Game over

  • Brooke Fisher<br>Enterprise editor
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 6:41am

SHORELINE — The impact of Seattle’s Finest Exotic Meats and Cold Storage closing is not encompassed in the words on the outside reader board that bid farewell, nor the lack of words on the blank menu board inside.

The loss is felt by visually eying the near-empty freezers.

Waist-high white coolers line the front room, with labels of 35 different types of farm-raised exotic meats. The words are perhaps more fitting at a zoo than a retail store, with names like ostrich, alligator, rattlesnake, kangaroo, elk, llama, turtle, caribou (reindeer) and many others.

In the back of the store is a cold storage locker area, one of few that remain, said owner Russ McCurdy. Although McCurdy will be relocating the exotic meats business, the cold storage will be lost.

“These do not exist anywhere from Eureka, Calif. to the Canadian border,” said McCurdy about the cold storage lockers.

Located in the 17500 block of Aurora Avenue N., the store is closing due to the upcoming Aurora Corridor Project. McCurdy’s store and three others north of 175th Street will be demolished to make way for a Walgreens Drug Store. With the exception of Key Bank, properties include Dance Workshop, Second Hand Store, Gold &Diamond and Seattle’s Finest Exotic Meats, which is two parcels.

McCurdy said this group of owners sold out because they were told that as much as 25 feet would eventually be taken as right-of-way by the city as part of the Aurora Avenue redesign.

The building, which was erected in 1937, is unique in that it is both a retail exotic meat store and cold storage facility, where McCurdy, restaurant owners and hunters store their surplus meat. Although McCurdy will relocate the store to Bellevue, the cold storage business will be closing, as it requires two types of zoning, one in light industrial and one in retail.

“We are able to compete with the big boys, we could do everything right here,” McCurdy said about the dual businesses. “In terms of competition, there are not a lot of competitors.”

Although the owners initially expected to be moved by July, delays permitted them to remain until March. The delay was due to the developer waiting for the red brick road, Ronald Place, to be vacated by Seattle City Light, which along with the property owner, owns 50 percent of the road. Morris said that only a portion of the red brick road, 423 feet, will be redeveloped.

“No part of the buildings will be preserved,” Morris said. “The bricks will be saved and donated to the city.”

McCurdy bought the store in 1992 from Howard Chischester, of Lynnwood, when it was a meat retail store and cold locker storage facility. At the time, McCurdy decided to specialize in exotic meats and the store was initially called New Zealand’s Finest.

The most popular meats McCurdy sells are buffalo and venison, he said, and the two most increasing in demand are kangaroo and alligator. McCurdy also carries whole animals, such as lambs, pigs and goats, which people buy to roast at large celebrations.

“People can’t believe it is so tender and processed with skill,” McCurdy said. “It is not killed out in the wild by hunters.”

The original owners of the store were Bill and Yvonne Brayton, now of Camano Island, who owned the store for 25 years before retiring. They sold the store to Chischester, who owned the store before McCurdy.

Bill Brayton and his father, Ray Brayton, built the store in 1937. Ray Brayton and his wife, Doris, lived briefly above the store, from 1937 until 1946, before Bill Brayton returned from WWII and moved in with his own family. Bill Brayton’s family lived above the cold storage business, in a three-bedroom apartment that is still visible today from Aurora Avenue N. In the tight quarters, they reared a family of two girls and one boy.

“It’s a shock that it is going to be gone,” Yvonne Brayton said. “We’ve got a lot of happy memories of our children growing up.”

Under the ownership of the Brayton family, the facility was operated primarily as a meat locker and meat market. Bill Brayton would prepare wild meat, such as deer and moose, that hunters would bring back from hunting excursions, and then store the meat in the cold lockers.

“They would bring their wild meat to us,” Yvonne Brayton said. “We would skin it, cut it up, however they wanted it; to their liking.”

The cold storage facility had 750 lockers, and Yvonne Brayton said customers would store both meat and vegetables in the lockers. Each customer had their own key and came and went as they pleased. The next closest cold locker at the time was in Lake City, she said. Yvonne Brayton said the exterior of the store has not changed much over the years, other than new siding and windows.

McCurdy said he will miss the Shoreline location. Without the cold storage lockers handy, his staff must create inventory control. Since he is leasing property in Bellevue, McCurdy said he will eventually consider moving his business back to the area.

“Hopefully when they are done improving Aurora, we will be back,” McCurdy said.