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Top stories of 2016: Closure of grocery store has big impact on neighborhood

Albertsons grocery store on Birchwood Avenue in Bellingham Monday morning, March 7, 2016. The store closed May 7.
Albertsons grocery store on Birchwood Avenue in Bellingham Monday morning, March 7, 2016. The store closed May 7. pdwyer@bellinghamherald.com

Having a grocery store is a big deal for a neighborhood, so it was a major loss when Birchwood said goodbye to its longtime market.

The Albertsons store at 1650 Birchwood Ave. closed in May, creating a void in the neighborhood. Not only did it mean the loss of more than 60 jobs, it meant the nearest alternative for groceries was more than a mile away. That has created a food desert situation that makes it difficult for people to find healthy food options, particularly those who don’t have cars, said Bellingham City Council member April Barker. According to newspaper archives, a grocery store had been in that spot since 1960.

Bringing back a grocery store there is not completely out of the question. Barker has been communicating with Wallace Properties Inc., which is marketing the leasing of the building. While a grocery store would not be Albertsons’ first choice to sublease the building to, it is not a definitive “no” regarding the grocery category tenants, said Scott Blankenship, president of the brokerage division at Wallace, in an email to Barker.

It would be a challenge for a grocery store to return to that spot even if a lease was signed. Barker said the equipment will be removed from the building, so it would require a large capital investment.

The loss of those jobs are still having an impact on the neighborhood, Barker said, noting that some of those employees still haven’t found work in the seven months following the closure.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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