In early drafts of Seabrook’s blueprint, town planners knew the plot of land at 224 Market Street would be a grocery store, even if they didn’t know how it might function, or exactly what it might look like.
While the building’s physical structure would be important — now, the 11,000-square-foot interior gives shoppers the feel of a larger metropolitan market, and the two-story stature will catch eyes from state Route 109. But, like other stores in town, the real key would be the people running it.
Often, said Seabrook Marketing Director Lily Walsh, “We have an idea for it (a store), but then we also want to find the right people to breathe life into it.”
John Welsh was breathing life into the store on Friday — just rapidly enough to break a slight sweat on his brow. It was the first day of business for his new grocery store, the Fresh Foods Market. After serving a morning rush that included a line out the door and onto the sidewalk, he sliced and bagged a chunk of salmon, then quickly and precisely sorted a small pile of lemons and strawberries.
Welsh and Brian Burk own the store, and two others like it in Manzanita and Cannon Beach, Oregon. They specialize in beach resort towns, making Seabrook a logical expansion for the small chain.
“This was really a lot of people’s hard work to make this happen, and we’re just grateful to be here,” Burk said.
But it wasn’t always so clear cut. Seabrook town founder Casey Roloff first asked Welsh about opening a market in 2017. He declined then — the town, while budding, was still too small for him to go all in. When Roloff followed up with the same request in 2021, Welsh was still skeptical, but agreed to visit the Washington coast with Burk. By then, the town had built nearly 100 rental homes, and through remote work and the pandemic, experienced a surge in new residents since Roloff’s first inquiry.
“We came out here, and I was impressed with what I saw,” Welsh said Friday. “Seabrook is a pristine community; the clientele are right in line with what our product selection is and our business model suits.”
As construction progressed on the corner of Market Street, Welsh and Burk ran a 900-square-foot pop-up on Front Street. With the larger building comes more variety, including many of the products sporting the store’s private label. They now have a butcher saw, fresh produce and meat, and a full deli that cranks out sandwiches to-go. One customer on Friday described the store as a “baby Whole Foods.”
And prices are competitive with other grocery stores, according to Burk and Welsh. As the town’s only true grocery store, Roloff didn’t want it only carrying upscale goods. His message, according to Walsh: “We want this to be an amazing grocery store, but we also want for a kid to be able to buy Doritos.”
Walsh added: “We don’t want to make it something that is so elevated and gourmet that it doesn’t have the range to accommodate everyone. That’s what a great market does, it accommodates everyone.”
Upstairs, past a field of hanging circular light fixtures are rows of dry goods, chips, canned foods, Top Ramen; and not-so-dry-goods, a paneled fridge of beer, craft and domestic. The store also carries a private label wine from the Willamette Valley. There are home items too: toothpaste, shampoo and Band-Aids, even cooking pans and utensils.
Kelly Johnson has owned a home in Seabrook for four years. For the last few years, she said, grocery shopping in Seabrook meant road trips to larger towns for a bigger selection. She said she was “impressed” by the products in the new store, which will help her save on gas.
“Our homeowners joke that they will be living like Europeans, only buying the groceries they need for that day,” Walsh said.
Out of about 500 homes in Seabrook, about 200 are privately owned, and the rest are rentals operated by Seabrook’s hospitality department. The new store is “like a pillar to the town growing,” Walsh said, because more full-time residents won’t have to leave Seabrook for their favorite foods.
In addition, the store is a bookend to a flurry of retail development on the Market Street block. In the last 12 months, a bakery has expanded, a new juice bar opened, a men’s clothing store popped up, and a popular pizza joint ramped up capacity five-fold. In the eyes of town planners, the block is now complete.
In an April webinar, Roloff said finishing up the Market Street block means three out of five “town center” blocks have been constructed. Next on the docket is Pacific Landing. Out of a low-lying construction site situation just south of the Market Street block will grow a new mix of retail and homes, with clear views of sand and surf, which will go for anywhere from $2 million to $5 million, Roloff said.
Once all five town center blocks are finished in the next three to five years, Roloff is expecting to see similar patterns in Seabrook that other idyllic and curated resort towns, like Seaside and Rosemary Beach, Florida (after which Seabrook is modeled), saw upon completing their own town centers.
“When the town built up the critical mass of retail and restaurants, and really completed the town, that’s when prices really went north and there was a lot of increase in demand,” Roloff said. “The town was built: It wasn’t this we had to talk about — or they had to talk about — and market and promote, it was actually there, you could physically see it, and experience all the shops and restaurants.”