Of Course We Found This in Seattle!
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A special “thank you” to Erin and Jeff McNeil, owners of this Grocery Outlet location, for helping UndiscoveredWanderings with this article. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and are pleased to share our experience with our readership.
When was the last time you thought of a grocery store as a tourist destination? When was the last time you were in Seattle? If there’s any city in America with offbeat grocery stores, why wouldn’t it be here? We were encouraged to visit this particular store by our Airbnb hosts during our visit last year. “It’s a grocery store with lots of cool iconic stuff in it”, we were told.
Our curiosity drew us to the road…
And so we ventured to Grocery Outlet—specifically, the Grocery Outlet of Skyway, Washington, just outside Seattle. It’s one of two stores independently owned and operated by Erin and Jeff McNeil. The McNeils, who’ve been in the grocery business for most of their lives, had a goal: to make their stores not only a place to shop, but also a destination. See why they got UndiscoveredWanderings’s attention? But how does one make a grocery store, of all things, stand out when there’s so many in every neighborhood?
One Word: Retro
It started years ago, when the building located at 68th Avenue South was just another neighborhood grocery store under a different name and ownership. Skyway was a bustling hub, a haven for musicians–including a young, up-and-coming Ray Charles—and intellectuals alike. It had the Route 66 vibe back then, Erin explained to us. The store eventually closed down and the building sat abandoned for a number of years.
But in 2013, the McNeils opened up this, their second store, under the Grocery Outlet chain. Yet they wanted more than just a place to buy groceries. They wanted a place, Erin recounted, that would be talked about and make the community proud. It was their goal to attract shoppers from throughout the Seattle area. With the neighborhood’s rich history in mind, they stuck to Skyway’s retro roots. It’s been a labor of love ever since…and it’s paying off.
The McNeils put as many retro-themed items in their store as possible. They sourced from places in Washington, Oregon, and even Canada to acquire the most offbeat and nostalgic items, including a life size Clark Kent in a phone booth, readying his Superman costume. There’s plenty of local history here, too, like old lockers from the local fire department (see gallery below). All of these items adorn shelves, floor space, and ceiling tiles as you casually make your way through the isles. The aura of the store definitely channels that back-in-time Route 66 feeling.
By the way, Erin and Jeff sourced all of these items within three months prior to Grocery Outlet–Skyway’s grand opening. Not bad. And their primary means for finding all this cool stuff? Craigslist.
Four years later, the McNeils are pleased with the store’s progress; Erin described things as being in a “good rhythm”. Not only has the community flocked to Skyway’s Grocery Outlet, their clientele continues to expand to include regular shoppers from all over the Seattle area. And of course, there’s the out-of-town visitors like us.
This is truly an Undiscovered Wandering, a title we reserve for the most offbeat places we visit. Oh–we mentioned that this place is one of two stores. Yup, there’s another one out there, which was built into an old bowling alley. Read about it here.
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