The City of Snoqualmie this week denied fast-growing, Snoqualmie-based Persona Nutrition’s request to relocate to the empty, former IGA grocery store building in the Snoqualmie Ridge Neighborhood retail area.
In a land use determination letter to Persona, Snoqualmie Community Development Director Mark Hofman said the company’s proposed building usage for its online, personalized vitamin sales business does not meet the Snoqualmie Ridge Mixed Use Final Plan Development Standards pertaining to the types of businesses and allowed uses in the Neighborhood retail area.
Persona proposed to use about 31% of the building for retail sales and corporate offices. The majority of the building would be used for warehouse and retail fulfillment space for their online, custom-prescribed vitamin sales.
In his determination letter, Hofman stated that the business would not be considered primarily a retail or non-retail commercial business – which are allowed in the neighborhood retail area – because more than half of the building’s 21,000 sq. ft space would be used for fulfillment. Hofman interpreted fulfillment to be equivalent to distribution, which is not allowed in the development standards. Hofman said, “Distribution is allowed, but as an ancillary use to a primary use.” [Hofman considered the proposed primary use of the building to be distribution.]
Persona founder and Snoqualmie resident Jason Brown said they are disappointed with the decision and the city’s determination that the business doesn’t fit the definition of retail. He said he finds that factually wrong. Brown explained via email, “100% of our business is focused on directly selling our customized nutrition program to individuals for their personal health and wellness which is the definition of retail, and we have a walk in component as well.”
Brown said they are interested in doing a long-term lease of the empty IGA space, something they’d negotiated for six month. The additional space is needed to accommodate the company’s rapid growth. By the end of the first quarter of 2019, Brown expects Persona to ship 1,000 orders per day, which will also require another 75 employees to supplement their current 20 full-time employees.
Persona is fighting to stay in Snoqualmie and plans to appeal the denial to the City Council. If they are unsuccessful they will likely move to Issaquah or Bellevue.
In his letter Hofman stated the city’s decision should not suggest that Persona’s business is not welcome in Snoqualmie. He said it definitely is and the city strives to do all it can (within legal limits) to foster and help existing businesses grow. Hofman suggested the company look at available buildings within the business park across Snoqualmie Parkway.
Brown, though, said the company has already explored those options, but there was no 20,0000 sq. ft. building that fits their needs and is available soon enough. He said he will make a decision within the next month regarding a future location that can handle the company’s rapid growth.
Persona expects sales to increase 3000% in 2018. The company has raised $10 million in private capital to date and anticipates raising an additional $5 million this year. They credit the growth to a successful response to their new multivitamin, their August rebrand and charitable giving where they donate 1% of net revenue to a nonprofit that helps malnourished kids in the U.S.
Brown said they are in the process of building a $100 million company and their second story office space on Center Blvd is not equipped to handle the planned growth. He feels the city’s decision will hurt the community and leave a very large space empty for years to come instead of “allowing a vibrant well-developed local retail business to thrive on Snoqualmie Ridge.”
In his decision, Community Development Director Hofman stated, “The 21,000 sq. ft. building was originally reviewed and approved as a large structural shell for a major retail anchor that would support the overall retail center and provide direct retail sales and services to the surrounding community. Persona’s proposal runs directly counter to this vision. Its proposed retail sales and retail services uses are simply too small of a percentage of the overall use, and by a significant margin, to be considered allowable, primary retail business and/or non-retail commercial uses.”
Visit www.personanutrition.com to learn more about the company.