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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Is your local Wild Oats store about to close?

The buyout of Wild Oats markets by Whole Foods means that some of the Wild Oats stores are going to be remodeled and turned into Whole Foods stores, and the rest are going to close. At least, that's what the news reports of the pending acquisition are saying:

Whole Foods Market will be evaluating each banner as well as each store to see how it fits into its overall brand and real estate strategy. Wild Oats Markets has been rationalizing its store base over the last several years to shed underperforming stores, but some additional store closures are expected as well as the relocation of some stores that overlap with stores Whole Foods Market currently has in development. Whole Foods Market expects to make significant investments in remodeling stores before eventually re-branding them as Whole Foods Market stores....

Whole Foods says a still-undetermined number of stores will be closed -- many of Wild Oats are in undesirable sites or are smaller than a typical Whole Foods -- and cut some jobs as part of the integration process. Whole Foods management is also known for strong operations, and it's expected to be able to squeeze more profitability out of the acquired stores.

I'm afraid this could spell the end for at least a couple of Wild Oats stores in the Portland area. The official Wild Oats website lists six stores in Oregon: Bend, Bridgeport Village, Fremont, Gresham, Hillsdale, and Laurelhurst. The three within the Portland city limits are Fremont, Hillsdale, and Laurelhurst. To my knowledge, there are only two Whole Foods stores presently going around here, one in Bridgeport Village and the other in the Pearl district. It would probably make sense for the chain to get a toehold on the east side of town, but neither the Laurelhurst nor the Fremont location seems ideal from a facilities standpoint. I would think one of those two, or both, has got its head on the block.

I've previously lamented the dwindling number of groceries in our neck of the woods. If the Fremont Wild Oats goes down, it will be a big loss.

Comments (26)

Is our city government getting involved to try to keep the three stores open?

The Wild Oats store on 28th and Burnside is small and has an even smaller parking lot. Geographically speaking, it's not a bad location. But because of all the restaurants in the area it would be such a traffic/parking nightmare every evening. They would really have to be creative to make it work.

It would also be the catalyst for even more gentrification in the neighborhood. I'm not sure how well upscale grocery and bohemian squallor (Buelahland, Laurelthirst) can co-exist in the long term.

Once the Hungry Tiger goes condo bunker, it will be Yup City over there. But it's a small building.

Of course, if Whole Foods can deal with its location in the Pearl, it can deal with the lack of elbow room anywhere. If it wants to.

Employees at the Laurelhurst store were "guaranteed" they wouldn't be losing their jobs. What that means, who knows?

Indeed. If I were working there, I would not be running out and buying a yacht right now.

You can bet that the Wild Oats anchor store in Bridgeport Village is ticketed for closure. Whole Foods just opened a monstrous new store directly across the street in Bridgeport II. It has easier access and better parking. It will be interesting to see what the Bridgeport management has in store for a building custom-built to be a market - another Starbucks, a nail salon, yuppie flower vendor, a tupperware store and, what every mall needs, a cellular phone store. Just can't wait to see this all play out. Thank goodness I have Whole Food stock.

"It will be interesting to see what the Bridgeport management has in store for a building custom-built to be a market"

One thing is for sure it won't involve Potter and his pals or Bruce Warner and the lying PDC, or Metro and their con men, or any urban renewal schemes.

Wonder how this acquisition will effect the plans for a new Whole Foods store at NE 43rd & Sandy. The Sandy Blvd. store is still listed on Whole Foods "Stores in Development" page on their website as a 40,000 square foot store, with "opening date to be announced."

I doubt they'd close Fremont. I can only bet that it'll either stay as is, or become one of the WF smaller footprint stores.

Hillsdale and Bridgeport seem like they're goners.

We had a Wild Oats at SE Division and 28th or so. I used to go there when it was a Nature's, then lost interest when the much better locally-owned New Seasons opened up ar 18th & Division. The Wild Oats closed and the latest plan is to turn the shuttered building into a 24 hour fitness.

New Seasons is a natural competitor, rather than Whole Foods, and may step up to fill part of the vacuum. It's a great store. Buy local.

Hillsdale and Laurelhurst are probably goners -- too small and too old to work. The Hollywood store will probably make up for the Laurelhurst closure, and I'm sure they'll look for the next Hillsdale condo project to get in on the ground floor, literally and figuratively.

The Fremont location could stick around (I seem to recall it being relatively big), unless they decide that's too close to the Hollywood store as well.

I'm curious what the lease situation is at Bridgeport... that store was clearly built to suit, so getting out could be costly. But I can't imagine them running both Bridgeport locations simultaneously.

The Burnside store is small for a grocery store, but that lot is huge as a potential condo site. I would bet good money that they'll close the store and whoever owns that spot will sell it to a condo developer.

The Sandy Blvd. store is still listed on Whole Foods "Stores in Development" page on their website as a 40,000 square foot store, with "opening date to be announced."

That's the one supposedly going in on the ground floor of a major new apartment bunker. It's not really that close to either the 28th & Burnside or the 15th & Fremont, but from a corporate standpoint it's probably a good enough reason to close both of those.

whoever owns that spot

That's Bitar Brothers country -- the Bob Bitar side of that family.

The Hillsdale Wild Oats is a bad store all around -- I won't be sad to see it close. Small and cramped and with a small inventory, it almost seems like a high-end convenience store. Certainly not a good place for a weekly shopping trip.

The Sandy Blvd. store is still listed on Whole Foods "Stores in Development" page on their website as a 40,000 square foot store, with "opening date to be announced."

That's the one supposedly going in on the ground floor of a major new apartment bunker. It's not really that close to either the 28th & Burnside or the 15th & Fremont, but from a corporate standpoint it's probably a good enough reason to close both of those.

Did you miss the notice that they changed their minds, and have re-classed it as condos instead of apartments? (My understanding is that is why things have been so delayed, and they haven't started yet.)

The Fremont location is my local store, but my wife just tried out New Seasons grocery delivery: joy!

they changed their minds, and have re-classed it as condos instead of apartments

Wait 'til they change their minds again, and it's not a Whole Foods, it's a Petco.

Wild Oats is a couple down on the chain food store food chain from its predecessor, Natures, and its local high-end competitors, Zupans and New Seasons. One wonders why companies acquire a locally owned operation, wipe out a good brand and then run the business into the ground, as Wild Oats did in Eugene and was in the process of doing in Oregon when Wholé Foods came to their rescue. Is it too much to hope that the Fremont and E. Burnside locations of Wild Oats would be taken over by one of the local grocers?

Oops. "a couple notches down" or, if you like, "nachos"

Is Zupan's local? Its heart seems to be in Sausalito. Plus, after Zupan's backed out of 16th and Broadway, I doubt it would take the plunge 10 blocks north.

A New Seasons at 15th and Fremont would be awesome, but they're already at 33rd and Killingsworth.

If Zupan's isn't local, they've done a pretty good job of covering up, at least enough to fool me.

Not that it should impact the Portland city stores, but Whole Foods has just broken ground on a store in the Tanasbourne area of Hillsboro too. I'll stick with New Seasons, Haggens, and Trader Joe's, but it's nice to finally have a few options out here in the sticks.

Wild Oats did manage to run the old Nature's stores into the ground, disappointing customers and employees. I understand the latter is generally glad to hear of this news (either better benefits, a transfer, or possibly a decent severage package).

The first actual Wild Oats store in Oregon was built in Bend and it did really well. But it's Bend -- and everything does well there (plus it had no real competition). The Bridgeport store was obviously a disaster, particularly now with the Whole Foods across the street. (I don't know how Whole Foods will get out of what is probably a costly lease.)

As for the other (old Nature's) stores, none of them seem to be thriving. Some of them do cater to the local neighborhoods better than others, but they aren't exactly models of profit. That was (one of) the problem with Wild Oats -- it didn't know what it wanted to be. Totally natural/organic? Or mixed convenient/natural (a la New Seasons - the old Nature's folks)? The leadership couldn't decide and was constantly changing tactics.

I would like to point out one thing: the old Wild Oats on Division was closed because of New Seasons, but not (perhaps) for the reason most think. Nature's, aka New Seasons, owned the real estate. So with their own store down the street, when the lease was up, it was time to send Wild Oats packing. Technically, I don't think they were evicted -- the rent just went up a wee bit. ;)

Jack, I live in Laurelhurst, and while I know what you mean that NE 42nd & Sandy "isn't that close" to 28th & E Burnside, consider the alternatives: Whole Foods downtown, Wild Oats Fremont, Zupans Belmont, or depending on your perspective, Fred Meyer @ NE 30th & Broadway.

Supposedly the Hollywood Whole Foods got pushed out by the Sandy streetscape mess (, which should finish by mid-March? Hopefully we'll see some update on that and Whole Foods' intentions soon... Frankly, that little Wild Oats doesn't have half of what we want, so we'd be quite happy w/ a bigger store in Hollywood. Maybe they can create some parking for the 28th restaurant row now...


My guesses would be that (a) the Fremont store will be gone (alas); (b) the Laurelhurst store will close, but only if the developer gets his act together on the Sandy site pretty soon; and (c) he in fact will get it together, which means that Laurelhurst will close and Sandy Whole Foods will open.

It would be very interesting to know what the lease between Wild Oats and the Bitar Brothers at 29th & Burnside says about term and cancellation.


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