Bremerton’s downtown was a bustling place decades ago. Now it only bustles for a few minutes around 4 p.m. when the Navy shipyard lets out. The rest of the time, it can be a little too quiet.
Bremerton has a problem. There aren't enough people, which means businesses falter, which means more people don't come. Those who live here say the solution is not complicated.
“Why don’t they put in big grocery?” said Edith Irene Hambrick, a longtime resident. “If they moved a grocery store down there, they wouldn’t have any trouble getting people to live down there. That’ll get the people back.”
“How do you create the vitality in this wonderful city which is just so ready?” said Ron Sher, a Bellevue-based developer and founder of Third Place Books. “What I’ve been trying to do in my career is to create really livable places and places where people come together.”
On the Bremerton side, he’s known as the developer who wants to put a grocery store where the old Bremer department store used to be. The spot is the middle of the city’s downtown.
“Unless you have this kind of infrastructure, it doesn’t make living as attractive,” Sher said. “It’s a sense of convenience."
Right now you need a car to get food. There’s a Safeway a mile and a half away from downtown. Out on the highway there’s a huge Fred Meyer.
Sher says he'll tear down the old department store, build the grocery store and give it parking by opening up some of the spaces he already owns across the street. “I think the time is now,” he said.
Bremerton is full of developers like Sher who see Bremerton as a sensible place for our region’s population to expand. They think it just needs a little love.
“Creating a 'there' there, getting that critical mass where it has the kind of energy and the eclecticism and the interest and the timelessness that will bring it together,” Sher said.
Bremerton has been rife with rumors that an announcement is imminent, but it turns out a grocery store is not coming soon. That's because there isn't a critical mass of people.
Sher says it's a chicken and egg situation. “You don’t get the grocery store before the people,” he said. "The people don’t necessarily go there before the grocery store.”
But other developers are building apartments nearby. “As those come closer to reality, I think that then I’ll go enter the market and look for a grocery store again.”
Until then, Sher will pursue plans to build several hundred apartments close to the grocery store.