Since the closure of Ray’s Food Place in January 2014, the majority of Philomath residents have seemingly missed having a grocery store right here in town. It’s one of those wish list items that comes up periodically — whether that’s during a conversation with a neighbor or during public meetings.
City councilors, mayors and the city manager have tried to drum up interest over the years. Dollar General opened in February 2017 to give the community some shopping options and later on the establishment of the Philomath Farmers’ Market has become an attractive option during the growing season.
But still, there’s that desire to have a full-fledged grocery store right here in town. Many of those with the capability of operating a store here apparently point to Safeway that’s located on Philomath Boulevard in west Corvallis and also concerns related to buildable property.
City Councilor Teresa Nielson said she’s talked to community members about it and decided to reach out to WinCo — the regional chain that prides itself on offering lower prices and has a store in Corvallis where many of us shop.
Early this week, Nielson heard back from WinCo.
“Maybe we have a chance of getting a store near us,” Nielson said. “I think it would be pretty fantastic.”
Nielson decided to reach out to the grocery store’s corporate office after Councilor Christopher McMorran mentioned WinCo’s approach to smaller markets with its Waremart stores.
Waremart stores are currently operating in the Independence, Keizer and Ontario markets. (WinCo had been called Waremart in its earlier days).
Nielsen thought the concept sounded interesting and could be an opportunity for Philomath, so she sent details about the region’s traffic, population growth and other public information to try to conjure up some interest for her town.
On the evening of the March 13 council meeting, Nielson had already received an email from WinCo saying that while Philomath is not on the list of targeted communities for Waremart stores, the information provided stirred interest as a possible future candidate.
Nielson read from the WinCo response:
“Although we don’t have a store scheduled for Philomath yet, I will gladly forward your suggestion and all of the information provided to the vice president of real estate for consideration,” Nielson read. “We hope to have the honor of opening one of our stores closer to you in the near future.”
Does the email represent genuine interest in Philomath? It’s hard to tell but the possibility is there. As such, Nielson wants to encourage Philomath residents to contact WinCo.
“I figured if more of us are making comments to WinCo saying ‘we really would like to have a store in our community,’ sometimes those things make a difference,” Nielson said.
For those interested, here’s a link to the WinCo contact/customer service page.
“I don’t think it would hurt to have a flood of people interested in having a store here contact WinCo,” Nielson said. “I know it’s not the only one (WinCo would consider) but I think it’s an option for us.”
2. Highway corridor study
In another interesting item out of the recent City Council meeting, Matt Lehman shared news that Philomath Boulevard (Highway 20/34) was identified by the Corvallis Area Metropolitan Planning Organization as the highest-priority corridor in its 2043 Regional Transportation Plan.
“That doesn’t mean that next week we’re going to see anything happening on the corridor, but at least it was identified,” said Lehman, who serves as CAMPO chair. “Most of the issues are going to be related to safety issues, like crossing, interaction operations … but also trying to improve the flow of traffic without increasing the capacity of the corridor is the key takeaway.”
Lehman said some ways of improving traffic flow could involve things like pullouts “but not actual additional lanes to put more traffic through.”
Said Lehman, “As I’ve mentioned before, the state is convinced that they’ll be able to convince everyone not to drive anymore in the next two or three years.”
Each entity in the regional corridor have their own little projects that are on the table and ready to go if grant funding comes through. Lehman said that appears to be the approach going forward on how to get improvements done (an example would be how Philomath received grant funding to help pay for its new water treatment plant).
Highway 20 traffic challenges are something Philomath motorists have experienced.
“This is obviously the biggest pain point for most of the people in Philomath because we all have to be on that road to go to the doctor, to go to the movies, to get groceries, whatever, and I think there’s finally some recognition that this is the case,” Lehman said. “Also, just the very intense nature of the freight going through is going to continue and trying to accommodate pedestrian crossings on a major freight route is tough and they’re looking at it.”
The Oregon Department of Transportation has done preliminary planning and engineering work on several smaller projects, Lehman said.
In another development, AAMPO (Albany Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) and CAMPO both dedicated resources to study the traffic corridor from Albany to Philomath. However, the effort is part of the study that’s 20 years out, so “no one’s going to put anything on the ground in that corridor unless a miracle happens in the next five to 10 years other than incremental improvement.”
City Manager Chris Workman said Philomath is finally being recognized as part of the Highway 20 corridor study — an encouraging shift.
“We’ve been petitioning for quite a while to be added to the Highway 20 study to not end at Corvallis but to bring it all the way through Philomath,” he said. “We’ve been making that argument for eight or nine years now.”
3. LBCC announces budget cuts
Linn-Benton Community College announced this week that it will eliminate its criminal justice and computer science programs at the end of the 2023-24 academic year as part of budget cuts across the college. Students currently enrolled in those programs will have the opportunity to finish their degree over the next 15 months.
“This has been a very difficult time for the college and is especially challenging for those who are directly affected by these changes,” LBCC President Lisa Avery said through a press release. “Despite the challenging climate, I know LBCC will continue to fulfill our mission of economic empowerment for our students and our communities.”
In addition, LBCC announced that there would be staff reductions on the Albany campus in June with the elimination of three full-time librarian positions. The library will remain open and fully operational.
In an effort to improve budgetary impacts, the Adult Basic Skills program will be redesigned to operate more efficiently by moving the program, grant management and support services to additional division staff. As a result, six open positions across the college will not be filled and will be re-evaluated this fall, LBCC said.
In addition to the budget cuts, the LBCC Board of Education also approved a 6% tuition increase for 2023-24.
(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at News@PhilomathNews.com).