Olson’s supermarket in Lynnwood will close

By Mike Benbow and Mark Mulligan Herald Writers

LYNNWOOD — The last remnant of a once-major chain of family-owned supermarkets in Snohomish County will close its doors soon, the victim of cost-conscious consumerism heightened by the recession.

Olson’s Food Emporium, at 13619 Mukilteo Speedway in Lynnwood just outside the city of Mukilteo, is holding a 25 percent off sale and will close its doors in mid-November, maybe sooner if all its merchandise is sold.

“We’ve been operating here since 1993, but with the economy and the competition, it’s not making any sense to continue,” said Jim Baugher, the store director. “I think that customers value price more than they value service at this point.”

The store is known for its huge selection of wines, a good selection of British food items such as steak and kidney pie, and a giant number of other specialty foods. It was one of the first supermarkets to open its own sushi bar and to have its own Starbucks outlet.

“Our specialty food selection is unsurpassed,” Baugher said. “Nobody in the state has more.”

The store focused on exceptional service and a large selection of quality items, but it also tried to hold the line on prices, he noted.

It wasn’t enough.

“The way people are spending their discretionary money has changed,” he said. “They’re holding onto it.”

It also didn’t help the business that its location at the junction of Mukilteo Speedway and Highway 99 was changed when the roadway was realigned in 2003. An overpass was created, leaving the market on a surface road off to the side of the busy intersection.

“It altered our location,” he said.

The emporium was the last store owned by the Olson family, once the county’s fourth-largest employer. Patriarch Morrie Olson sold 12 of his Olson’s Food Stores locations to QFC in 1995 in a $39 million deal.

Olson joined the QFC board of directors in the deal, which didn’t include the emporium and a few other markets. QFC was later bought by Fred Meyer, which was then purchased by Kroger, the nation’s largest supermarket chain.

Baugher, who has worked at the Lynnwood location since 1995, said it’s a sad time.

“It’s sad for the business and certainly for all the associates who worked so hard and for the loyal customer base,” he said. “It’s been a challenge.”

The closure means about 75 workers will lose their jobs.

Baugher said he wanted to thank the community for all its years of support.

“For many customers this was the place they shopped and the only place they wanted to shop,” he said.

Sandy Lehman of Edmonds said Friday afternoon that she was one of those types of customers.

“There’s nobody like these people,” she said. “They’re like family. It chokes me up.”

Lehman said she has been coming to the Food Emporium since it opened.

“In the end, he didn’t pick the best property,” she said of the location. “I’ll have to find another store. I pretty much did all of my shopping here.”