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Bike-friendly convenience store blows past sales targets and prepares to expand

Posted by on October 8th, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Bike parking at Green Zebra Grocery-16
Bike parking at Green Zebra Grocery.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

The “healthy convenience store” startup founded by the former CEO of New Seasons Market says it’s exceeded its sales expectations thanks in part to even more non-car traffic than expected.

Last year, Green Zebra Grocery founder Lisa Sedlar told us she needed about 400 to 600 transactions a day for her model — higher quality, higher prices — to be viable. She was also counting on 30 percent of those customers to arrive by means other than a car — if only to prevent the 14-space parking lot from filling up.

One year after its launch, Sedlar says Green Zebra’s 5,500-square-foot Lombard Street test location is drawing 700 to 800 transactions a day. A survey this summer found that 34 percent of them arrived by bike, foot, public transit or motorcycle.

“It’s crazy — we see the same people like three times a day,” Sedlar said in an interview Wednesday. “They’re shopping just for that meal or that day. And that’s it. So it can fit in their bike.” (That jibes with research that found biking customers spend less each visit but shop more frequently than those who drive.)

In August, we took a look at Green Zebra’s 26-capacity bike parking area and called it the best business bike parking in Portland.

Sedlar has expressed support for converting one or more general travel lanes on Lombard to bike lanes, saying it’d make the street safer and more pleasant to spend time on without reducing its importance as a travel artery.


Green Zebra’s growth comes as the regional convenience-store leader Plaid Pantry has been taking steps to boost its own bike-friendliness.

Green Zebra CEO Lisa Sedlar inside the future
Lombard location last year.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Sedlar said the average transaction at Green Zebra is “slightly smaller” than she expected, but that transactions for people who sign up for Green Zebra’s loyalty program are higher. She said the loyalty-program customers account for about 75 percent of transactions. (They receive 1 percent cash back, plus 10 percent off if they’re using SNAP benefits a.k.a. food stamps.)

Having proven her concept with Green Zebra’s Lombard location, Sedlar and her team are now raising $3 million in Series B investment to open their second location, which will be a 6,400-square-foot building on Division near 50th, and to start developing a third location that hasn’t yet been identified.

The company backed out of its previously planned third location in the Woodstock neighborhood after New Seasons made plans to open a full-size grocer four blocks away.

Sedlar predicted that the Division location, which has only eight parking spaces and is in a much more densely populated area, will draw 40 percent of its transactions from people arriving without a car.

“The grocery store is the anchor amenity to the 20-minute neighborhood,” Sedlar said. “The main reason people have to get in their car and drive somewhere is to get to the grocery store.”

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61 Comments
  • Justin October 8, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    Good to see the store succeed. That location has seen failure after failure for the last 20 years. Sounds like Lisa knows what she’s doing.

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  • CaptainKarma October 8, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    There needs to be a bikeable WinCo west of the hinterlands.

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    • Todd Hudson October 8, 2014 at 5:34 pm

      I second that! I’m glad places like Green Zebra are succeeding, but their prices are not so friendly.

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      • Rain Waters October 13, 2014 at 4:02 pm

        Gentrification is great for the top 5% income bracket. What about everyone else? And yes, no matter how it’s packaged, it’s gentrification. Welcome to the hunger games.

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  • Dave October 8, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    Cool-come to Vancouver, preferably west of I-5!

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  • davemess October 8, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    Wait they just started raising capital for the Division store?
    The third location was supposed to be in Woodstock (that was announced 1.5 years ago), but then that was canceled 6 months ago. I’m surprised to hear they’ve moving forward with the Division location as that building has had the “coming soon” sign for a long time.
    I thought it was highly ambitious to shoot for three stores right away like that. Glad to hear they’ve moving at a more conservative pace, even if they maybe jumped the gun with publicizing the other two stores.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) October 8, 2014 at 4:41 pm

      Yes, they pulled the plug on Woodstock after New Seasons moved in four blocks away. Their prices are a little higher and selection much smaller so they can’t really compete in that situation.

      Sedlar said the whole point of the idea is to be operating in neighborhoods that large grocers are too big to serve (not enough population within X radius, not enough room for the parking lot, etc.) My understanding is that the capital being raised now would be a combination of working capital for the Division store while it becomes profitable and the investment needed to get location 3 to the point that Division is at now.

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  • A.K. October 8, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    I love having this store in my neighborhood. Just biked there last weekend to pick up stuff for dinner. The bike parking right in front is FANTASTIC.

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  • ktmhz October 8, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    50th and Division, huh? Too bad PBOT wants to keep bikes out of sight on bike roads, while keeping cars on commercial roads. I’ve ridden within a couple of blocks of there 5 days a week for the past 6 months, but have never been on that section of Division due to unpleasant car interactions while trying to ride on Division over by 30th or so. Imagine the business that would be generated if folks who didn’t know the store exists could see it on their commute each day…

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    • jeff October 8, 2014 at 5:07 pm

      would be easily accessed from 49th off Clinton. I assume bike parking would be in the adjacent lot.

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      • ktmhz October 9, 2014 at 8:44 am

        Easily accessed is great, but means nothing if I don’t know it’s there. Businesses need to be easily discoverable, which happens when commercial corridors are inviting.

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        • jeff October 9, 2014 at 10:12 am

          didn’t the article just tell you it will be there?

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          • ktmhz October 9, 2014 at 11:07 am

            Good point! Bike Portland should tell me about each and every business opening on commercial corridors I might ride on if they were less hostile!

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      • Alex Reed October 9, 2014 at 8:48 am

        Easily accessed (if you already know it’s there) is not the same thing as easily seen. Until I rode through in my husband’s car six months ago, I had no idea that any of the new businesses on Division in the past four years existed. Why? Because Division is not very comfortable (especially uphill) if you’re on a bike, which is the most common way for me to get around the city.

        Encouraged by spare_wheel, I’ve started biking Division downhill from 52nd to 21st. It’s actually quite nice, but I don’t think it’s a mainstream solution. You have to ride pretty fast and be quite assertive – door zone riding and weaving in and out of parked cars are very bad ideas!

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  • Nick October 8, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    Green Zebra is such a fantastic addition to the neighborhood. I do still venture over to Walgreens next door for some staple items, due to price, but if I’m in search of real food Green Zebra is awesome.

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    • A.K. October 9, 2014 at 9:51 am

      Ha, I do the same thing if I need dish soap, toothpaste, thing like that. And I still shop at Freddies or New Seasons when I need more stuff than a single quick meal. But for my fiancee and I, both young adults who don’t have kids yet and work a lot, being able to pop into Green Zebra for a few ingredients or a pre-made meal from the deli case or hot bar is an awesome convenience to have.

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  • Dwaine Dibbly October 8, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    This great to hear. I wonder if it would be too much to hope for a downtown location? Maybe somewhere in between the Safeway stores? Or towards the PSU end of downtown. GZ is going after a niche that Safeway really can’t touch.

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    • maccoinnich October 8, 2014 at 6:59 pm

      I would love to see something somewhere near Pioneer Courthouse Sq. There’s surprisingly few options for groceries in downtown Portland. In the UK—where I grew up—you can’t walk 20 meters these days without finding another Tesco Metro. In America, it seem grocery stores aren’t interested in spaces smaller than 20,000 sq ft.

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    • Reza October 9, 2014 at 12:13 am

      PSU area is absolutely DESPERATE for a grocery store. Please…put one there, even if it’s small-format.

      Agreed with Iain, I lived in London for a while and loved having small-format grocery stores like Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s etc. in easy walking distance of my flat.

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      • GlowBoy October 10, 2014 at 9:10 am

        Those of you who are asking for grocery stores near PSU and Pioneer Courthouse Square: you DO realize there’s already a giant Safeway within a few blocks of those locations, right? I walk between that Safeway and PCS and/or PSU regularly. It’s not very far.

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        • maccoinnich October 10, 2014 at 10:00 am

          The Safeway on Jefferson St is a 10 minute walk from Pioneer Courthouse Sq. For people who only have a 30 minute lunch break, a 20 minute round trip just to get a sandwich isn’t that appealing.

          For comparison sake, look at the density of Tescos–roughly equivalent to Fred Meyer/Kroger–in any British city (http://www.tesco.com/store-locator/uk/).

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  • Angel York October 8, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    >Sedlar has expressed support for converting one or more general travel lanes on Lombard to bike lanes, saying it’d make the street safer and more pleasant to spend time on without reducing its importance as a travel artery.

    With both this Green Zebra on Lombard as well as New Seasons going in on Lombard and Westanna (near the railroad cut) in a couple years, I am hopeful that we’ll be seeing bike lanes on Lombard.

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    • Chris Anderson October 8, 2014 at 6:38 pm

      Freight interests are lobbying to keep Lombard ugly. We really need people like Sedlar to show up at Portland Business Alliance transportation meetings. Currently I’m the only one holding down the fort for bikes there.

      I actually think there is room to get freight and bikes aligned against private automobiles but someone like Sedlar probably would be better at it than me.

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      • Joe Adamski October 8, 2014 at 9:46 pm

        recognize Lombard is US30 bypass, the route for oversized, overheight loads. I live right off Lombard and would love to see it calmed. However, the US30 truck route off the SJ bridge has two low clearance obstacles. The pedestrian bridge at George Middle School ( we would come to blows if anyone tried to get rid of that,inadequate as it is..) and the railroad overpass bridge near I-5 would be extra-ordinarily expensive and one should not expect either to be replaced soon.As much as you seem to dislike freight,it serves a large purpose, much greater than the single occupant car does. THAT is our biggest challenge.

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        • Chris Anderson October 9, 2014 at 7:25 am

          I wouldn’t say I dislike freight at all. I’d much rather encounter highly trained professional drivers, who seem to understand the importance of paying attention. Freight is that.

          Rather, I think there is an interesting dynamic where freight / heavy industry and green / active transportation have a hard time speaking a common language, and so miss out on lots of opportunities to work together.

          Just one example: there is a call to widen the 205 interchange around Division and Powell, which I think is largely driven by freight congestion. If the active transportation community could lend political momentum to commercial vehicle lanes, then maybe we could cut down on private automobiles at the same time as giving unimpeded movement to trucks and buses.

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        • Oliver October 9, 2014 at 10:44 am

          I get so tired of hearing about the bloody railroad. It didn’t become slang for coercion by accident.

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      • Spiffy October 9, 2014 at 11:30 am

        bike lanes mean more people bike, which means less cars, which means more room for semi trucks…

        never understood why freight is always standing in the way of getting cars off the roads…

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        • Psyfalcon October 10, 2014 at 12:16 am

          Because its absolutely dominated by short sighted, conservative companies?

          While I can’t figure out why sending our money to Saudi Arabia is a conservative value, it is, and I don’t think the people who run the companies can separate their personal value(freedom is gas guzzling) from making business sense.

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  • 9watts October 8, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    Wonderful to hear the patronage is so high among the non-car folks. I suggested New Seasons try this route when they were planning their 41st & Hawthorne store, adding a very expensive rooftop CAR parking garage partway along. We who shop there are all paying for that car parking. Good for Lisa Sedlar!

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    • Adam October 9, 2014 at 9:42 am

      I like the rooftop parking. It’s better than ugly, space-wasting surface parking that is the blight of large swathes of Portland. Rooftop parking keeps the urban environment density up, making it more walkable and bikeable. Lastly, is rooftop parking really that expensive? I know underground parking can be 20-40k per space! I’m sure rooftop is nowhere near that. I know in an ideal world, we would have zero parking. But we don’t live in an ideal world.

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      • ALan October 9, 2014 at 10:36 am

        As a contractor, I can tell you that rooftop parking is double to triple the cost of underground parking. The structural requirements of parking on top of a building are incredibly expensive to build. Underground parking, it much more affordable. However, that doesn’t mean its not feasible. You would be better off to put parking underground and install solar & wind wind power generators on the roof. Out of site parking and renewable energy production is a win-win.

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      • 9watts October 9, 2014 at 11:37 am

        “But we don’t live in an ideal world.”

        I’m not following. I live in the world Lisa Sedlar draws her customers from. She managed to eschew rooftop parking and still make it work. I’m just saying that New Seasons could have too. Should have. The ideal world, so called, comes about when the people designing grocery stores and streets and all the rest start to distance themselves from the Cold War preconceptions about always catering to the almighty car.

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        • davemess October 9, 2014 at 12:56 pm

          You know that comparing Green Zebra and New Seasons is completely unfair, right?

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          • 9watts October 9, 2014 at 1:39 pm

            I didn’t know that.
            Can you explain? (Or are you being facetious?)

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            • davemess October 9, 2014 at 5:12 pm

              You’re comparing a grocery store to a convenience store. One gets customers that often by large quantities (carts) of food versus the other often just a couple of items. Their parking needs are likely a good bit different.

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              • davemess October 9, 2014 at 5:13 pm

                *”buy large quantities”

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              • 9watts October 9, 2014 at 6:44 pm

                Ah, I see.
                Well so be it.

                My point with the Hawthorne New Seasons was that it likely was going to draw from a fairly small radius (the Division New Seasons, after all is only 1.7 miles away). As such, I think it was reasonable to expect or even encourage one’s patrons to shop without relying on a car. *Not* putting an expensive rooftop parking garage on your store would have been one way to test that—move the needle—as it were.

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                • Doug Klotz October 9, 2014 at 9:34 pm

                  The New Seasons folks explained that the Hawthorne store had to have a certain amount of parking or they couldn’t get financing for it. (That may be less true now). They couldn’t go underground because the site once held a dry cleaner, and it would be too expensive to clean up. So, they capped the dirt with concrete and put the parking on the roof.

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                • 9watts October 9, 2014 at 9:46 pm

                  I remember that. Seemed at the time like a cop out to me.
                  They’re just raking it in. Do they really need a bank loan?

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                • davemess October 10, 2014 at 10:19 am

                  Hawthorne New Seasons is also one of the furthest east New Seasons (at least until Woodstock store is finished), so it draws from a further radius than I think you’re appreciating. And regardless, all other New Seasons stores have dedicated parking lots (as does the near by Hawthorne Fred Meyers). This is an area around Hawthorne that already has very tight parking issues.

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  • gutterbunnybikes October 8, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    Can’t wait. Been foaming at the mouth ever since I first saw the banner in the window at the Division site (way before it was covered here).

    And honestly, Division (between 60th and 39th) is a pretty easy street to take the lane on. Other than a few blocks around 50th and the bend at 42nd, hardly anyone parks on it despite the fact that there is street parking on both sides. This is especially true between 50th and 60th which incidentally is between my house and the soon to be Zebra.

    Besides Division (though slightly farther away) is way more pleasant and easier ride than heading to the Foster/82nd Fred Meyers where I currently ride to for forgotten incidentals.

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    • davemess October 9, 2014 at 12:57 pm

      At least until next year.

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  • Bike Milwaukie October 8, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    The four neighborhoods of Milwaukie that are East of 224 would probably do well with a Green Zebra in their midst.

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  • Khera October 8, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    Great news! Hope this company (or at least this concept) spreads everywhere. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  • Christopher Sanderson October 9, 2014 at 8:03 am

    I’ve been there only a couple of times, and it is a nice store. Folks were friendly, and good selection. Indeed prices are high, and I think I only bought small ticket items in there, so I can understand why their transactions are “slightly smaller” than what they want. My only beef with the store is the sign. Needless to say, art is subjective.

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  • Oliver October 9, 2014 at 10:35 am

    Great to hear they’re doing well. I had read otherwise, so this is great news.

    The bicycle tube vending machine has been a lifesaver on a couple early mornings.

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  • Spoked October 9, 2014 at 11:29 am

    I love this model plan. Put something like this within 2 blocks of PCC Cascade and it would be a gold mine. So many students with very few food options on Killingsworth (as I sit in the nearby coffee shop eating a house pastry).

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  • Batiya October 9, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    I want to be happier about this. I do. But in a lot of ways it feels like just another vestige of the seismic/demographic shift of poorer populations to the badlands east of 102nd Avenue. And what happens when that part of town finally gets some love — and becomes almost as unaffordable as whatever is left close-in? In the end, between rising rents and foofier small businesses in hip neighborhoods, Portland is becoming a mini-San Francisco, and I just can’t get excited about that. I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up spending my old age in another city altogether

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    • Alex Reed October 10, 2014 at 9:19 am

      In my opinion, the best thing to do to combat housing price increases in Portland is to support dense multi-family housing everywhere in the City that it’s consistent with a liveable community (i.e. where there are paved roads, sidewalks, and good-ish transit). Demand for housing in Portland is clearly growing quickly. If we can get supply to grow even more quickly, then prices will go down. I know it feels like there’s a good bit of construction in the city, but it’s really nothing compared to the economic and population growth that’s occurring.

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      • davemess October 10, 2014 at 10:21 am

        Without rent control, or government mandated pricing, how do you propose that that even some of that dense housing will go to lower income people though?

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        • Alex Reed October 10, 2014 at 10:28 am

          What economists call “filtering.” The new housing will be shiny and new and disproportionately owned/rented by rich people, who will then be out of the market for bidding up existing housing. The prices of existing housing will go down / not rise as fast because of fewer rich people bidding up the prices, and therefore the existing housing stock will become more affordable.

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          • BB October 10, 2014 at 5:06 pm

            This assumes a fixed number of affluent people though.

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            • Alex Reed October 13, 2014 at 12:45 pm

              That is true, I do assume a fixed number of affluent people, or at least a situation in which the number of affluent people moving in is significantly less than the number of people housed in the fancy new condos. I think the validity of that assumption depends on how big the area you’re looking at is (i.e. how far do the rich people have to move to be “moving in?”)

              Certainly, if you’re only looking at a small neighborhood, the number of affluent people within a neighborhood is affected strongly by the housing stock (e.g. new condos or mcmansions constructed –> more affluent people in the n’hood). I’m skeptical that the effect is nearly as strong at the city level, and I suspect that at the metro area level it’s quite small. For example, how many people do you think moved to the South Waterfront from outside the Portland Metro area – and were motivated to do so by the niceness of the South Waterfront? I think the number is quite small.

              In my opinion, the determinants of wealth at a metro area level are much more about the industries and jobs available than about the housing available. Burns, OR (small, isolated town 3 hours SE of Bend) could have amazing housing available at low, low prices – in fact it may well have such housing – and I still wouldn’t want to live there, because my husband and I couldn’t get jobs that would be good for us.

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  • Brendan October 9, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    It’s amazing how simple it is to create awesome bike parking. Bolt a floor pump to the ground, install a tube vending machine and some tools secured by cables and you are the number one business bike parking in the number one bike city in the country. I guess I’m ignoring the roof structure, but my point is more businesses should be making these gestures to show that they welcome bikes. I’d guess it pays off quickly.
    PS. This store is my favorite thing to happen to Kenton since I bought a house here a little over a year ago. I love it.

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  • Chuck October 10, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    Once that New Seasons goes in on Lombard tho …

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  • was carless October 12, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    davemess
    Hawthorne New Seasons is also one of the furthest east New Seasons (at least until Woodstock store is finished), so it draws from a further radius than I think you’re appreciating. And regardless, all other New Seasons stores have dedicated parking lots (as does the near by Hawthorne Fred Meyers). This is an area around Hawthorne that already has very tight parking issues.
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    The Sunnyside New Seasons would disagree with you…

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  • Rain Waters October 13, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    Gentrifiction cleverly packaged is still gentrification.

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  • The Kentin Klunker October 26, 2015 at 11:59 am

    There is clearly no clever subplot here. Green Zebra CEO repeatedly states “higher prices”. Lisa is a business person that simply knows the demographic; they paid for the scientific studies, looked at the numbers, and invested in a sure thing. They knew that the immediate neighborhood offers $500K new homes with tiny kitchens and even tinier culinary skills of the new tenants- they are professionals after all. Gone are the days of old $80,000 dollar homes bought by single income families cooking for 4 or 5 kids…I know, sad, but true. The new Kenton (yes, I know how to spell Kenton after being here 48 years) is all white alright; advanced degrees, smart cars, can’t dance…you get the idea.

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