Judge orders Whole Foods to reopen shuttered Bellevue Square 365 store

A King County judge has issued a preliminary injunction ordering Whole Foods Market to reopen its 365-branded store in Bellevue Square. The Amazon-owned organic grocer closed the store in October, early in the 20-year lease that Whole Foods signed.

A judge has ordered Whole Foods Market to reopen its Bellevue Square store after the shopping mall’s owners sued the organic grocer for breaking its long-term lease on the property.

The preliminary injunction, by a King County Superior Court judge this week, requires Whole Foods to reopen within 14 days the 365-branded store it closed in October.

At that time, the company said the closure was related to issues at the specific site, rather than a broader reassessment of the 365 concept. The stores, a handful of which operate across the country, are smaller, less expensive takes on Whole Foods’ mainline markets.

Seattle-based Amazon acquired Whole Foods for $13.5 billion in August.

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The Bellevue Square lease, originally signed in July 2015, included an operating covenant committing the grocer to keep the 34,000-square-foot site open seven days a week for the first 10 years of the 20-year lease, Judge Mary Roberts wrote.

Whole Foods said the store’s sales didn’t meet the company’s projections after its  September 2016 opening, Roberts wrote. Whole Foods has continued to pay rent since vacating the store in October, and its attorneys argued that those payments satisfied its obligations under the lease.

But the lease, Roberts said, contains no provision that would allow Whole Foods to back out if the store didn’t prove to be profitable.

Lawsuits seeking the reopening of a store that breaches a lease are rare, said David Nold, the Bellevue lawyer representing the mall. Typically, he said, the tenant that left is insolvent or a cash settlement is reached before the issue comes to court.

“We don’t want a check,” Nold said. “We want Whole Foods to open and operate.”

The company, he said, plans to expand elsewhere in the U.S., and can afford the expense associated with trying to improve a Bellevue Square location long enough to meet the terms of the lease.

“The great thing about Whole Foods being bought by Amazon is they’re a far cry from being insolvent, aren’t they?” he added.

A lawyer representing Whole Foods and a company spokesperson didn’t immediately comment.

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