Economy forces Renton IGA closure
April 30, 2009
By Jim Feehan
The Renton IGA Foods grocery store shut its doors last month, the victim of the now two-year-old recession.
Owner John Lowney said that beginning in mid-January the store had sales drop by 15 percent, and they never recovered.“In this business, that’s insurmountable,” he said. “The economy drove this store into the red.”
Five full- and part-time workers will be affected by the closure of the store on Southeast 128th Street at 164th Avenue Southeast, a staple in the Liberty High School community.
Lowney bought the store in 2000, when it was named Briarwood Market. Two years later, he changed the name to Renton IGA Foods. At its peak, the store employed 26 full- and part-time employees, he said.
In an era of big chain grocery stores, warehouse markets and mass merchandisers, such as Wal-Mart and Target, selling food, Renton IGA Foods was truly a mom-and-pop store. Lowney and his wife, Pam, would each put in 10-hour days, seven days a week.
“The moment he left the house for the store, I couldn’t wait to get there to see him,” Pam Lowney said.
When they weren’t working at the store, they’d exercise together at a nearby gym.
Lowney said he first noticed business begin to slide in September and he started to downsize his workforce.
Lowney, 56, has been in the grocery business for 40 years. He began as a box boy at a grocery store in Lakewood. He met Pam at a grocery store where they both worked.
The couple has been active in Liberty High School athletics. Last fall, they sponsored a hamburger stand at Liberty Stadium with the proceeds benefiting the school’s athletic department.
“We helped a lot of Liberty kids by providing them their first jobs,” Pam Lowney said. “That’s something I’m really going to miss. We’ve watched a lot of those kids grow up over the years.”
The closure has been tough on customers, too.
“Oftentimes, we don’t appreciate the glow which local businesses bring to a neighborhood until their store light is dimmed,” said Imelda Dulcich, of Newcastle, who has two children attending Liberty.
The Lowneys are good members of the community, generous with their time and donations, Dulcich said.
“Pam and John Lowney were great supporter of our schools,” she said. “They were particularly helpful to the Liberty football program, offering hamburgers, hotdogs and the works to the football survival program, as well as many of the fundraising tailgaters.”
The survival program marks the completion of summer football practices at Liberty. The store’s deli was also a popular spot for Liberty students.
John Ulness, who lives across the street from the store, said he was saddened to hear of the closure.
“The store was convenient and the staff was always friendly,” he said.
The nearest grocery store is a little more than a mile west, in Renton.
The IGA joins a list of several Eastside grocers who have closed in the past year. Thriftway and Greenfresh Market in Renton have closed. Also gone are QFC in Fairwood, Red Apple Market in Newport Hills and the Albertsons in Issaquah.
John Lowney said he’d stay in the profession.
“I’ll take a few months off, but I’ll end up in the grocery business,” he said. “This is something I’ve done for 40 years.”