When it opened four years ago, the Phinney Market was like a dream come true. The neighborhood grocery / deli was operated by local owners with a vision of serving fresh food in a “third place” atmosphere. In addition to bread-and-butter and eclectic groceries, offerings grew to include casual dining on Friday evenings at community tables and other neighborly events like BBQs and beer tastings.
Open long hours, it became a crossroads for residents and visitors. Nearby zoo employees got special discounts. Fresh flower displays, free treats for dogs, what’s not to like? This is what neighborhood commercial is all about: Walk, don’t drive.
A lot of neighborhoods would give up their parking spaces for this.
So when the e-mail hit our inboxes a few weeks ago that the store was in trouble, a large crowd gathered at “the last supper” incredulous and wanting to Do Something! But what?
The owner offered mea culpas. Opening a second store had distracted him from Phinney Market. Things fell apart, the shelves were getting bare and the wolf was at the door. Capital was needed and the question floated: When do shoppers become investors, or should they?
According to popular statistics, most small businesses fail. Other businesses had come and gone from this location, a classic one-story commercial building anchoring a small commercial strip in a residential neighborhood. We had petitioned the city for a pedestrian overlay zone to protect just this kind of anchor.
“Should we do more to save this amenity?” is the question now facing the neighborhood. A diplomatic mission bought a stay of execution and financial concessions owing to the willingness of the landlord, also a long-time local resident.
We’re getting a hard business lesson, reviewing financials and turnaround plans. What’s the right response to the situation? Forming an investor co-op or infusing cash into the business by prepaying for a year’s groceries, and hoping that the store remains open?
While Phinney is not Bedford Falls, there is strong and perhaps romantic impulse to save the “bank,” tempered by a rational calculation of the distribution of benefits and risks from buying in to someone else’s troubles. Our neighborhood identities are shaped by places like Phinney Market, which are private and public at the same time.
The saga of Phinney Market is being played out all over Seattle where renters, neighbors, shoppers and workers watch as familiar places are swept away in a tide of economic change over which they have no control… or do they?