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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Wild Oats, Whole Foods, and guess who!

Photo courtesy Miles Hochstein / Portland Ground.

Our weekend speculation about what's going to happen to the Wild Oats store on NE Fremont, now that Whole Foods is buying out Wild Oats, was fun. But it gets a whole lot more interesting when you consider who owns that building. I'll give you a hint: It's not Wild Oats.

At least on the tax records, it's listed as something called ADG Properties, LLC, which I do believe is owned, at least in part, by Stan Amy, a founder of, and still affiliated with, New Seasons markets! Amy, a former Nature's bigwig, was a fiercely unhappy camper with the new Wild Oats management when it took over the old Nature's chain, and there was lots of bad blood when Amy and his partners left Wild Oats and started their own place. He is definitely getting the last laugh now, as the Wild Oats presence is about to be wiped off the Portland map.

It looks as though when Nature's sold its stores to Wild Oats, Wild Oats didn't buy the Fremont building -- it got only a lease on it. Just as it didn't get title to the building that housed the old Nature's (converted to Wild Oats) down on Division. And who owns the Division site? It's listed as being owned by something called ADG III LLC, with addresses that again point back to Amy.

A commenter on this blog last night theorized that the reason that the Wild Oats store on Division closed was that its lease was up and ADG was demanding a big rent increase. Yikes! Now that's an interesting tale that I don't remember hearing before. (I don't think daily newspapers like to dig too deeply into grocery store wars... for some reason...)

Anyway, what it all boils down to is that on the Fremont property, Whole Foods may, in effect, be dealing with New Seasons. A little internet sleuthing strengthens that impression. At Amy's address, there's listed a company called New Villages Group, Ltd., and on New Villages' website, New Seasons is shown as an "affiliated organization." Meanwhile, the old Nature's site at 24th and Fremont -- more recently a high-end garden store and the graveyard of several noble restaurant experiments -- is listed as being owned by something called ADG II LLC, which corroborates the old Nature's / new New Seasons real property connection.

If I've got this all straight, the plot has thickened considerably. Would Whole Foods want to deal with Amy over the Fremont building, and vice versa? Is there still a lease, and how much longer does it have to run? And if Whole Foods folds its Wild Oats cards there and closes, would New Seasons consider an outpost in that location? It certainly wouldn't have to worry about relations with the landlord, who from all appearances would be friendly indeed.

Stay tuned. I'm just praying that somebody will sell groceries in that place when this all shakes out.

Comments (23)

One other thing I learned in researching this post: the Fremont property has an interesting environmental history.

Just from a customers point of view, I used to frequent two Natures. The one in Lake Oswego, just accross the railroad tracks on the east side of I-5 and the one on Division both before and after New Seasons Opened.

I used to love to go to the Natures in Lake Oswego before it was taken over. I had my hair dresser there and used to alternately partake of their little affordable spa when I had my hair done and treat myself to a pedicure or facial, just for fun. Again it was in the $35 range for one of these little treats. I remember when the new ownership took over my hairdresser left, and things went downhill, and after about a year of rotating staff, I left too. Then I started using the Natures on Division, but the produce was not as good as New Seasons when it opened. In fact some of the produce actually was spoiled after thier customer base eroded. New Seasons became the store we went to first, and occassionally would frequent the Wild Oats when we were picking up something from the Deli as New Seasons tends to run with the same fare, even though it is vastly better than the chain store deli.

Nice sleuthing, Jack. That building has puzzled me since it went up. Whose idea was it to have doors on the second floor to nothing; no deck or even a real exit?

New Seasons rocks, and it seems like the folks who gave us Natures were pretty cunning when they "sold out" to Wild Oats.

Looks like the locals will have the last laugh here, and that suits me fine.

"A commenter on this blog last night theorized that the reason that the Wild Oats store on Division closed was that its lease was up and ADG was demanding a big rent increase."

Hopefully Frank Dufay will jump in here—I've seen him reference this before—but as far as neighbors heard, the Division Wild Oats' lease was far from up.

That came up during neighborhood meetings about turning the space into a gym—the folks behind that idea had an option to take over the Wild Oats lease, I think, and they had a strict deadline to meet. I believe they have taken it over, which is good—otherwise, Wild Oats would have continued paying the lease on an empty building for a few more years.

(Incidentally, I've also heard rumors that New Seasons' ultimate goal was to reclaim all the Wild Oats/Nature's sites in town eventually... don't know how the Whole Foods thing affects that grand plan now... maybe it'll make it easier?)

New Seasons is the best--it is nice to keep money in the local economy as much when possible. This is the reason I steer anyone looking for outdoor gear to Next Adventure.

I've lived between Hawthorne and Division since long before Natures remodeled Smith's Home Furnishings. It was great for awhile. Then Wild Oats took over and it went way downhill. Then New Seasons opened 10 or so blocks away and suddenly there was plenty of parking available in the Wild Oats lot. I don't think anyone around here doubted that closure was coming.

Also, I thought it was common knowledge around here that the Natures folks retained title to the property, so I'm not surprised that they had the same arrangement elsewhere. I believe there has been print reporting about Wild Oats' potential obligations under the lease if a new tenant isn't secured. Might have been in the SE Examiner, though.

and then there were the really good old days when Natures was on SW Corbett. Everyone who worked there was friendly-unlike the poor beleagured employees at Lake Oswegos Wild Oats. The death knell was when Whole Foods moved in across the street after Wild Oats had spent a ton of money moving into the Bridgeport shopping center that has no parking!
Meanwhile, the fancy old Wild Oats on Boones Ferry still sits empty...who owns that?
We don't shop at Wild Oats or Whole Foods-we prefer to shop at a small local store run by people who actually live here! And they know us!

The Fremont space is smaller than the typical Whole Foods or New Seasons likes to have. That location is always buzzing with activity, and it gets a ton of neighborhood foot traffic, so it seems like someone ought to be able to make money from a grocery store there.

Would Amy push Whole Foods out of the Fremont space because he's afraid of competition it will bring to the Concordia New Seasons store? God, I hope not. That's a risky game, because if the place sits empty, that's zero rental income from the property until he finds another tenant. Don't underestimate the fact that Amy probably likes having a store within walking distance of his house, even if it's the competition.

What this really does is drive a stake through the heart of anyone's dreams for finally getting a grocery store in the 1620 Broadway building, because now potential tenants will want to wait to see what happens up on Fremont. If given an option, where would YOU want to put a store? Maybe now Zupans comes into the mix, as they were originally going to go into the 1620 building until (as I understand it) the developer started going back on his word.

until (as I understand it) the developer started going back on his word.

I'm not so sure that's what happened.

There's nothing nefarious about any of this, really. It's not uncommon at all for big businesses to prefer leasing property to buying it; supposedly there's a big tax advantage, blah de blah. I'm not an accountant.

You're correct, Stan Amy still owns the old 30th and Div building--and the lease with Wild Oats still has six years left on it. No "big increase" at all shut that store down, New Seasons out-competed it; it was a ghost town within a week of the 7 Corners store opening, and I was among the happy defectors even though Wild Oats was only 2 blocks away. And I'm not surprised to hear that Amy still owns several other old Nature's stores. He's a smart guy.

Those of us in the neighborhood (I've also lived here since that building was a Smith's) heard all this when Amy began taking input on what should happen to the empty building. And thank goodness he's the one who owns it, not Wild Oats! Of the two, I trust him more to do something with the building that might actually benefit the neighborhood.

Amidst the talk about how Stan Amy kept ownership of the land and buildings occupied by Nature's/Wild Oats...there is a parallel real estate situation in Portland's history.

I was told that, when Fred Meyer sold to outside interests, Earle M. Chiles kept ownership of the land under all Fred Meyer stores, thereby having the constant flow of income (except for the few stores that have closed).

Comments or memories???

... the lease with Wild Oats still has six years left on it. No "big increase" at all shut that store down, New Seasons out-competed it....

With all due respect to New Seasons (I like them), Wild Outs out-competed themselves. This would have happened with or without New Seasons moving in; it would have just taken a bit longer.

In a similar vein, I have heard it said that McDonald's is actually a real estate company. It owns the land on which its 28,000 stores sit. In that sense, they just use food as a way for the franchisees to generate enough money to send regular rent payments to headquarters.

Economically, it probably doesn't matter to the landlord what kind of tenant occupies the old Nature's buildings on both Division and Fremont. But it sure matters a lot to the neighbors!

Public Storage seems to be that way. Renting out storage space is swell, but it's all about the ground underneath.

Speaking of Fred Meyer... the Burlingame/Hillsdale 'hoods are going to have to wander a little further for groceries if both the Barbur Freddy's and Hillsdale Oats stores close. Wasn't there just something in the news recently about the Barbur Fred's being potentially re-zoned or something?

Maybe it will be good for that other local grocery store - Market of Choice.

It's not uncommon at all for big businesses to prefer leasing property to buying it

Yeah, but not from a competitor with a score to settle.

Jack, I know of a few local smaller businesses ($10M -$20M) that have sold their business while retaining the property and improvements for tax/estate reasons, or to help to lower the purchaser's base price. And many times they have a non-compete clause for a period of time. What happens after, concerning developing a "score to settle", is another matter. I don't know if Stan Amy and his partners sold under those potential future conditions.

I can't wait to watch the Whole Foods-New Seasons battle unfold as WF expands in Portland. This will be exciting.

Those of us in the neighborhood (I've also lived here since that building was a Smith's) heard all this when Amy began taking input on what should happen to the empty building.

I was at the neighborhood meeting with Stan Amy to talk about this...by letting Wild Oats out of their lease with a buy-out, that provided the capital to remodel the building for the Gold's Gym franchise (not 24-Hour Fitness). Stan needed neighborhood support, and he got it, though nearby Loprinzi's gym is challenging the zoning "adjustment" to allow something other than a supermarket at that site.

Eat New Seasons sausages. Work them off at Gold's. Amy gets you coming and going!

For the record, Nature's sold out to GNC, the vitamin chain you see in malls. GNC saw that the growth in the health food biz was in natural foods supermarkets and Stan was running into a wall trying to get financing for expansion. GNC even kept Stan on as a consultant to start similar stores around the country. But the GNC corporate culture (very buttoned down) didn't mesh with the Nature's types and they didn't like having to run stores on margins closer to those of a grocery store, plus all the extra labor. So after a couple of years, GNC decided to dump Nature's and Wild Oats picked it up. Wild Oats was an outfit based in Boulder with an operations similar to Nature's, but the Boulder HQ dictated policies and purchasing to the Nature's staff, so most of the best people left. They almost all went to work at New Seasons after Stan financed that.

Because Stan sold to GNC and GNC sold to Wild Oats, Stan wasn't bound by any sort of non-compete clause, which enabled him to open New Seasons not long after Wild Oats took over Nature's.

Stan is a real rarity--a very smart businessman who is also a very good citizen.

By the way, he also owned the property for the old Corbett St. Nature's, but traded it several years ago for property in Palm Springs--two houses and a funky motel that he remodeled into something like the Jupiter on Burnside, only more retro. It's called the Orbit. He's probably there now.

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