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The new WinCo Foods store isn't open yet but is receiving a lot of attention on Monday as people drive and walk up to the entrance to shop only to be turned away at the door by employees.

WENATCHEE — Time to sharpen those grocery-bagging skills.

WinCo Foods will open at 9 a.m. Feb. 1 in the 84,000-square-foot former Shopko building at 1340 N. Wenatchee Ave., at the north end of the Valley North Shopping Center.

The new store brings with it jobs for 150 to 180 full- and part-time employees, along with customer access to what the company calls “Low Prices — Every Aisle, Every Department, Every Day.” Operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the store features a full produce section along with deli, bakery, meat and bulk foods departments, according to a news release from the employee-owned Boise-based company.

“Wenatchee and the surrounding area have asked for a WinCo Foods for a long time and we can’t wait to start serving the good people who live there,” company spokesperson Noah Fleisher said.

The store will comply with COVID-19 precautions, including social distancing, mask-wearing and hygiene protocols, Fleisher said.

As at WinCo’s 129 other locations, customers in Wenatchee will have to bag their groceries, “though we certainly help folks who may need help,” Fleisher said.

It’s part of the company’s cost-saving strategy. The store also does not accept credit cards, but does take cash, checks, debit, WIC and EBT cards.

“We do not accept credit cards, because that is an expense we would have to pass on to our customers in some way. We do not want to do that,” Fleisher said.

The transformation project

Wenatchee WinCo’s construction and remodel project, estimated on city building permits to cost about $6 million in labor and materials, officially got started about three months after Shopko closed here after filing for bankruptcy.

WinCo, which is leasing the Wenatchee property from Kellogg Shopco Properties, has adapted several former Shopko stores for its own use, including locations in Eugene and Bend, Oregon, and Missoula, Montana.

Store representatives met Wenatchee city officials for a pre-application meeting in August 2019. The building permit application was submitted in November.

The preliminary review determined the new store has plenty of parking, with 400 spaces on the total 7-acre parcel. Traffic and access, though, required a closer look, with concerns focused on Maple Street, which is also the access point to the busy U.S. post office, and the already congested intersection at Maple Street and North Wenatchee Avenue.

As part of the permitting process, WinCo dedicated right of way on the northeast corner of the property for future widening of Maple Street’s eastbound right-turn lane and made traffic signal upgrades and modifications.

“Basically, they added a green turn arrow for a protected eastbound left turn off Maple so people don’t have to worry about the cars across the street,” City Engineer Gary Owen said of the signal modifications. The light timing also was adjusted to accommodate traffic models that show twice as many trips are expected for WinCo compared to what had been made to ShopKo when it was open.

“WinCo does generate more traffic than Shopko. They did what they needed to do to our satisfaction to keep things moving there,” he said. “People will notice more turning traffic than there was before. There’s no getting around that. But we got some things done that should keep it from backing up to the entrance of the post office. That is the key. And we want to keep traffic flowing on the avenue, with not so much time on side streets getting on and off.”

One of the challenges of conducting a traffic study in 2020 was getting comparable traffic counts.

“Volumes are definitely down because of the pandemic,” Owen said. “We are seeing that. There’s not near the congestion and problems we had prior to the pandemic. But they will come back,” he said.

The intersection improvements, which were completed in December, are based on the return-to-normal traffic flows, he said.

“This will keep (the intersection) going for a while,” he said. “And the additional right of way will make it easier to go after grants to help pay for widening the turn lane, which will take more pressure off the intersection.”

The company also reworked the property’s Maple Street entrances, eliminating the right-turn-only exit from the parking lot onto Maple, while leaving the two entrances (toward Princeton) in place, one accessing the back of the store that will be used for truck deliveries and the other near the front of the store to access the parking lot. The right-in, right-out entrance off North Wenatchee Avenue remains, and the property also can be accessed from the other part of the Valley North Shopping Center, near RiteAid and Red Robin.

The traffic signal upgrades complement future traffic improvements for North Wenatchee Avenue that are currently in planning and being completed as funding becomes available, Owen said.

“The new signal controller — the electronic brain — can handle future upgrades planned to all the signals up and down the avenue,” he said.

The city plans to install a signal at the McKittrick intersection with Wenatchee Avenue this summer and the state Department of Transportation is working on an $18 million project to improve the Maiden Lane/Duncan Road area. That project is in the early stages with right-of-way work and is expected to be completed in 2024, he said.

Nevonne McDaniels: 664-7151