Yes, Walmart and Green Zebra Are Closing. No, the World Isn’t Ending.

Portland is full of former grocery stores, from Kienow’s to Piggly Wiggly to lots of extraneous Safeways. Greg Abbott can chill.

By Margaret Seiler March 15, 2023

Diet ginger ale and drink mixers were about all that was left in a beverage aisle on a recent trip to the Walmart on N Hayden Meadows Drive.

Recent news that Walmart is closing two Portland stores, and that local grocery chain Green Zebra is going out of business after 10 years, shuttering its three locations, has prompted an entertaining round of reactions. To the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, a Walmart closure is “what happens when cities refuse to enforce the rule of law.”

Market analysts interviewed by the Oregonian doubt Abbott's take is accurate, and the company itself has cited underperformance as the decision-making factor in closings its two stores in Portland city limits, on N Hayden Meadows Drive and SE 82nd Avenue, scheduled for March 24. In a message to customers about its March 31 closure (Editor's note: the last day was lated moved up to March 22), Green Zebra founder and CEO Lisa Sedlar pointed to “9 straight quarters of increases to our cost of goods, packaging, fuel, insurance, taxes, freight charges and, well, pretty much everything,” as well as “supply chain and staffing shortages and razor thin grocery margins.”

We haven’t done a thorough search, but we don’t remember Abbott making similar proclamations about other Walmarts closing this year in Florida, New Mexico, and elsewhere—or when Walmart closed roughly the same number of stores in the spring of 2019, in places including Virginia Beach, Knoxville, and the rather conservative town of Liberal, Kansas.

It’s not just Abbott. Responses to a Twitter post by writer and provocateur Andy Ngô included numerous predictions of the whole city becoming a food desert. While it’s touching that so many people are concerned with Portlanders not having to travel too far to pick up a half-gallon of oat milk or a six-pack of Old German, there are other grocery stores we can go to—Winco fans have been coming out of the woodwork to sing its praises—and turnover in the city’s grocery sector is nothing new.

There are even other Walmarts. Headlines proclaiming that the mega-retailer is closing “all” (both) its stores in a “major American city” fail to convey that more than a dozen Walmart stores remain—in Happy Valley, Troutdale, Vancouver, Beaverton, Tigard, etc.—around the roughly 10-mile–by–10-mile pentagon-shaped area that is the Portland city limits.

There aren’t more Green Zebras, but there are two Fred Meyers and a New Seasons about five minutes away from its North Portland location, plus a Grocery Outlet and a Safeway a little farther, all of which are a straight shot on TriMet’s Bus 75. That’s in addition to the Walgreens, the Scratch Meats, and the Tres Estrellas Tienda Mexicana right across the street, and the Mock Crest Grocery a few blocks away.

The North Portland Green Zebra is in a building that once housed an Asian buffet, a brewpub that never seemed to brew any beer, a Pietro’s Pizza, and a Chico’s Pizza Parlor. When Greg Abbott was born, in 1957, before its pizza era, it was a Safeway. At that time, the Walgreens across the street from it was a Kienow’s. The Goodwill a block away was a Piggly Wiggly.

The Southeast Green Zebra, at SE 50th and Division Street, is in a new four-story mixed-use building with apartments above that replaced a food cart pod. Before that, though, the lot was also home to a Safeway.

An old Safeway on Interstate is now Harbor Freight Tools. Another old Safeway on Interstate is now a New Seasons. Rerack, the Boys and Girls Club on MLK, Mud Bay and Lounge Lizard on Hawthorne, Junior Achievement’s Biztown space, and Freeland Spirits in Northwest all used to be Safeways. Pioneer Place occupies a block that was once a Fred Meyer. 

The Kienow’s on MLK is now the Garlington Center, with housing and health services. The Kienow’s on West Burnside is now a Zupan’s. The Zupan's on SE Belmont is now an H-Mart. The Zupan’s on Hayden Island opened in 2003 and closed in 2006 due to structural problems with the building. It’s still empty.

The Safeway across the street lasted longer, nearly 30 years, but closed in 2018 due to underperformance, the company stated—the same reason Walmart cites. The Safeway lot is now home to a flooring store. Since the Safeway closed, the only large store on Hayden Island has been Target, a longtime Jantzen Beach Super Center tenant that moved to a larger footprint in the shopping center in 2012.

Now Hayden Island's residents, who live mostly in condos, trailers, manufactured and floating homes, also no longer have a Walmart five minutes away, but there is a US Foods Chef'Store a stone's throw from the closing Walmart. And they have Greg Abbott looking out for them.