During a press conference in the wake of the March 22 shooting that killed ten people at a Boulder King Soopers, Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold described the giant store and parking lot at 3600 Table Mesa Drive as the most complex crime scene she's encountered in her career. No surprise, then, that the branch remains closed, and there hasn't been a date announced when it will reopen.
It could be a while. Nearly six months passed between the shooting at an Aurora theater on July 20, 2012, that killed twelve people, and the venue's return to regular operations the following January. But while people can skip movies, they still have to eat — even if the simple act of shopping for food could now unleash feelings of anxiety.
The ripple effects of the tragedy extend far beyond Boulder city limits. My visit to a King Soopers branch in southern Jefferson County on the afternoon of March 28, the first Sunday after the shooting, found about a third of the customers who would normally be on hand at that time of day, even during a pandemic. So yesterday, April 1, I traveled to all three of the chain's Boulder stores, including the assault site, to see if any semblance of normalcy was on view in a town that had been shattered by violence ten days earlier.
My first stop was the King Soopers outlet at 1650 30th Street in the Sunrise Center, whose facade was marked by a large banner reading #BoulderStrong. But that was essentially the only indication that anything had taken place at its nearby sister store. There was no tribute display marking the lives lost, no streamers, no ribbons, no balloons, no mention of the $1 million that King Soopers' parent company, Kroger, donated to the Colorado Healing Fund last week, and no extra security at the front door — or at least no extra security visible. The two employees stationed near the entrance would almost certainly have been there anyway, since King Soopers has used greeters to direct folks to sanitization supplies since the early days of the pandemic. And they were chatting about personal matters, not scanning every patron to make sure they seemed safe.
Inside, the sound system was blaring the 1980s-era cheesefest "Kyrie," by Mr. Mister — the sort of mid-tempo tune intended to make shoppers take their time rather than rush to fill their carts. For early afternoon on a Thursday, the store was fairly crowded — not packed, but most aisles boasted multiple customers, and lines two or three shoppers long were building at the registers.
Given that this is the closest King Soopers to the shooting site, that made sense. In all likelihood, shoppers accustomed to heading to Table Mesa have readjusted — perhaps temporarily, maybe permanently. (There are also other major grocers in Boulder, including three Safeways.) I didn't spot anyone looking over their shoulder; instead, they were quietly going about their business. Conversations were few, except when customers had to ask for help finding items. In one such exchange I overheard, the employee was extraordinarily polite and cheerful. The tone was perfect under the circumstances.
After that stop, I took the fourteen-minute drive to the King Soopers at 6550 Lookout Road, at the unfortunately named Gunbarrel Shopping Center. It, too, had a #BoulderStrong banner, and its management had assigned a large, brawny staffer dressed entirely in black to sit outside the business to say hello to everyone entering. His presence was reassuring.
Like the 30th Street store, the one on Lookout Road made no other visual references to the shooting, but there were a lot fewer customers. Then again, it's on the outskirts of Boulder, in an area dominated by industrial parks. Five aisles in a row were unoccupied, and others had just one or two patrons. There were no groups congregating or chatting. People were just putting their heads down and performing their tasks to the soundtrack of the Fixx's "One Thing Leads to Another."
At neither of these stores did I hear anyone discussing the attack, or much of anything else. They were just going about their business...in some cases, seemingly as quickly as possible.
Back at my car, I punched the address of the Table Mesa store into my phone; the GPS informed me that "King Soopers may be closed." Still, there was plenty of activity beyond the parking lot, where a scattering of Boulder County Sheriff's Office cars and other law enforcement-related vehicles were parked. A steady stream of people were visiting the memorial along the fencing outside the store, which has been growing organically over the past week-plus.
As I approached, a woman walked past me near tears. Another pair of women stood before one display paying tribute to the victims. "Imagine their parents," one said, shaking her head.
A short distance away, a young mother tried to turn the tour into a teachable moment for her three children, who were elementary-school age or younger. "President Trump thought people should be able to have those kinds of guns," she explained.
About half of the signs on the fence were apolitical; one read, "Missing our lost community members. Love to their families, friends. Boulder." Others transmitted messages of frustration and anger about firearms. Examples:
"I am sorry is not enough!!!! My community desires to feel safe going to the store. CHANGE!!"
"The only guns that should be legal should be Nerf...in my opinion."
"Let's hope our push for change lasts longer than these wilting flowers."
At some point in the future, people will return to the Table Mesa store to pick up ingredients for that evening's dinner, just as they're doing at Boulder's other King Soopers operations. But right now, their visits have very different purposes.
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