Saturday, December 20, 2008


Across the parking lot from my store sits a large empty building. It used to house a Big Kmart. When that company went bankrupt in 2002, the Bellevue store was one of the ones that they shuttered. It's a very large building and it's been empty for so long that people, including myself, seem to remember it being closed for longer than it has. It's an eyesore that has served no purpose other than as a parking lot for a local car dealership and an icon for directions. "We're in the shopping center where the old Kmart used to be."

Costco has flirted with that location. In 2003 they announced plans to put a gourmet food shop there. It was supposed to be a trial store where they'd give food items a go as a tester for the regular stores. Plans for that fell through the same year as a local neighborhood association disapproved of the traffic and noise that the store might generate. A great deal of consternation followed as many people in that area could use the jobs and many others were happy with the idea of a Costco food shop in their back yard. The neighborhood association is chaired by some powerful residents, however, who are generally opposed to change.

Costco again flirted with the idea of a store there in 2007. They contacted Bellevue city officials. There was a new sticking point - there's a creek the runs under the parking lot that the city said needed to be restored. Costco balked at paying for the restoration and did it's own study. The Costco study found that the creek did badly need some restoration and, after several months of negotiation they announced that they had come to an agreement with the city. In November 2007 a news release stated that Costco planned on beginning a new building the following year and that they would pay for the restoration. City officials were delighted.

In September 2008 the whole deal fell through. Officially, it was the economy that did it in and there's some truth to that. Other rumors fly, though. I've heard from people associated with Costco that the city of Bellevue wasn't forthcoming with permits. Then there was word from city workers that Costco balked at the city's plan for restoration and parking. Finally came the rumor from several who said that they were "in the know" that the neighborhood association was behind the city's stalling and that they were pulling the strings. I've met one of those folks from the neighborhood association and he was gleeful that the deal was sunk.

Whatever the reason, the building sits empty. It's still an icon and a 120,000 square foot eyesore. It's also the cause of much speculation and conversation such as the one I had this week with a gentleman who shopped my store. He was an older fellow in his early 70s. He wasn't a regular customer of mine. In fact, he normally shopped the Kirkland store, but he found himself in my neighborhood and decided to stop by and get his holiday shopping done early. He was a pleasant man, unpretentious, but with the casual air of wealth. We exchanged good conversation before he asked the inevitable question:

"What are they ever going to do with that old Kmart building over there? Heard anything about it?"

"Well, there was some discussion of putting a brothel in there." I was, of course, teasing him. I was in a good mood and having a good time and decided to try some mischief.

Much to my surprise, he didn't bat an eye at my comment. In fact, he looked like he was seriously considering my words when he replied, "It's too big for that."

Further amused, I quickly followed up with "The Olympics are coming in 2010."

Not to be outdone, he said, "The state could use the revenue these days."

And I ended it with, "That's just one of the many ways to fill that $5 billion hole."

By this point my assistant manager who had been listening to the exchange was laughing very hard. The customer and I stared at each other with smirks on our faces and twinkles in our eyes. "Good talking with you, Richard. I'll be back" he said and he patted me on the shoulder on his way out.

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