PCC Natural Markets Sprouts Urban Flagship Store
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From #108, September-October 2003
PCC Natural Markets Sprouts Urban Flagship Store
B Y B R I A N S C H A E P E R K O E T T E R
Times have been tough in Seattle. When the nation's dot-com bubble burst two years ago, the city was plunged into an economic funk that lingers today. But while talk of unemployment checks and layoffs has replaced the chatter of internet startups and venture capital projects, Seattle co-ops have fared surprisingly well in these uncertain economic times.
With more than 40,000 members, Puget Consumers Co-op-doing business as PCC Natural Markets-is one of Seattle's success stories. The consumer-owned chain of natural foods stores has been a part of the city's grocery community since the 1950s and has grown to include five stores in Seattle and two in surrounding suburbs.
After significant losses in 2000-the result of a difficult new store opening and the closing of a store in response to competitive pressures-PCC rebounded in 2001, achieving sales growth of almost 7% with one less store. In 2002, the co-op saw sales expand by 13% over the previous year. And through the first half of 2003 sales have grown at a 10% pace.
Growing for the future
As in many successful co-ops, member needs dictate the company's direction. Over the years, research showed that PCC members wanted more from their co-op. Their wish list included larger stores with a more extensive product selection-things they were finding at competitive locations. In 2001, when presented with the opportunity to relocate and double the size of one of PCC's most successful neighborhood locations, the co-op took the challenge and worked to develop a viable lease in a desirable new construction project.
Two years later, on June 18, 2003, the doors opened for PCC's new urban flagship store-located two blocks west of its original location in Seattle's eclectic Fremont neighborhood. The 20,500 square foot store is the anchor retail tenant in a new five-story, mixed-use building that includes a 128-unit apartment complex above the store and a 96-space underground parking garage dedicated to retail tenants-predominantly PCC.
"PCC has been in the Fremont neighborhood since 1994," said Tracy Wolpert, PCC's chief executive officer. "We love the neighborhood, and our new location is a major upgrade of our old space. The new store offers customers all the choices in natural and organic foods they have come to expect from PCC, as well as a much needed expanded underground parking lot to make shopping more convenient."
PCC's store development team worked closely with local architects and designers to present a store with a personality that would resonate with the local community. The team also worked with basic, elemental symbols of nature to convey PCC's connection to the environment.
"The colorful graphic elements of our new store definitely reflect the vibrant, artistic spirit of the Fremont community," said Lori Ross, PCC's director of store development. The store's interior paints were inspired by natural colors and include shades of terra-cotta, eggplant, basil, mango, cream, and tomato. Lighting sconces and wrought iron railings feature organic patterns drawn from PCC's newly redesigned leaf logo.
Tasteful touches also make the store easier-and more fun-to shop. A distinct identity system with artfully designed signage was created for each department. Aluminum grain scoops and four custom-made oversized mason jars containing the letters B-U-L-K direct shoppers to nuts, grains, organic olive oils, and fresh-pressed nut butters. Stylized metal cutouts of cows, fish, and chickens hang over the meat counters. A wall-mounted collection of wooden eggs welcome shoppers to the dairy department. And a mobile of brightly painted leaves flutters over the store's expanded produce area.
Customers who shop PCC's new store have come to expect naturally delicious, environmentally friendly groceries. But what they might not notice-behind the scenes-is a store that is as eco-friendly as the products it carries.
"PCC's new store contains the most innovative eco-friendly features found in any Seattle grocery store," said the store's architect, George Ostrow, of local firm VELOCIPEDE. "From the solar panels and recycled straw cabinets to the linoleum floors in the bathroom and the filtered fresh air, customers enjoy a total eco-design experience."
The store's lighting scheme provides full spectrum, specialty illumination at 2.48 watts per square foot-17 percent below the Seattle energy code. A combination of photocells, occupancy sensors, and timers turn off lights when they are not needed.
The store's mechanical systems are fully integrated by a common hydronic loop. Waste heat from the refrigeration compressors preheats the hot water used for cooking and washing, and also provides the heat that keeps the building interior warm. Any excess heat is rejected by a cooling tower, which cools by evaporation-like a natural waterfall. Special solar-reflective glass on the south and west reduce by 50% unwanted solar heat gain that could wilt lettuce and burden the air conditioning system.
The building also features outdoor seating on a south-facing patio. Besides serving as a popular lunch spot, the rain canopy is comprised of photovoltaic panels that generate electricity from the sun. They are the first use of PV on a commercial business in Seattle.
Connected to the community
In a city dotted with diverse communities, PCC strives to be a good neighbor and maintain connections with each store's local community. Opening the new store gave PCC the opportunity to strengthen the bond it shares with the Fremont neighborhood.
On the Fremont store's opening weekend, PCC raised nearly $3,000 to benefit a community food bank program. The store also has partnered with a neighborhood bakery-Essential Baking Company-to bake its bread in-store with newly installed ovens. PCC continues to sponsor major Fremont neighborhood celebrations, including a summer Solstice celebration and Oktoberfest, which draw revelers from all over the Seattle area. And, through the store's Community Connections program, PCC members receive discounts at more than 300 neighborhood businesses.
"Fremont may be growing by leaps and bounds, but there is still a strong sense of community in the neighborhood," said Diana Crane, PCC's community relations manager. "Over the years, PCC has developed a close relationship with the neighborhood. We're grateful that our new store gives us the opportunity to do even more to support the community and our customers."
Brian Schaeperkoetter is a staff writer for Seattle-based PCC Natural Markets (firstname.lastname@example.org).