By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
It wasn’t that long ago Keizer had three grocery stores.
Soon, there could be just one.
In late April, the Albertsons at 5450 River Road North became a Haggen. Washington-based Haggen went from 18 stores mainly in Washington to 164 around the West Coast in a short amount of time, taking advantage of conditions from a Albertsons-Safeway merger.
Worries at the time about such fast growth proved well founded, as the company sent out a press release Aug. 14 announcing the closure of 27 stores. The closure list had five Oregon locations listed, including the one in Keizer.
The news came just a few weeks after a Los Angeles Times story reported Albertsons was suing Haggen for $41 million, with Albertsons claiming Haggen failed to pay for inventory that was part of the changeover at 38 of the acquired stores.
Deborah Pleva of Weinstein PR, speaking on behalf of Haggen, said closures or a review to evaluate how new stores were doing was not in the company’s original plans.
“We expected to operate all 164 stores when we agreed to the acquisition, and it was a great opportunity to introduce the Haggen experience to more shoppers,” Pleva said on Tuesday. “Haggen will continue to evaluate its operations to identify opportunities to strengthen its overall business. While the decision to close a store is always difficult – given the impact on associates and customers – it is guided by what is best for the company’s future success.”
Last week’s announcement and store closure list indicated stores would be closing “over the next 60 days.” An exact closure date was not listed for any of the stores, including the Keizer one.
“The store will continue operating and will wind down its business and close within 60 days,” Pleva said on Monday. “The fate of the building is up to the building owner from whom we leased.”
With the acquisitions in the spring, Haggen went from 2,000 employees to more than 10,000. A filing with the state indicated the five closures in Oregon would affect 331 employees.
Keizer Haggen store manager Darren Dye referred questions to corporate headquarters, while Pleva declined to say how many employees the Keizer location has.
“Haggen is currently focused on working through this transition with store teams and leadership so, out of respect for the process and employees, no additional information or details about the number of employees impacted will be shared at this time,” Pleva said.
While she didn’t give timelines, Pleva on Tuesday gave a bit of a picture into how the news was announced to employees.
“In the Pacific Northwest, a meeting with store managers and department heads was conducted personally by members of Operations and (Human Resources),” Pleva said. “Some other associates attended. The date (of closures) will be determined when a number of factors become clear. We’ll be letting our associates know first.”
Mayor Cathy Clark mentioned the closure news at the end of Monday’s Keizer City Council meeting.
“We’re sorry to see them close,” Clark said. “We wish the best to our residents to get new jobs and take care of their families.”
City Councilor Amy Ripp noted she, like everyone else, was surprised by the news.
“I’m disappointed for the loss of jobs and the loss of competition,” Ripp told the Keizertimes following Monday’s meeting. “Competition is good. It didn’t feel like Haggen brought their ‘A’ game to Keizer. I was looking forward to the opportunity to buy Haggen products. They did an excellent job cleaning up the store and the service was excellent, but there was not the Haggen product level we were all looking forward to.”
Last week’s announcement noted most of the 27 stores being closed were ones recently acquired. There was also a line which seemed to give the impression stores being closed were underperforming.
“Haggen’s original stores continue to perform well,” one line in the announcement stated.
Ripp wondered if more effort could have led to better performance in Keizer.
“They could have been more successful if they had done more of a higher product level,” Ripp said. “I was very surprised by this. I hadn’t heard any rumblings about it. It was a shock to the whole community.”
Almost immediately, there was speculation and questions about whether another grocery store might open in Keizer. Not surprisingly, the two most popular names were Roth’s Fresh Markets and Winco Foods. Roth’s closed its Keizer location at Chemawa Road and River Road in June 2012, while Idaho-based Winco has a large distribution center just north of Keizer in Woodburn.
On the day of Haggen’s announcement, a “Bring Roth’s Back to Keizer” group was formed on Facebook. By Tuesday afternoon, the group had nearly 400 members.
Michael Roth, president of the company started by his father Orville in 1962, said on Monday no decision had been made yet.
“Keizer is a wonderful city,” Roth said. “We are honored by the Facebook page. We only found about this new opportunity when it was announced last Friday, so we cannot give a definitive yes or no now.”
Messages left for leaders at Winco were not returned. However, several residents posted on Winco’s Facebook page and asked if the company was coming to Keizer.
“We love the area and while we do not have stores scheduled for Keizer yet, we will gladly let our team know that our friends would love a store closer than Salem,” read one response from the company. Another response noted that “we can’t guarantee a yes” and pointed out there are many factors that go into location decisions.