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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

South Hill, Spokane Valley to lose Safeway grocery stores amid merger

The Safeway store is shown at Francis Avenue at Monroe Street on Mar. 25, 2020. A merger plan by Kroger and Albertsons stores lists the Safeways on Spokane’s South Hill and one in Spokane Valley as stores that will be sold.  (By Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane’s South Hill and Spokane Valley would each lose a Safeway store under a plan showing locations that would sell to a new owner as part of a massive merger proposed by Albertsons and Kroger.

The merger was first announced in 2022 by the major grocery store chains as part of a stated plan to get bigger to compete with retail giants like Amazon and Walmart.

The merger spawned lawsuits from the attorneys general of Washington and Colorado, and a federal suit was filed in Oregon by the Federal Trade Commission, which are trying to block the merger over concerns that it would reduce customer choices and bargaining positions of employees across the country.

In April, the two grocery giants announced they would sell an additional 166 stores to C&S Wholesale Grocers. That would bring the total to 579 stores the companies would shed to address concerns raised by regulators.

Up until the list was released, it was not known which store locations would be sold to C&S Wholesale Grocers, based in New Hampshire.

But the list included two Safeways in the Spokane area, the stores at 2509 E. 29th Ave. and 14020 E. Sprague Ave., as those that would be transferred.

The list also includes scores of stores on the state’s West Side. Other than the two Spokane-locations, the closest other store on the list was a Safeway in Yakima. Fred Meyer is owned by Kroger, but none of the three-area stores are named on the divestiture list.

Those stores targeted for sale include 10 store locations in Idaho, but none are located in the Coeur d’Alene area.

Many of the employees of those stores are members of the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union, or UCFW 3000. It covers workers who live in a geographical region that includes all of Washington east of the Cascades, northeast Oregon and North Idaho.

Tom Geiger, the special projects director for UCFW 3000, said he and other union officials learned of the list Tuesday .

“We had been asking for that list for a long long time,” Geiger said. “We are trying to reassure our members and the public that this doesn’t really change anything. The merger is still being challenged. Those cases are moving forward. It will play out in the court.”

Earlier this year, Geiger said the union fears that the merger would be a repeat of the debacle from Seattle a decade ago when the Albertsons merger with Safeway led to selling dozens of locations to local grocer Haggen.

It prompted a $1 billion lawsuit in 2015 by Haggen, which argued that the grocery giant hoodwinked the smaller chain into buying stores and then sabotaged Haggen’s entry into the new markets.

Geiger fears a similar ending with the deal for C&S Wholesale, based in New Hampshire.

“They are looking to increase, more than 25-fold, the number of stores they would run,” Geiger said in May. “That’s just not feasible. It would be the Haggen experience on steroids.”

Kroger officials have said the merger would not result in any store closures. But Geiger, whose union has joined more than 100 other organizations who are against the merger, said Kroger loses the ability to keep a store open as soon as it sells it.

He noted that UCFW 3000 officials met in February with leaders from C&S Wholesale.

“The bottom line was they do not commit” to not closing stores, Geiger said. “We are not surprised.”

Geiger was part of a coalition of United Food & Commercial Workers local unions that joined in a statement Tuesday after Kroger and Albertsons released to the public a specific list of stores the companies would plan to divest.

“We remain focused on stopping the proposed mega-merger for the same reasons we have stated since it was first announced over 20 months ago – because we know it would harm workers, it would harm shoppers, it would harm suppliers and communities, and it is illegal,” the statement reads in part.