Plans for mini mart stir objections

It would be fourth on stretch of St. Johns Road

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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Handy Andy's biggest business is the standard fare for those on the go: snacks, beer, cigarettes. It's also what two other nearby stores — Oscar's Market and a Chevron mini mart — offer as their bread and butter.

That's why the stores' local owners — and many residents — in the St. Johns and West Minnehaha neighborhoods were confused when they heard about plans for a fourth convenience store in a short walking distance: A 7-Eleven where the now-vacant First Independent Bank stands on Northeast St. Johns Road.

West Minnehaha Neighborhood Association Director Greg Warner said he was baffled to see plans for another convenience store, when the road is crying out for a full-service grocery store.

"Just within a few blocks, you've got three" convenience stores, Warner said. "I really worry about the idea of having these deserts

photoHandy Andy is one of several locally owned convenience stores that drew up petitions against a new 7-Eleven planned for St. Johns Road. Owner Harry Singh and other neighborhood residents say that the area already has enough quick-stop shopping options and worry the national chain will hurt local businesses.

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where all we can get is fast foods from a mini mart."

Warner joined other area residents in signing a petition — the city got one with 247 signatures — and writing letters to land use and elected officials rallying for them to stop the development.

Neighbors worry about local businesses losing money, of increased crime and of more vehicle traffic.

It echoes struggles in North Portland against planned new developments of 7-Elevens there as well: The ubiquitous company aims to open 15 new stores in the Portland metro area.

Vancouver-based MAJ Development is handling all 15 sites for 7-Eleven. President Mike Jenkins said last week that the company has a good-neighbor policy and will work to make its 24-hour/seven-day-a-week businesses an asset to the community.

At any rate, the arrival of a Slurpee machine on that stretch of St. Johns seems inevitable: The 7-Eleven is an outright permitted use for the former bank location, city Land Use Manager Chad Eiken said. Vancouver legally cannot stop a business allowed under zoning codes from coming in just because it is a national chain, or for any other reason.

"We can't pick and choose which businesses we want there," Eiken said.

Handy Andy owner Harry Singh, who owns three stores locally, said his store and the 7-Eleven will be back to back. His business, along with Oscar's, stocks fresh produce as part of the pilot Clark County Healthy Neighborhood Store program.

He said he wishes there were more the city could do. A supermarket or a credit union of some type is what the neighborhood really needs, Singh argued.

"Why is the city letting it happen when the whole community is against it?" Singh questioned. "A regular person would never think of putting a store right in the middle of three existing businesses."

The new store will simply cut into the other stores' business, he noted. "Where are they going to be making extra sales tax from? That sales tax is going to come from my store or the other stores."

'It's much different'

City Councilor Bart Hansen, who also lives in the West Minnehaha neighborhood, said he understood the city's hands are tied, but also said he'd like to see some protections, such as having the nearby crosswalk improved.

Eiken, the land use manager, said the city is still reviewing the application, and that it may require MAJ Development to make some of those changes.

For his part, Jenkins said that his company has helped develop some 40 7-Elevens in the Portland market. Very few see major protests, and those that do are quelled after the store goes in.

He said he knows 7-Eleven used to have a bad rap, but that's not the case anymore. The good-neighbor plan addresses loitering and security, and bright LED lighting and other steps are taken.

"The public just hasn't had an understanding of 7-Eleven in today's day and age," Jenkins said. "There's the stigma of the old 7-Eleven, which I understand, but if you take a look at it now, it's much different."

He added that the new store will have a local franchisee and add 10 jobs. Stores also bring in fresh foods and discard or donate them if unsold in 24 hours.

Warner, the West Minnehaha neighborhood association director, said he's resigned himself to the arrival of another mini mart.

But, he said he plans to work with his association in the near future to perhaps create a zone change or find another manner to keep more from arriving, and to encourage the kind of development residents want.

"It looks like there's nothing we can do about this," Warner said. "But in the long term, we're looking at it as a zoning issue."

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542; http://www.twitter.com/col_cityhall;andrea.damewood@columbian.com.