At 10:03 a.m. Jan. 12, the West Linn Police received a call reporting graffiti at the former Haggen Food & Pharmacy store on Blankenship Road.
Even before the property was vacant, the store was a popular spot for kids to congregate. Now, nearly a full year after Haggen announced its departure from the River Falls Shopping Center in March 2016, police continue to watch for potential troublemakers at the storefront. The former Jack In The Box restaurant in the shopping center is also closed and now vacant.
"Now that (the Haggen) is closed, it's an area where kids go and hang out," West Linn Police Sergeant Dave Kempas said. "We're not even sure how long the graffiti was there (before Jan. 12) but now that it's come to our attention, we've been watching. We haven't noticed anything since that time."
Haggen announced the closure of its West Linn store March 9, 2016, less than a year after the location opened in 2015. In all, Haggen opened 10 stores in the Portland metro area as part of a 146-store buyout during the Albertsons-Safeway merger, but the rollout fell apart when Albertsons sued Haggen for $36 million on accusations of nonpayment for 38 stores.
Haggen filed a $1 billion countersuit, and announced it would close several stores in Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada and Arizona. In September 2015, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
At one point, Haggen planned to hold on to a number of stores — including the West Linn location — but those plans evaporated when a U.S. Bankruptcy judge ordered that the chain find new owners in December 2015. When the West Linn Haggen closed a few months later, 68 employees lost their jobs.
Kempas said police have not fielded any loitering calls at the property since the closure, and the graffiti was only discovered when the property manager was checking in on the backside of the building.
"It's not an area where it's very easily seen," Kempas said. "I'm guessing they felt pretty confident that this is a good place to smoke your dope — no one is bothering you back here."
Kempas said dealing with graffiti and properties with extended vacancies is something of a new challenge for the department.
"When Zupan's (Markets) closed, it didn't take very long before Walmart came in," Kempas said. "We really don't have a lot of vacant property beyond that. We have problems with (people congregating at) underpasses on Blankenship, and we have problems at the skate park with graffiti every now and then."
Rumors continue to swirl about what will ultimately fill the vacant storefront, and at its annual goal-setting retreat the City Council agreed that it would work to attract a new grocery store at that location. According to City Manager Eileen Stein, the lack of a grocery store in the Willamette area makes for inconvenient shopping trips up the hill — which in turn cause traffic issues near the Safeway on Salamo Road.
"What continues to be a problem, I think, is because (Haggen) is not there, everyone is going up to Safeway for shopping," Stein said. "So we're getting more traffic up the hill for people ... and there's a problem on Sunday mornings when you have people at the church across the street, and you have people doing Sunday morning shopping.
"It coincides with Haggen closing down. So if it was back open, I think you would have less of a traffic impact."
Currently, West Linn has three major grocery stores: the Safeway on Salamo Road, Market of Choice at Central Village along Highway 43 and Walmart in the Robinwood area.