Celebrating 30 years of the fun, funky Fremont PCC

Historic Fremont PCC store front

It was funky Fremont. The Center of the Universe. And in 1994, it was the site of PCC’s most forward-looking store.

As the Fremont store celebrates its 30th anniversary, the neighborhood has dramatically changed — as has PCC. That first Fremont store was an L-shaped building across the street from the current location; it moved to the larger new building nine years later.

“The thing I remember the most is how exciting it was that it was our “flagship store”… we did a lot of really different things,” said Justine Johnson, senior director of merchandising at PCC, who was assistant store director when Fremont first opened.

The 1994 building featured a kiosk for fresh-squeezed juices, which was considered a fancy upgrade from the hard-to-clean “citrus squeezers” in older stores where people would place a jug underneath a spigot. It had a fresh meat department, at a time when selling meat was still controversial for the co-op. Opening store director Raymond Glandon was a wine connoisseur, in the days before there was a co-op-wide wine specialist, and the store had an unusually good selection.

A Seattle Times article called the newcomer “the prototype store, on which all former and future PCCs will be modeled,” noting the “undeniably trendy” kiosk that would (gasp!) substitute soy milk on request in espresso drinks.

It was the first PCC store designed around a “town square” at the center — the produce department — with other departments around the perimeter and in alcoves, said Lori Ross, PCC’s director of store design. (The original Fremont was designed with NBBJ Architects. Ross noted it was the first time PCC worked with eco-architect George Ostrow, later of Velocipede, a longstanding collaborator.)

The night before the store opened, Ross recalled, “our architects dressed up the people at the Waiting for the Interurban with PCC shopping bags and clothes.”

Fremont was hipper back then than other PCC neighborhoods, but not the nerve center it is now. It was  mid-transformation from industrial area to quirky artist mecca to tech hub.

“None of this was here,” said current store director Steve Mitchell, a North Seattle native who also worked at the original store, referring to the surrounding mixed-use buildings and high-tech headquarters.

At the original store, “all the warehouses were still down on the water,” Mitchell recalled. “We could actually hear the bell when they were trying to open up the bridge, there was nothing in the way.”

Adobe, now a global software company, opened its Fremont campus in 1998, headlining a project that The Seattle Times said “Lenin might call an outsized ode to capitalism,” and other companies followed.

Fremont is different now, thanks to such developments, but still distinctive, Mitchell said — a fun, involved and walkable neighborhood where it’s easy to head to the water and watch boats going by. A summer fair and Solstice Parade and a fall Oktoberfest fill the streets. The business community has possibly “the, busiest, most active Chamber in the city.”

Inside the old Fremont PCC

The original store opened three days before Christmas in 1994, Mitchell said. “It was a big deal” for the neighborhood. (Staff had to take the grueling year-end inventory just a week later, in the days when that required pencil and paper.)

It didn’t take long to realize the 13,000 square foot store was too small for community demand – especially the parking lot, which required parking attendants and courtesy clerks to control. “There would be lines down 34th Street and in the alley to the parking lot,” Johnson recalled.

In June 2003, the co-op moved into its current location, with Glandon pushing racks of shopping carts literally across the street to their new corral.  Once again, the store was considered ahead of its time, an “eco-friendly” installation that could serve as a model for others, with nearly twice the space and four times the parking of the old building. It was a New Fremont development, anchoring a five-story mixed-use building that featured 128 apartments on top and an underground garage.

The Madison Park Times noted its solar panels, a first for a Seattle business, while also praising recycled construction materials and “custom cabinets made of straw-board, counter-tops manufactured using recycled paper and linked heating and refrigeration systems.” The aisles regularly smelled of fresh bread; The Essential Baking Company brought in par-baked loaves each day for PCC to finish off in its ovens.

Leaves were an integral part of the environmental graphics, Ross said, and are still visible throughout the store in places like light sconces and stair railings. Local designers and artists were integral to the store: Paula Rees of Maestri and Bruce Hale of Bruce Hale Design designed the graphics; Jill Smith fabricated “amazing leaf mobiles” and Morgan Brig provided enamel and metal leaves that were showcased in the checkout area.

Architect Ostrow told Co-op Grocer magazine in 2004 that the new PCC had ‘the most innovative, eco-friendly features” of any Seattle grocery store. And, the magazine noted, the store was a direct result of members telling PCC they wanted larger stores that offered more products.

Mitchell said the store was “busy into the night,” with people out shopping after visiting bars and restaurants. Reflecting the neighborhood, the clientele still leans toward singles and students and couples, and workers seeking out lunch.

Possibly also unchanged is the neighborhood newspaper’s 2003 assessment. It predicted PCC would be “Fremont’s tastiest shopping experience.”

Fremont store front

Celebrate with Fremont PCC

The Fremont PCC will celebrate its 30th anniversary year from noon to 6 p.m. on June 15 at the store, 600 N. 34th St. Visit to share memories, enjoy samples and meet community partners.

Green Lake Village

Greenlake Village PCC marks 10th anniversary

It’s been a full decade since the Greenlake Village PCC opened its doors. The 27,000-square-foot store was the anchor tenant in the development on the former Vitamilk dairy that had operated on the site for more than 60 years.

Join in a celebration from noon to 6 p.m. June 8 at the store, 450 NE 71st St., featuring cake, music, chances to meet community partners and more.

Also in this issue

Get iconic recipes from PCC’s deli

There are stories behind some of your favorite PCC deli recipes – and you can make them at home.

Unmasking Food Industry “Barons”

From berries to coffee, a new book shows how a handful of corporations control a shocking percentage of the U.S. food supply.

Orca Rescue: Uniting for Conservation and Change

The iconic orcas of our region, the Southern Resident Killer Whales, are in real danger. Learn how the Center for Whale Research works to study and save them – and how to help.