VOLUME 28 NO. 12 | MARCH 14 - MARCH 20, 2009

Thriftyway out, Uwajimaya in

Last updated 3-12-09 at 1:49 p.m.
This Thriftway will soon be a memory as Uwajimaya moves into its location in Renton Village.
Photo by Assunta Ng

By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly

Local Asian supermarket Uwajimaya is looking to Renton to expand on a site where a Thriftway currently resides. Uwajimaya is eyeing the 30,000-square-foot Renton Village store for the site of its fourth store — it already has stores in Seattle, Bellevue, and Beaverton, Ore.

According to the Renton Reporter, Renton city administrator Alex Pietsch said that Uwajimaya has applied for a building permit to remodel the interior of the store.

According to insiders, the deal could be completed by the end of March.

Though the final agreement has yet to be signed and an approximation for when the store is opening has yet to be announced, the rumors of Uwajimaya opening in Renton started last year, according to a source close to the company. Many employees are reportedly happy with the news, as many live in Renton and wish to work closer to their home.

Uwajimaya’s chair and former CEO Tomio Moriguchi told NWAW that Uwajimaya did not buy the property as some are reporting. Rather, Uwajimaya only buying the lease.

Whether Uwajimaya will fit in with Renton’s business landscape remains to be seen. However, things look optimistic. According to the 2000 census, Renton has a growing 13.37 percent Asian population, which is slightly below that of Seattle and Bellevue but is still significant.

The Thriftway store at the Grady Way shopping center has been a landmark of the retail scene in Renton for decades. Known for its diverse food and wines, Thriftway’s prices and selections are a bit higher-end than its Safeway and Top Foods counterparts.

Employees of the Renton Thriftway were informed late last month that the store would close sometime in March.
In regards to the closing, “Lady P,” owner and writer of The Picaroon, a blog dedicated to Renton news and rumors, stated in an entry, “Starting on [Feb. 29], the store hours will be from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m., and all stock is 20 percent off. … [M]any will miss this store, and the staff are having a hard time coming to grips with the sudden lack of employment.”

The future for Thriftway employees is uncertain. Many have cause to worry, particularly in the current economic climate. On March 9, a Thriftway staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Northwest Asian Weekly that Thriftway is keeping her on for another week, something that she is very thankful for.

Though many are mourning the loss of a branch of Washington’s own chain of grocery stores (Thriftway was established in 1945 and is headquartered in Tukwila), they are also optimistic about the new owners. The two other Asian supermarkets in the Renton area are Viet Wah Supermarket and Ranch 99 Market.

From its headquarters in California, Ranch 99’s marketing director Teddy Chow said, “We welcome competition,” adding that he has known about the purchase for a while. He said that having another Asian market in the area will be dynamic for each party.

Omar Lee, the owner of the Great Wall Mall, which houses Ranch 99, said, “This is good [news]. It validates that Renton and Kent are good locations [for businesses].”

The Renton Village Thriftway is owned by Penn Hollow Markets; they couldn’t be reached for comment.

Thriftway is the third grocery store to close in the Renton area in the past few months; both QFC in the Fairwood Shopping Center and the Greenfresh Market on Rainier Avenue have recently closed.

Moriguchi said that the new Uwajimaya in Renton will be very similar to the Bellevue location, except it will be “upgraded.”

Uwajimaya’s CEO Tomoko Moriguchi Matsuno told NWAW that the company will make a formal announcement about the new location once the deal is finished.

Uwajimaya, with more than 400 employees, is one of the largest Asian grocery retailers in the Pacific Northwest. It prides itself on its fresh produce as well as being a tourist destination. (end)

Assunta Ng and Rebecca Ip contributed to this report.


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