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Originally published July 17, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 17, 2009 at 6:28 PM

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Retail Report

Light rail boosts some businesses, hurts others

Seattle's light-rail line, which opens to the public this weekend, has brought mixed fortunes to the retailers in its path. Some shops in Rainier Valley closed during the years-long construction, but the 55-year-old Safeway near Sound Transit's Othello station is spending nearly $3 million to remodel a store that it expects to grow with business from a nearby station.

Seattle Times business reporters

Seattle's light-rail line, which opens to the public this weekend, has brought mixed fortunes to the retailers in its path.

Some shops in Rainier Valley closed during the years-long construction. Now that the dust has settled along that part of the line, dozens of nearby business owners are excited about the possibility of attracting more customers.

Columbia City Ale House, several blocks from a Sound Transit station, is celebrating with a new beer called Light Rail Golden Ale.

Safeway is rejoicing on a larger scale. The company unveiled plans Thursday to spend nearly $3 million remodeling its 55-year-old store near the Othello station. The store will not close as it's converted to the chain's Lifestyle concept, with larger bakery, deli and produce sections.

"Light rail is really going to prompt the neighborhood into becoming an integral part of the city, because you can get here easily," said Gary Slabaugh, Safeway's regional vice president of real estate.

He expects more shoppers to find the area as people and companies move in near light-rail stations.

One major project, announced last month, is Othello Partners' 420,000-square-foot mixed-use residential development at the same intersection as Safeway.

Research shows that public transportation is good for business.

For every $10 million of capital invested in public transportation, communities see $30 million in increased business sales, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

That could mean riches for Seattle businesses, given the $2.3 billion cost of the first 14 miles of Sound Transit's light-rail line.

Food will be a major attraction for light-rail travelers, predicted Susan Davis, executive director of the Rainier Valley Chamber of Commerce.

"Foodies are going to lead the way because of the diversity we have in the valley," she said. "They're going to see that it's cheaper than downtown and it's very authentic."

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She's also mindful of hurdles like parking restrictions and perceptions that Rainier Valley is unsafe.

"We've got our work cut out for us."

Retailers in other parts of town are hunkering down as construction crews build more of the light-rail line.

In Rainier Valley, the turmoil of construction became so disruptive that the city put about $50 million toward a fund to help affected businesses with low-interest loans, grants and other assistance.

Michael Wells, owner of Bailey/Coy Books on Capitol Hill, said Sound Transit learned a lot from its experience in Rainier Valley and has done a good job of managing its first few months of construction on Capitol Hill.

"It's clean, neat, well-maintained and seems secure and safe," he said.

Wells has participated in a couple of programs Sound Transit is funding through the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, including seminars and store-specific advice about how to strengthen his business.

"I wouldn't say business is booming, because it's not, but I don't think that's about Sound Transit," he said.

Some businesses closer to the construction are struggling, including Charlie's Bar and Grill on Broadway Avenue East, a 35-year-old business that also found the chamber's programs helpful.

Still, sales fell 7 percent when Sound Transit started to demolish old buildings to make way for its station, and 8 percent more when it closed the Olive Way entrance from Interstate 5 to Capitol Hill.

Wells has had to lay off his longtime general manager and three other workers.

"Everybody says, 'Wait until it's finished,' but the station isn't scheduled to be open until 2016," he lamented.

"I'm hoping we're savvy enough to come up with alternatives to keep this business going."

— Melissa Allison

Tidbits

Seattle-based Bartell Drugs opens its 55th store Monday in Lynnwood. The 16,400-square-foot location, at 3625 148th St. S.W., will employ about 25 people. Bartell also will open a new store near Mill Creek in August and another in Issaquah in September. — AM

Dollar Tree, a Chesapeake, Va.-based discount-store chain, opens a new location next week in Kenmore. The 7,482-square-foot store is at 7808 N.E. Bothell Way and comes after Dollar Tree opened a store last month in Poulsbo and one in Everett in February. — AM

The state has begun stage two of a project to ease traffic on Interstate 405 near Renton, where a new Uwajimaya store opened this month. It will take two years and create new lanes and ramps to alleviate the state's most congested interchange, I-405 and Highway 167. — MA

The Gap has combined its babyGap and GapKids brand stores into one newly remodeled location at Alderwood mall in Lynnwood. They previously had separate stores. — AM

Fewer than 20 percent of U.S. shoppers surveyed trust food companies to produce food that is safe and healthy, according to a Harvard Publishing account of a recent IBM study. In other findings: 83 percent could name a food product that had been recalled in the last two years (46 percent named peanut butter and 15 percent named spinach); and 49 percent said they would be less likely to buy a once-recalled product even after the source of contamination had been found and addressed. — MA

Hugo Boss opens a new men's clothing store today at Bellevue Square. The 3,200-square-foot location is near Nordstrom, next to Tiffany and across from Burberry, continuing a transformation of that part of the mall into an upscale fashion wing. — AM

Retail Report appears Fridays. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com. Amy Martinez covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Retail Report

Retail Report is a look at the trends, issues and people who makeup the dynamic and versatile retail sector throughout the Puget Sound region. Every Friday with Melissa Allison and Amy Martinez. Send tips or comments to mallison@seattletimes.com or amartinez@seattletimes.com.

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