In addition to this, this store ups the ante by adding several new features that you’re not likely to find in your local store anytime soon.

After the jump, a tour of Bellevue’s new Safeway store.

 

(click for larger image)

The image above came from the old Safeway before it closed, and shows the floor plan of the new store, along with a number of the store’s features.  I apologize for the shadow that makes it a bit hard to see, but this should give you a pretty good idea of the layout of the new store, and how this is put together.  Compared to the old 24,000 square foot Safeway store, this new store has more than twice the space at 55,000 square feet.  And yes, there is still free parking while you’re shopping.  A small, partially covered lot is found in front of the store, although most of the parking spaces are in a garage underneath the store itself. 

On entering the store, one of the first things you notice is that there aren’t a whole lot of checkstands here, compared to what you might find in some stores.  Looking at my photos of the old store, it turns out that there were only six checkstands in that old one, while this store has 7, plus four self-checkout stations.  To be honest, what’s the point in having twelve checkstands if only three of them are going to be open at any given time anyway?

Although a number of the other stores in the area (particularly the Kroger-owned Fred Meyer and QFC stores) have used self checkouts for some time now, this is the first time that I have seen one of these in a Safeway store.  I’ve found that opinions about these tend to be somewhat mixed.  If people know what they’re doing when they use these (and to be honest, it shouldn’t exactly be rocket science in the first place) and things work as expected, I find that self checkouts make life a lot easier.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t take a whole lot to cause things go to haywire, at which point you may find yourself standing around waiting for someone to swipe the magic card and get things back in order again.  In this case, I ran into some issues with getting the debit card to work.  Since the store had only been open for a day and a half at the time, I suspect this will probably be a matter of working out the bugs in the system as time goes on.

Turning to the store itself, we can that a lot of the old supermarket standbys are still alive and well.  This picture shows the flower department.  Nothing too unusual here.

The same goes for the produce department, although it is interesting to note that organic produce continues to gain ground over conventional produce, to the point that organic products now take up close to half of the department by themselves. 

Is it just me, or is Uncle Sam looking just a tad shifty these days?  No wonder people don’t seem to trust the government anymore.  One other detail you might notice in this photo (and some of the others) is the exposed plumbing and HVAC equipment on the ceiling, as well as the much more subtle “mood lighting” that has largely replaced the industrial-strength fluorescent lighting of grocery stores past.  For some reason, this style seems to be popular with a number of the high-end grocers around here these days.

Next to the produce is the meat department.  Throughout the store, there were a number of different samples on offer.  They were actually grilling steaks out in the front of the store to offer samples of the New York Strip inside.  The seafood department does seem a bit small in comparison to that found in some of the other stores around here, particularly the Whole Foods stores.  Then again, those stores generally have massive seafood departments, and the price tags to match.

As is customary of most of the supermarkets around here these days, several aisles are dedicated to a natural and organic food section, complete with a large selection of bulk bins (not shown here.)

 Even though this store has a lot more space overall than the old store did, it is apparent that there are still some space constraints that had to be dealt with, which means that instead of having 20 relatively short aisles, as you might find in a typical store, you have a smaller number of longer aisles, with a split in the middle that splits these into two rows.  It’s kind of hard to see this here with the shoppers blocking the view, but this is taken from the back of the store.

The one exception to the split aisles found elsewhere in the store is the freezer section, where everything is placed in one long aisle.

Looking at this from the other direction gives a better idea of just how long this aisle is.  This is a little bit past the halfway point, looking to the back of the store.  Of course, so far nothing we’ve seen here is particularly unusual for a grocery store, especially around here.  Even so, there are a number of things that you may not have ever seen in your local supermarket, much less your local Safeway.

One of the more prevalent trends in the local supermarkets is an expanded selection of cheeses, including a large number of Protected Designation of Origin European imports.  Here we see just a portion of the cheeses on offer in this store.

Of course, there are samples provided.  In addition to an expanded cheese selection, the store also provides the now obligatory olive bar as well.  I’m not sure whose idea it was to sell 23 different types of olives in the local grocery store, but it seems like over the past few years practically every supermarket in town seems to have installed one of the things.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the olive bar here.

If you’re looking for some wine to go with your cheese (or vice versa,) this store has you covered there.  They even include a “wine cellar” area, which presumably houses the store’s higher-end wine selections.

Here’s something you probably haven’t seen at your local Safeway: a nut bar, complete with a surprisingly large selection of nuts roasted in the store.  I think this one has a few types of nuts that I’ve never even heard of.

If you happen to prefer your nuts in a slightly less recognizable form, you can get freshly ground nut butter as well.

In addition to the usual assortment of baked goods offered in your friendly neighborhood Safeway, you’ll find this wood-fired hearth oven baking up an assortment of delicious artisan breads, which you can get sliced any way you would like, thanks to the Bread Slicer (of Doom) shown on the left side of the picture.

In addition to the usual Deli selections found in your friendly neighborhood Safeway, this store adds a sushi bar to the mix.  On the far side of the picture you can see the obligatory Starbucks kiosk.  I think by now, grocery stores are required by law to install one of those things.

Once you’ve ordered your food, they conveniently provide a nice sitting area in which to consume it, complete with a flat screen TV and a fireplace.  For reasons that probably have to do with the fact that the temperature outside was pushing 90 degrees at the time this photo was taken, the fireplace was not in use at this time.  And yes, there are tables on the other side  in addition to comfy chairs.

Of all the features of this new store, I think this one might be my favorite:  a gelato and sorbet counter.  Apparently I’m old enough to remember back in the days when you could go to the drugstore (well, the Thirfty anyway) and get ice cream there, and for some reason I’ve always wished that I could still get ice cream in the store like this (and yes, I am aware that some California, Nevada and Arizona Rite Aid stores still have the Thrifty Ice Cream.  Last year when I was in Las Vegas I took a wrong turn and ended up stumbling into a store that had it.  Just like I remember, down to the oddly cylindrical scoops.)  Apparently it’s not enough to have ice cream these days, you’ve got to have gelato for that extra bit of exotic flair.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you.  The stuff looks delicious.

And sure enough, it is quite tasty, if a bit expensive compared to some places.  The small cup of the pineapple sorbet cost $2.99, but was plenty to satisfy a craving.

All in all, this new Safeway is a very nice store, and a huge improvement over the old store in many ways.  Although Safeway is generally regarded as a fairly mainstream grocery store, this store is an indication that they can compete with the high-end stores when the need arises.  Of course, it has the advantage of being one of only four grocery stores near downtown Bellevue.  There’s a QFC to the north of Bellevue Square, Nature’s Pantry (a health food store) a block or so away from that and a Whole Foods on the other side of 405, but beyond those your closest options are going to be in the Overlake area.  For comparison, there are no fewer than 2 QFCs, a Safeway , a Fred Meyer, a Whole Foods, Larry’s Market (now basically a Top Foods/Haggen store in all but name) and a Target with a fairly large selection of food items (no meat/produce departments though) within the downtown Redmond area, and several more Safeways, another Fred Meyer and a Costco not too far away. 

In a crowded marketplace, Safeway has been taking steps to rebrand themselves to project a higher end image than they have in the past, but in my experience with some of the “converted” Safeways around here, the whole thing just doesn’t quite seem to work for some reason.  Perhaps this has to do with the memory of the more conventional Safeway branding that used to be there (and  which remains in some of the smaller stores that have been deemed too small to effectively project the newer brand image) and the crowded old Safeway stores of the past.  That said, none of those preconceived notions of the brand seem to apply to this store.  Perhaps this is the result of being able to work with a clean slate, as well as the ability to build a high-end store to cater to high-end clientele in a way that would not be practical in a less affluent neighborhood (relatively speaking, you’re not going to find a lot of more affluent areas than downtown Bellevue and the nearby Hunts Point and Medina) but there’s something about this particular store that seems to set it apart.  That said, I seriously doubt that I’ll be shopping here all that often, since convenience seems to be king when it comes to grocery shopping, and it just wouldn’t be practical to go into Bellevue and wade through the downtown traffic every time I needed milk and eggs.  It’s a really nice store though, and should serve its neighborhood well. 

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2 Comments »

  1. I noticed the nut bar and it reminded me of the fresh, salted nut bar they use to have in Petrams 10 Cent store in the old, outdoor Bellevue Square in the 60s’.
    Hey..speaking of “nut bars”…there are a few of them in Bellevue..one on old Main which will remain nameless.

    Comment by Trisha — July 3, 2008 @ 9:45 am

  2. How do I get in touch with the travel clinic located in the downtown Bellevue Safeway?

    Comment by Hugh Fowler — August 20, 2008 @ 4:05 pm


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