South Boulder resident Diana Lee said she “just had to” come to the reopening of the Table Mesa King Soopers supermarket on Wednesday. She has been a lifelong shopper at the store, where she worked her first job as a teenager.
King Soopers employees offered critical support during her near-daily trips to the store while her father suffered from Covid-19 in the early days of the pandemic. “They would talk to me, gather around and check in on me,” Lee said. “They were all so supportive. And three of them were killed that day.”
The community hub has been closed since a gunman opened fire on March 22 of last year, killing 10 people.
Lee was among several hundred Boulder residents, plus city and state officials, who gathered in the store’s parking lot for a pre-opening ceremony — cheered by upbeat music and the University of Colorado Marching Band — before heading inside to reacquaint themselves with the store.
For Lee, returning to the Table Mesa King Soopers provided closure. “They would want us to come back,” she said of the slain workers who offered her a supportive shoulder during her father’s illness.
For Jerry Greenleaf, however, the celebratory mood was tinged with defiance. “This is our ground,” he declared. “We are taking it back.”
Living further west off Table Mesa Drive, Greenleaf said he had no alternative to driving past the shuttered store daily: first, the fence twined with flowers in memory of those killed, then the empty parking lot, followed by construction. “It’s been a constant reminder, and now we are going back to life.”
Next June, Greenleaf will see a permanent memorial honoring the victims as he drives down Table Mesa. King Soopers plans a small park along the berm at the far northwest corner of its parking lot. Officials said the pocket park will have a tree for each person killed, a bench to sit and reflect, and a sign honoring them.
“Those trees will grow to be strong and beautiful, and serve as a remembrance,” said Kelli McGannon, King Soopers’ regional director of corporate affairs.
What shoppers like Lee and Greenleaf experienced this week was a new store in every way, from an altered parking lot with more handicapped spaces and a big, shiny metal nameplate, to what King Soopers is calling a “grand vestibule” entrance, to reconfigured and expanded departments, and a lighter, brighter feel throughout.
The $12 million remodel of the nearly 50-year-old store, plus another $1.5 million for roof infrastructure, was led by Mark Young Construction of Frederick and took about five months.
When doors opened again on Wednesday, the Boulder Strong Resource Center brought “comfort dogs” to walk the aisles soliciting hugs, and security guards were visible. King Soopers officials said the store has enhanced security measures, but declined to offer details when asked by members of the press in attendance.
What shoppers first encounter in the new store is a long, two-door vestibule dominated by a mural created by local artist Lael Har, depicting the Flatirons and a meadow with a placid stream flowing through it. The former eastern entrance, through which the shooter entered, is gone, as are the steps and ramp there. Instead there is a long, gentle incline to the eastern vestibule entrance.
Inside, replacing a bare concrete floor that was in poor condition in places, the store’s perimeter sections now feature wood-like laminate flooring, merging into imitation stone tiles along all grocery aisles.
Above, the ceiling has been lifted to build an airy feeling. It’s one of several features, including broad windows in front of checkouts that gaze out at the Flatirons, incorporated at employee request.
As shoppers enter the west door, they’re greeted with a burst of color from the expanded floral department. Starbucks is now located to the left of the entrance, in a larger space.
However, the supermarket now lacks the popular nook next to Starbucks where shoppers relaxed over a latte or met friends. King Soopers President Joe Kelly said that was Starbucks’ choice, but a snack area might be added in the nearby vestibule later. There are plans for outside seating come summer, he added.
Also at the front is expanded self-checkout, with the customer service counter now backing up to Starbucks, rather than on an eastern wall. There are fewer full-service checkouts, and customers now will put their own groceries onto a conveyor belt, rather than checkers performing that chore. Officials said the change speeds customer checkout.
The store’s undoubted gem is a 40 percent larger, brighter produce department featuring wider aisles, more organic offerings and more enticing ambience. Flanking it on the outer west wall are the familiar, but expanded, deli counter and Murray’s Cheese sections.
The back wall keeps mainstays meat and seafood, followed by a reconfigured bakery department. The former adjacent line of bread now fills an aisle, replaced by an expanded wall of dairy products.
Frozen food, on the eastern end of the store, remains much as before, but the entire eastern wall, once partially dairy, is now entirely beer.
South Boulder resident Carole Simpson was lavish in her praise. She declared the vestibule mural “gobsmacking gorgeous,” and said she felt a “surge of energy” as she walked in. “The term ‘electrifying experience’ comes to mind,” she said.
Table Mesa Shopping Center merchants said they’re also glad the store is reopening so the community can fully return to normal. One of those is Boulder Packaging Center owner Carol Mazza, whose store is fewer than 100 feet from King Soopers. She and seven customers hid for two hours during the rampage.
Before the violence, Mazza and her employees were in the store several times a week buying snacks. “It was always the heart of the shopping center. It felt like the heart had been torn out of us,” she said. “I’m happy it is opening again.”
Will survivors return?
The remodel and enhanced security improvements may be a welcome change for many shoppers, but will that be enough to bring back customers who fled for their lives on March 22?
For Ryan Borowski, who popped into the store that day to grab a bag of Boulder Canyon chips and a 12-pack of Cherry Coke, the memories are still too painful.
“I heard a loud bang. It seemed the whole store went silent. Then I heard 10 more rapid shots. I just ran,” he recalled. Borowski escaped out the back loading dock.
Nearly a year later, Borowski is still traumatized. He is anxious, tries to sit facing the door in restaurants, and is even considering leaving his career as a massage therapist because his own current needs make it difficult to support others emotionally.
Borowski says he may go back at least once, sometime. But he thinks he may need a special accommodation to feel safe, and might ask the store manager if he can walk in from the loading dock. “I want to go back in the way I fled,” he said.
Shopper Reed Glenn was in King Soopers the day before the massacre, so doesn’t bear memories of horror. Glenn explored the store slowly as she did her shopping on opening day. She said she had been on the verge of tears driving into the parking lot, but after wandering the aisles, Glenn was thrilled at what she saw: “I feel like I’m in Disneyland. I am in awe.”