The newest grocery store on Beacon — or is it?

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There is a big building at the junction of Beacon and 15th, a large building that seems as if it ought to be a major retail destination in our North Beacon Hill business district and urban village. But it’s not. It’s a warehouse. There is nothing visible inside but piles of boxes, and a small paper sign.

This is interesting, because the site is zoned Neighborhood Commercial 2 P 40. Neighborhood Commercial 2, or NC2, is “a moderately-sized pedestrian-oriented shopping area that provides a full range of retail sales and services to the surrounding neighborhood.” Typically an NC2 land use might be a coffee shop or drugstore. 40 means that the zoning allows 40-foot tall buildings to be built there. P means that it is a “P-zone” — a pedestrian-designated zone, which is designed to encourage pedestrian activity in a neighborhood business district by requiring ground floor uses that attract pedestrian activity and interest. This means things like retail stores, restaurants, hair salons, etc., but not research labs, administrative offices — or warehouses.

Regardless of the building’s P-Zone status, warehouses and wholesale showrooms are not allowed in NC2-zoned sites. This building has been used as a warehouse for some time now. The business based there, Hui Intertrading, is a rice wholesaler and importer, who supplies many local restaurants with their rice.

Hui Intertrading’s use of the building as a warehouse has been a thorn in some folks’ sides for quite a while, as was the earlier similar use of a building directly across the intersection. And people have filed complaints over these violations of the land use code, in August 2004 and May 2008. For a while, a land use notice board appeared on the building, listing a proposed change to retail use, but the board eventually came down with no noticeable change in the use of the building.

After the earlier complaint, the building failed 11 city inspections before finally passing one in February 2008. After the most recent complaint, it took 4 inspections before it finally passed, and the case was closed — in other words, it’s no longer considered to be violating land-use codes. But, have you been by there lately? It’s still a warehouse. Nothing has changed.

Oh, wait — except for that small paper sign I mentioned earlier:

Paper sign taped in the doorway of Hui Intertrading. Photo by Jason.
Paper sign taped in the doorway of Hui Intertrading. Photo by Jason.

It’s just a pile of boxes behind the sign, with no sign of any retail activity or retail fixtures.

Could it be that putting up a sign like this is all you need to be a retail business and get the Department of Planning and Development off your back? Business owners, take note!

On the other hand, despite appearances, maybe it is a retail shop. Has anyone tried to shop at this “food grocery retail store”? Please tell us how it went.

Complaints to the DPD may be filed online.

(Can you imagine this building as an old-style movie theater with a nice big neon marquee? I’ve always thought it looked like it should be one.)

17 thoughts on “The newest grocery store on Beacon — or is it?”

  1. Like many people, I’d like to see more retail on Beacon ave. But it doesn’t upset me that the space is being used for something that’s out of line with the zoning-especially since it’s a viable business that isn’t doing harm to the community. I think the city has better things to do than crack down on this. If the space was zoned warehouse and being used as retail, would we still complain? And if the city shut down the warehouse, retailers aren’t exactly flocking to Beacon right now. Would a vacant building at that intersection be better than Hui? Not in my opinion.

  2. With fundamental civic change happening with the immediate area around Hui (light rail), the time to get the ball rolling with zone enforcement is now. As pointed out, this has been happening for years. I would agree that having something at least viable is better than the alternative, but if we want to see N. Beacon Hill become the urban village as described by the Dept. of Neighborhoods we have to start laying the groundwork for the allowance of more population with design to ward pedestrian friendly spaces.

  3. We’ll have to find a balance between top-down and bottom up. You can zone an area to the hilt but the businesses the zoning calls for won’t arrive until consumers demand them. Hui will go by the wayside when the land is more valuable i.e. can generate more income as a retail space.

  4. “it’s a viable business that isn’t doing harm to the community.”

    On the contrary, having pedestrian-unfriendly businesses is harming the community. Sure, it beats a vacant building, but that’s an awfully low standard.

    Beyond whether Hui should have a warehouse there or not, what I find interesting about this is how easy it apparently is to game DPD — at least, it looks that if all that was done was a flimsy paper sign put up with the magic words “retail store” and some open hours.

    The interesting thing is that I am actually against much zoning. I think the strict separation of residential from retail has been the cause of a lot of urban and suburban problems, because of the way it makes people and neighborhoods so car-centric. But, having said that, one bit of zoning I do believe in is keeping warehouses and similar businesses off of the main drag of a community’s retail district, as they are deadening to the district, not energizing.

    Unfortunately I don’t know where else on Beacon Hill Hui could locate, given current zoning. Our business district is pretty much entirely NC2 — which means that Beacon Hill is essentially a warehouse-free Hill and Sodo is probably the nearest place he could go.

  5. Sodo isn’t far away.

    I don’t think we need an illegal warehouse in the middle of the business district of the most-desperately-lacking-for-retail neighborhood in the city. Getting zoning enforced will be a good first step toward us getting more cool new retail businesses like El Quetzal and Buggy and Galaxie and Grown Folks.

    I’ve already filed my complaint, and I am going to continue to file them as long as the city continues to go along with the “retail” joke.

  6. Thanks for drawing attention to this. I’d blithely walked by there several times and saw the sign, thinking maybe the grocery next door was going to expand. Sure, it beats an empty building but it’s violating the rules and that sends a message: “It’s just Beacon Hill – do whatever you want.” As a five-year resident of the area, I’m concerned about that message and I’m glad we’re fighting back. Good post, thank you Wendi

  7. I wish zoning enforcement was the only reason we didn’t have more retail. But unfortunately it’s not that simple.

  8. True enough.

    (Edited to add:) Ha. I posted that without seeing JvA’s comment first.

    And it’s true, that getting zoning enforced is a good first step. Because if you have a cool retail shop to open, it’s more attractive to open it if you are around other retail shops, coffee houses, and other business that cause lively pedestrian traffic, than it is to open it next to a warehouse. (Look how long the Spoon site was vacant.)

  9. We think a lot alike, Wendi. In fact, I had intended to expand upon my post just as you did — saying that retail begets attractive retail begets more attractive retail.

    A pedestrian headed to the 2510 space to get [whatever they offer in the future] might also want to stop and get a margarita at La Cabana while they’re there. But now, I’d guess that none of the warehouse delivery drivers for the 2510 space stop and get margaritas or tacos or whatever. So the current illegal use of the space actually hurts the other spaces’ business.

  10. Go to the link posted by JvA and there actually was an inspection yesterday (11/25) which failed. The posting answered my question regarding the ability to walk in and buy something. Apparently the violation was not having access. The front door was locked. I’m somewhat surprised at the quick response from DPD on this.

  11. I just walked by today. I didn’t try the doorknob because I was in a hurry to get somewhere else (I know, I should have at least tried to open it), but I saw no sign of anyone there. However, I saw an unlit “Open” sign (the ones they sell down at Costco) hanging in the door. There is also a glass counter just inside the door. But otherwise it’s still just piles of boxes. The glass counter is a retail fixture of sorts, but doesn’t look like it’s being used at the moment.

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