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Front Porch: Mourning the loss of a neighbor

It’s like a death, really.

The news that the north Spokane Fred Meyer store was closing stunned me. For more than 20 years I’ve weekly walked the store’s aisles. I’m confident I could find my way around it blindfolded.

I know the cashiers, and they know me. They’ve watched my grocery store purchases evolve from diapers and baby food to cartloads of meat and potatoes.

The tellers at the Chase Bank branch call me by name when I enter. My banking habits are so familiar to them, I’m in and out within minutes.

The store’s location made it a landmark for our growing boys. When each son reached the age of 10, he was allowed to walk unaccompanied the few blocks from our house to Fred Meyer, provided he stopped in at Grandma’s house along the way. It was an eagerly anticipated coming-of-age ritual. Plus it was so handy to be able to send a boy to the store for a missing dinner ingredient.

When I read Fred Meyer would close after failing to negotiate a new lease with the landlord, I plunged into the first of the five stages of grief – denial. I simply refused to acknowledge that my neighborhood grocery store shopping days were limited.

My husband broached the subject, “Well, I guess we could drive down to the Wandermere store.” I ignored him. “Albertsons is nearby,” he continued.

I glared him into silence.

As the weeks passed and shelves began to empty, I progressed to the second stage of grief – anger. Why on earth couldn’t the store reach an agreement with SMS Associates? Why wouldn’t the landlord sell the site to the store?

While finding a new grocery store is merely inconvenience for me, for many low-income and disabled residents in the area, Fred Meyer is the only store within easy walking distance of their homes.

Then I reached the bargaining stage of grief. Maybe we could start a petition and beg the landlord to reconsider? Perhaps Fred Meyer could relocate to the former Lowe’s site?

But as the weeks passed entire sections of the store began to empty. Depression set in as familiar faces disappeared. The vacant Playland especially saddened me. When my boys were little they looked forward to their weekly visits to Playland. While I shopped in peace, they colored pictures and happily played under the watchful eye of “the Fred Meyer lady.”

Last Saturday, I took one last walk through the mainly empty aisles. The store will be shuttered for good on Saturday. A stranger approached as I took a picture of the cavernous space. “Isn’t this sad?” she said. “I’ve shopped here for 30 years.”

As we commiserated another lady joined us. “I used to work here,” she said. “This was a fun place to work.”

With a collective sigh we moved on, the squeaky wheels on our shopping carts echoing in the emptiness. Scrounging among the bare shelves I bought a few things. My favorite cashier has already been transferred.

It’s a change – not the end of the world. I’ll learn to navigate the aisles of the Fred Meyer at Wandermere, and hopefully I’ll see some familiar faces.

But vacant buildings are a blot on the landscape. Neighborhoods suffer when busy hubs like this move out.

I don’t look forward to driving past the shuttered store every day. The empty parking lot reminds me of what used to be. And I wonder if I should leave flowers at the door.

Contact Cindy Hval at Her previous columns are available online at columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.