Matthew's Red Apple Market will begin closing down as early as next week following a decision today by QFC to push ahead with plans to take over the store's location in the Wedgwood neighborhood of Seattle.
QFC executives said they decided to go ahead with the store opening after receiving a statement from property owner Wes Williams yesterday that said whether or not QFC is "bullied" and backs out of its lease, he will not renew Red Apple's expired lease.
Williams' decision to turn over the lease to QFC drew protests from community residents upset about losing the independently owned store that has been at 8400 35th Ave. N.E. for the past 10 years.
Residents said Williams earlier told neighbors he would allow Red Apple to renew its lease if QFC would back out of the deal.
"I just thought it had gotten way out of hand," Williams said today. "I can't believe a private business transaction is being put in this public forum like this.
"I just got tired of being intimidated, harassed and threatened," he said. "I just finally came to the end of my rope and decided to take a stand."
Williams said that early on he had wanted to make a deal with Red Apple because "it's a lot easier and a lot more desirable to work with whoever's in place." But, he said, "I just didn't think that was going to happen this time and I made the offer to QFC and they accepted."
Red Apple owner Craig Mavis, reached at his home in Woodinville, declined to comment. But store manager Don Harris said Red Apple would have to start shutting down as early as next week to make a June 15th deadline to vacate.
"The customers are really upset," said Harris, who has worked at Red Apple for 10 years. "They feel very disgusted that QFC has done this. We all feel bad here at the store. It's just a sad thing."
Stacy Walker, a Wedgwood resident who was a leader in the neighborhood protests against QFC, saidresidents will "redirect our energy" and "try to find somebody to lease space to Matthew's so we can continue to have an independent grocer in Wedgwood. We will be a good neighbor to QFC. We won't shun them.
"QFC and Wes Williams have a right to do business," Walker said. "And we respect their right. If this is (Williams') choice, we will be a good neighbor and do our big shopping at Craig Mavis' new store."
But Harris said relocating the Red Apple would be a time-consuming and expensive proposition.
"There is no building in the area that would fit," Harris said. "Property in the area is pretty scarce. We're going to have to pick up everything and leave, I guess."
QFC Vice President Jeff Wood acknowledged the community's passionate support for Red Apple would make the company's job more difficult. But he said he was hopeful QFC could win over residents in the long term.
"The next step," Wood said, "is to move forward and begin planning."
Wood said that would include meeting with residents, the Wedgwood Community Council and other concerned people.
QFC President Mike Huse said QFC plans to interview Red Apple employees for possible employment at the new store.
Williams said he has been inundated with calls from Wedgwood residents.
"A majority of them have been kind and polite," he said. "But some have said such outlandish things. I just don't believe this is right. It's not the place to conduct a private business transaction."
Williams said a baseball bat was thrown through his office window a week ago along with a threatening note.
"It saddens me," Williams said of the way he's been treated. "I walk around the neighborhood and I feel like I'm less of a person now as a result of this."
Williams also may be on the verge of selling a neighborhood shopping center in Bellevue. If the Bel-East Shopping Center is sold to a buyer interested in redevelopment, the locally owned stores there may be forced to move, Williams has said.
Williams said no deal has been struck for sale of the Bellevue property. He declined to say whether QFC was interested, but said he has talked with an East Coast retailer's "preferred developer" about the center's possible sale.
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