- Green Zebra Grocery, a Portland, Oregon-based convenience store chain, is closing two of its four stores along with its store support office because of financial pressure brought on by the pandemic, according to a statement from the company’s founder and CEO.
- The company, which focuses on natural and organic goods, is laying off approximately 60 of its employees as a result of the closures.
- The stores that are closing are located near Portland State University and in Portland’s Lloyd District, a commercial area. Both locations will remain open with shortened hours through the end of August.
Green Zebra’s decision to shut down half of its stores represents a stark turn of events for the once high-flying specialty grocery company, which was founded in 2013 by Lisa Sedlar, the former CEO of West Coast natural and organic grocer New Seasons Market.
A typical Green Zebra store is about 5,000 square feet, about twice the size of a typical convenience store. The company quickly built a devoted following with its selection of specialty groceries, locally roasted coffee, on-tap kombucha, organic salad items and other health-oriented products. The company’s first store brought in $4 million in 2014.
Two years ago, amid brisk sales that spurred the opening of Green Zebra’s fourth Portland store, Sedlar had been planning an ambitious West Coast expansion and amassed almost $9 million to power its growth. The entrepreneur had hoped to have 24 locations by 2023 en route to eventually running 200 stores as well as 200 self-service “micro" locations in places like office buildings.
Green Zebra had expected to close a Series B round of funding in February, but instead found itself scrambling to pay its existing employees and provide them with health insurance. Although grocery sales have been sky-high during the pandemic, stores that rely on foot traffic from college students and office workers — like the two Green Zebra locations that are closing — have suffered. The company is also offering home delivery and curbside pickup from each of its stores.
Green Zebra beefed up compensation for its workers even as it struggled with reduced sales because of the pandemic. Like other grocers, the company temporarily boosted pay by $2 an hour. It also raised its minimum hourly wage by 50 cents, to $13.50, and boosted its staff discount to 30%.
Sedlar said staff members who are being let go will continue to receive the staff discount through the end of September, as well as a $100 gift card.
“You might be wondering why I decided to do all of these things while the company is experiencing such a cash crunch and closing stores,” Sedlar said in her message. “The answer is, because it’s the right thing to do for our team members. If the company goes under it won’t be because we paid out more benefits during the pandemic. It will be because we lost 50% of sales during the pandemic."