By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

Ever since word came out during the summer about the Keizer Haggen closing, the question has been what grocery store chain could come to town?

Speculation and interest ramped up even more when the Haggen – formerly an Albertsons – closed in late September.

With Safeway the only grocery store in Keizer, the most common name being sought is WinCo Foods, though a company spokesperson told the Keizertimes this week there are no current plans.

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Shortly after the Haggen closed, Keizer resident Joshua Miller started a “Keizer Wants WinCo” page on Facebook, a group with 55 members as of Tuesday afternoon.

“With Keizer down to one grocery store, just Safeway, I’d like to think it’s good to have competition,” Miller told the Keizertimes on Tuesday. “The lines at Safeway are really long, and things cost more than I want to pay.”

Miller figured it would be good to start a Facebook page and has asked those interested in getting a WinCo here to contact the Idaho-based company via their website.

One of the big questions regarding a WinCo – or any grocery chain, for that matter – coming to Keizer has been location. In addition to the Haggen building – roughly 40,000 square feet – at River Road and Lockhaven Drive, there is also the former Roth’s building at River and Chemawa Roads. That 20,000 square foot building has been vacant since Roth’s left in the spring of 2012.

Another option would be building a new store in Keizer Station Area C, where infrastructure is currently being put into place for a new apartment complex and a senior living facility on an expanded McLeod Lane. That’s the area where a highly controversial Walmart was proposed a few years ago.

Miller’s main push is for a new grocery store in Keizer, wherever it might be.

“It doesn’t matter to me too much,” he said. “Those (River Road) locations are great, but someone on the page posted that the size of those buildings aren’t within WinCo parameters. I’m hoping it’s not true. Keizer Station would be fine, too. Keizer just needs more competition for grocery stores and I like WinCo.”

There have also been a number of posts on the topic lately on Nextdoor, a social media platform used in several Keizer neighborhoods.

John Morgan, Keizer’s first Community Development director who served in that capacity from 1990 to 1998, posted on Nov. 12 that pushing city leaders to lobby for a particular store isn’t the correct approach. Morgan’s post is a guest column on page A4 of this week’s Keizertimes.

“If the people of Keizer want to influence the decision that’s great,” Morgan posted in part. “But the interest must be focused on the potential tenants, not on city hall. Continue to pour letters and phone calls into WinCo and other desirable retailers. Find out who owns the property and ask that person if and how the community can help.”

Marion County Assessor’s property records show Haggen Property North LLC bought the 40,821 square foot building at 5450 River Road North on May 1 for $2,227,342.

Late last year, Haggen acquired a number of stores being sold by Albertsons and Safeway due to their merger. Haggen quickly went from 18 to 164 stores, but has since closed many of the new locations. Several Haggen properties were sold in auctions last week, including four in Oregon. However, the Keizer location was not one of them.

Keizer City Councilor Marlene Parsons, who has connections in the grocery industry, noted Albertsons could not buy back the Keizer location because it’s within one mile of Safeway, which would be a violation of the Federal Trade Commission rules.

On Nov. 11, Keizer resident Pam Getty posted on Nextdoor about WinCo.

“Today I had the pleasure of meeting Steve Goddard, the CEO of WinCo Foods,” Getty wrote. “He told me that WinCo very, very much wants to come to Keizer (in the Albertsons store). He said there are some political issues and that Albertsons may not want to give up the space. He told me they have been working on getting WinCo in Keizer for some time. He also said it would be a smaller store. It would be the size of their beginning stores, but would have WinCo’s great prices, bulk section, fresh meat, seafood, produce and all the other items, just smaller.”

Getty did not return messages from the Keizertimes seeking comment.

Messages left for Goddard at WinCo headquarters were not returned, but company spokesperson Michael Read did talk.

“We don’t have anything presently going in Keizer,” Read said. “I’m not aware of any statement the company has made about coming. That’s not to say it couldn’t be possible down the road.”

Read said the company looks at various factors before deciding to open a store somewhere.

“I can’t say there is one particular thing we look at,” he said. “There are a variety of economic and demographic things. The big thing is how close our nearest location is. We also look at the demographics of a community, traffic patterns, visibility, just dozens and dozens of factors. We continue to look at locations in states we currently do business in.”

Read said most WinCo stores are 85,000 square feet and larger, though the company has recently opened smaller ones in the 55,000 to 60,000 square foot range. The company has converted previous Costcos and HomeBase locations.

“We have certainly done plenty of that,” Read said. “We mostly build our own stores, but if it’s sufficient size, we have converted. We look at both opportunities.”

Mayor Cathy Clark brought up the topic near the end of Monday’s Keizer City Council meeting.

“The Haggen issue is in the courts, a clash of the titans,” she said. “What’s going to happen is in the courts. I encourage people to use social media to contact companies. Retailers are smart and are looking to see if people are interested. They will start counting up comments and realize Keizer is a good place to be. I know people are concerned. We’ll see how this turns out.”