Opinion: Beacon Hill vs. Georgetown

Drawing by Joel Lee of a potential woonerf or active alley in the Link Station Block, with El Centro de la Raza in the background. Please click through to see a larger version.
By Joel Lee

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. — Eleanor Roosevelt

All of this recent rezoning talk has gotten me thinking about North Beacon Hill’s business district. I’ve lived in many different areas of Seattle and although I love Beacon Hill, I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that does not work with our business areas. I love our coffee shops, funky grocery stores, and ethnic restaurants and I do my part to make sure that I spend money locally, but why do I so often find myself leaving the hill for other services? Some of the answer is obvious: when I want to go see a movie I head over to Columbia City Cinema or the Admiral Theater, since this is a service that I just can’t get in our neighborhood. But I also find myself going to Georgetown just to eat dinner or grab a beer after work. If you have been paying any attention you will have noticed that Georgetown has been booming for the last ten years, with many new restaurants and shops and just funky things going on. What do they have that we don’t?

First I decided I should look at available data to see if I could find some truths. According to Zillow.com, Beacon Hill has 4104 residences, our median income is $45,965 (above Seattle’s median income), our highest percentage age group is people in their 30s, and our average household size is 3.107 people. Add to this mix an awesome underground light rail station, stunning views, a large brand-new park coming soon, convenient freeway access, and a location that is a stone’s throw from downtown, and Beacon Hill has been dealt a winning hand.

Now let’s take a minute to look at Georgetown. If you can dodge that freight train and try to concentrate over that low flying plane noise for a minute, let’s try to take a look at their numbers. Depending on where you draw the line, Georgetown has a mere 379 residences, their median income is $33,654 (almost the lowest in Seattle), their highest percentage age group is people in their 20s, and their average household size is 1.94. Add to this mix a few Superfund sites, eclectic zoning, and some disjointed industrial areas, and it’s a wonder that Georgetown survives at all. Despite all of this, Georgetown is not only surviving, but thriving. Their vibrant business district has added new bars and restaurants almost yearly, and their events such as Artopia attract people from all over the region. Music stores, bakeries, multiple coffee shops, pet supplies, a beer store and antique stores have all opened in the last few years.

The Seattle Office of Economic Development (OED) recently released a study focused on retail in Rainier Valley. Although the study didn’t focus on Beacon Hill, one of the study’s main finds was “leakage,” which is roughly defined as people leaving their own neighborhoods to buy products and services in other areas. Just as Beacon Hill clearly suffers from leakage as many people leave the area for basic services, neighborhoods such as Georgetown clearly capitalize on this, since there is no way that the 379 people that live there could possibly support their range of businesses.

It’s hard not to conclude from this data that zoning alone will not fix our business district. Neighborhoods like Georgetown and Columbia City have certain less-measurable qualities about them that have helped them thrive. Chief among them has to be neighborhood pride, creativity, activism, long-term vision, building owners willing to take chances, investors with vision and tough as nails entrepreneurs that are brave enough to swim against our economic current. None of these are qualities that we can zone for; they are qualities that we must earn with a lot of difficult risk, vision, community participation, cooperation and tenacity.

Joel Lee maintains the Beacon Hill Public Art website and previously wrote about a vision for Beacon Hill’s “Post Alley.”

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53 thoughts on “Opinion: Beacon Hill vs. Georgetown”

  1. Great article Joel. I really appreciate the research you did. I work in Georgetown and have scratched my head numerous times wondering how it can support all the bars and restaurants, etc.
    Here’s my take. There is a substantial lunch crowd. Lots of people work in the area, and its always busy at lunch, whether you are at Stellar or Jules Maes, etc. N. Beacon Hill has two large employers, Amazon and the VA, both of which are outside of likely walking distance to the Town Center.
    Georgetown, like Columbia City, was once its own city, and prior to its recent surge, was pretty empty, but full of commercial real estate. BH lacks commercial properties for businesses to move in to, except the warehouses at Beacon and 15th.
    But Georgetown is outside walking distance of nearly all their lunch customers and the buildings were decrepit 10 years ago. I even remember reading about the closing of Jules Maes, the “Oldest Bar in Seattle.” So what gives?
    Joel nails it on the head: creativity, marketing, risk and heart. I’d be curious to know if rents are (or were) favorable at the genesis of the revival. One other thing, strong civic leadership from the Georgetown Merchants Association and its leaders.

  2. Great article – just one nitpick. You mention that Georgetown has “379 residences”, then move on to later state that only 379 people live there. With an average household size of 1.94, at the very least Georgetown would be able to claim 739 residents.

  3. @David, I think your close about your lunch theory but there must be more to it. I was down there for dinner at Stella’s on a week night recently and still had to wait for a table. Clearly a different set of people from the local workers at the lunch crowd.

    I would also point out that Hillman City is full of wonderful commercial properties and yet it never been able to gain the momentum of Columbia City.

    @CA- thanks for the correction, I’m a C- math student on my best day. It’s difficult to decide where to even draw the border of Georgetown so who really knows? I’ve had Beacon Hill friends that refer to themselves as living in ‘Georgetown Heights’.

  4. Great post, Joel. I’ve given this a lot of thought over many pints in Georgetown.

    I think one of the things that sets Georgetown apart is that it’s a destination. The lack of residences makes it easier to get liquor licenses–fewer schools or churches nearby, fewer neighbors to be disturbed by noise or parking disturbances. The zoning is also in place for commercial activity, and there’s already a funky, cool strip of existing structures.

    It also serves a certain demographic–folks with extra money & extra time. Overwhelmingly English speaking, age 25-40 (with a few younger drinkers thrown in). I’d be interested to see where the people who shop, eat, and drink in Georgetown live.

    Beacon Hill may never be a hang out or shopping destination, but we should be able to create a strong commercial district that meets more of the needs of our residents. Our residents are incredibly diverse (in age, language spoken at home, interests). Red Apple & McPherson’s do a good job of marketing to BH in all our glory, but it would be hard for a niche business to try.

    Wendi & Jason did a survey last year about what blog readers want to see on the hill…I’ll look it up. I’d like to see a bookstore, pet supply shop, and a family friendly pub/pizza place. The list would be different in every house on our block.

    Creating/re-invigorating the Beacon Hill business district is going to require creativity, and risk-taking. It’s also going to require zoning changes (we have very little commercial space), construction, traffic revisions, etc.

    We have three different little strips in N. Beacon Hill alone–the area near Galaxie/Victrola, the area around the library, and the area around La Cabana. The way Beacon curves just south of McClellan interrupts the visual connection between the “urban village” and the commercial strip just a few blocks away. The intersection of Beacon & 15th interrupts the pedestrian experience.

    Something else to consider: Georgetown is primarily (although not exclusively) an adult destination. It serves a market; it’s branded: hip, arty, funky, cool. We visit to Jules Mae’s, SmartyPants, and Full Throttle much less now that I’m not drinking. When we have the baby, we’re going to have to figure out where to go–Stella’s, Calamity Jane’s, and…where else allows kids in G-Town? Beacon Hill has more families. Families spend their time & money differently than adults without kids.

    Columbia City has nailed the families w/kids market–but this comment is already long enough.

  5. I think other things are at play here as well:

    1.) “Downtown” Georgetown is on a major arterial, where many people in town don’t even know where Beacon Hill is, exactly. (I know I was that way before some friends bought a house here)

    2.) Airport Way through Georgetown has a uniquely urban feel, with the wall of the old Brewery still occupying two or three blocks. It’s photogenic and memorable, where our shopping district is just…..there.

    Not that our district is a bad place. It just lacks pizazz. Ironically, one of our campier locations (Perry Ko’s South China Sea Restaurant!) was sacrificed for the light rail station.

    So we don’t have any old-time built-in funky like Georgetown, but we do have a pleasant main street. Now if we could only get a better mix of businesses.

    Personally, if I had the money, knowledge, time, discipline, or any even remote sense of how to run a business, I’d love to open an antique mall/used bookstore up on the avenue. Because after all, if you don’t have funk, you have to make it for yourself.

  6. @Melissa, I do think that Beacon Hill will eventually become a destination location and we are not that far from being a place to just hang out. In the meantime however I would point out that the Hangar Cafe is also pretty child friendly and has some great breakfast food.

    @Dan, I agree that BH lacks ‘Pizazz’ and it is not well branded, but do you remember G-town 12 years ago? There was nothing down there and nobody went there unless you needed some motorcycle parts. I think that part of our job now is to find our own Beacon funky groove and start getting that message out to the world.

    @everyone, if you own a business or have ever thought of starting a business in the area I would highly recommend looking at the OED study linked above. There are a lot of no brainers in there for new business ideas and marketing, I hope that people take those messages to heart.

  7. I’m surprised that a pho place hasn’t opened up on Beacon Hill near the light rail station. Good, cheap food and brings all sorts of people in.

  8. And/or a taco truck. That one at the north end of the 12th Ave. bridge seems to be doing a fine business.

  9. While it is true that Georgetown has become a destination, that is due to the hard, hard of work of quite a few people. I have a couple friends who literaly devoted a huge amount of time (think years) to help their neighborhood and what we see today is the result.

  10. For starters, Georgetown has lots of cool old buildings close to each other, and Beacon Hill doesn’t.

  11. There is nothing like the mediocre Art and overpriced pizza available in GT.. Beacon should never try and compete with that. oh yeah… Even Ballard doesn’t have a falling down brewery.

  12. @JvA, that is an advantage. But there are lots of areas with cool buildings that are not well utilized. Beacon Hill has a few really nice buildings close to other buildings that are sitting empty.

    @Patty, I guess I thought that lots of hard work went without saying, but yes that is a good point.

    @Ramona, food trucks need to be parked on private property, I would also love to see more of this.

  13. “I have a couple friends who literaly devoted a huge amount of time (think years) to help their neighborhood and what we see today is the result.”

    Patty, can you elaborate a bit? What sort of things did your friends do to help Georgetown? I’m curious — it would be nice to know the type of work that made Georgetown what it is today.

  14. I see Georgetown as a colony established by Fremont-in-exile.

    For those who don’t remember it, Fremont used to be a lot of old industrial buildings and dive bars. Property, either to rent or to buy, was dirt cheap and so creative types moved in alongside the bikers, drug dealers, street drunks, and others. The creatives could do, and did, pretty much anything they wanted because a lot of it flew under the radar of the city, which wasn’t paying any attention anyway. Their neighbors didn’t want the city in their business either, so if someone was using a building in a non-conforming fashion or breaking some other rule, they looked the other way.

    Eventually, all this work began to create value for the neighborhood, which especially benefited Susie Burke, Mike Peck, and couple other Fremont property owners. The property owners leveraged their newly-created value and eventually reshaped Fremont into the expensive neighborhood it is today, which mostly pushed the creatives out. In the mid 90’s, Georgetown was in even rougher shape than Fremont used to be — it had useful vacant buildings, city indifference, neighbors who weren’t going to poke their nose into your business. It was perfect for the new artsy neighborhood, and was colonized by people who a decade earlier would have been attracted to Fremont.

    Beacon Hill doesn’t have the characteristics of either of these two neighborhoods at the beginnings of their renaissance. It might have back in the ’70’s when a lot of houses were vacant and El Centro occupied the school. But it took a different path then, towards being a neighborhood fundamentally shaped more by political process than in creative artistic endeavor. Now, largely as a result, the buildings are mostly occupied, the city is paying attention to the area, there are neighbors actively engaged in the zoning process, etc. These are generally good things, but it means at this point, Beacon Hill’s way forward is unlikely to anything like Georgetown’s. That doesn’t mean it can’t have a vibrant business district, but getting there is going to take a different path.

    Attitude and demographics aside, I think Beacon Hill physically shares more characteristics with the Admiral District. They both are a secondary crossroads surrounded by single family housing. In that analogy Columbia City plays the role of the Junction. The challenge on Beacon Hill is that for every person who wants things to change there’s another person who is afraid of getting pushed out by gentrification and another who thinks the neighborhood is being victimized by social service agencies. It’s a minefield of conflicting visions with strong emotions roiling underneath.

  15. @Brook, thanks for your thoughtful post and I’m sorry if I implied in any way that we should be like Georgetown or compete with Georgetown in any category, its such a different neighborhood than our own. However I do think that we can LEARN from Georgetown as we watch our neighbor at the bottom of the hill go through it’s growing pains.

    We have an entirely different set of challenges and opportunities and I hope that the struggles that we are going through now will ultimately make us a very strong and vital neighborhood. I think that the first and most important step is what we are doing right now and making sure that everyone gets heard as we move forward.

  16. This may be sacrilege, but has anyone else, over the years, just sort of come to accept Beacon Hill for what it is: a nice place to live, but I wouldn’t want to visit. A suburb in a city. The second-to-last frontier (after South Park) of Seattle. The place that time forgot. I think I’ve really come to terms with leakage. I am going to continue to seep on down the hill for nearly everything, and while that’s not ideal, it’s not that big a deal. Now that the Carleton Avenue Grocery is there seven days a week for milk, salad fixings, roasted veggie pizza, great prices on both Cotes de Gascogne and Cotes du Rhone, and even non-bleach diapers, I don’t even need to trek to the Red Apple for a last-minute dinner. I used to try harder to support Beacon businesses, but now that I’m a parent and have less time to stress about the neighborhood, I’ve pretty much come to accept it for its sleepy self.

  17. One of the key reasons is the great building stock that was available for improvement in Georgetown as well as landlords that are willing to rent and make improvements. This is what is lacking in our neighborhood.

  18. But there are lots of areas with cool buildings that are not well utilized. Beacon Hill has a few really nice buildings close to other buildings that are sitting empty.

    What are these buildings? I’m speaking of historical buildings with wood floors, big windows, tall ceilings without acoustic tiles, some nice old bars (like Smarty Pants, 9 Pound, Jules Maes, Calamity Jane’s, Stellar — I think Squid & Ink and Georgetown Liquor Company may have installed their own new ones), a gorgeous brick storefront, and preferably some resident ghosts. Georgetown has these spaces closely packed together in abundance, as does Columbia City, and, to a lesser extent, Hillman City. Where is that area of Beacon Hill?

    What neighborhood should be our development model? One where there is no core with a number of beautiful 100-year-old buildings packed closely together, and the landlords needed to be persuaded into investing in the buildings? Is there one (maybe in another city)? Instead of comparisons to Post Alley, Georgetown, and Columbia City, I’d love to see references to a vibrant area that was built up from a big gravel pit and a smattering of low-standing, run-down structures without nice windows or other architectural details worth restoring. (Despite being resigned to the current situation, I would love more commercial options nearby!)

  19. What Matt said.
    We seem to lack business owners willing to make improvements.

    However, I’d expect savvy business owners to wait on major work until the upzones.

    The lack of involvement of our business owners in the upzone process suggests that the absentee landowners are an apathetic bunch.

  20. I’ve spent the last several months planning a new retail business (and still not sure if I can make it work, though I found the OED report interesting as it confirms some of my perceptions about what is needed in our general area). The number one factor in retail success is location. I ruled out location in Beacon Hill early on. It’s just not enough of a destination to support much discretionary spending (no “clusters” as described in the OED report). Even in major destinations like Fremont, a one or two block difference can mean a 50%+ change in revenue. I found out that in Columbia City, as recently as a year ago, the only business making real money was Tutta Bella. Some things have changed for the better in CC, but the fact is opening a retail place in the neighborhoods around here is taking a real risk. Your shop might just be paying for itself, leaving you with minimum wage or less. That means you really have to love it, and you either have to have another source of income, or no family to take care of. So it makes sense that one reason Georgetown succeeded is that its development was driven by artists and urbanists who are completely dedicated to their craft and their way of life. I love my business idea, but I can’t match that dedication – money and family are bigger factors for me. So I need to look for a location where I can be successful in 1 year rather than 5+ years. However, I know there are entrepreneurs out there who are more tenacious than I am, and they’ll sprout here and there on Beacon Hill. But I’ll be happy if BH doesn’t change too much. Can’t there be one neighborhood in Seattle that doesn’t become a gentrified copy of Capitol Hill, Fremont, or Madison Valley?

  21. I hope for a future Beacon Hill commercial area that meets the needs of the people who currently live here and encourages more people to move here. I’m less interested (though still welcoming) in seeing BH become a place for people from other neighborhoods to hang out.

    Like Sparky, I don’t want to live in a cookie-cutter gentrified neighborhood. I enjoy living in a diverse neighborhood–hearing languages and smelling from every continent, seeing grandmas and babies and everyone in between.

    While I enjoy visiting other neighborhoods (and other cities), I’d prefer to do the majority of my necessary business within walking distance, or a short bus/train ride off the hill. I’d also like more leisure activities on the hill.

    We moved to BH in part because we could get to work and run many errands without a car. I’d like to decrease our car trips even more. We need new businesses to make that possible.

    It’s interesting that commercial property owners don’t seem to be interested in these conversations.

  22. As far as model neighborhoods, I think Greenwood (mix of old and new) is an apt comparison. Lake City and Northgate also have some exciting projects–building “urban villages” in areas that have historically been places to drive through. Brook’s example of the Admiral District works for me, too. We have a significant advantage over all of them: the light rail station.

    Beacon Hill has not always been a last frontier. When it was on the streetcar line, it was a vibrant community with a thriving business district. When the transit system was destroyed and people became dependent on cars, the commercial areas on BH wilted. Freddie’s book has some great pictures of the business areas–including the area around McPherson’s.

    I’ll do some digging for national examples of neighborhoods successfully built and/or revitalized around transit. It’s an ongoing movement. Our neighborhood has a chance to return to past glory.

    I was impressed by how well we weathered the 2008 storm on Beacon Hill. Red Apple stayed open, bus service continued on Beacon Ave to the VA and downtown. Even the mail carrier made it every day! I was so happy to live in walkable neighborhood with friendly neighbors who supported each other. I felt the same way when our house was hit with the flu last fall–everything we needed was close by.

  23. Really interesting discussion going on here. The takeaway for me from any neighborhood is that it all comes down to the creation of value, either new or potential. The initial investment that creates that value may be money, or it may be labor, like what happened in Fremont. There, the labor of the artists eventually created value that the third-generation owner of the old sawmill couldn’t ignore.

    On Beacon Hill, the city is itself putting in a big initial investment, first in the form of the Light Rail station, and next in trying to increase the zoning limits of the retail district. If the owners of newly rezoned NC2-65 properties don’t notice the increased value, maybe someone else will and can make them an offer they can’t refuse.

    My other takeaway is that it’s easy to generate ideas. It’s hard to have the time, energy, and stability to try to make them happen. In my 40’s I have to have different priorities than I did in my 20’s, because I can’t live on the $210 a week I earned working at a non-profit theatre anymore.

    @Sparky, you’re right. We don’t have enough density or destination appeal to support a lot of retail. For those of use with kids, mortgages, car payments, and no other sources of income, trying to make a living off a new retail business on BH would be tough.

    But maybe there are micro-retail opportunities for people who just need/want a little income. The northern of the two Perry Ko lots is sitting there with an assessed value of $214,500. Presumably the owner (I won’t post the name here, but it’s easy enough to get online) is paying taxes on that value without making any income on it. If there’s no other planned development in the works, maybe that owner would be interested in a little income to help with those taxes, like an espresso stand or a hot dog cart sitting on the gravel as long as the lot is vacant. Maybe both. The capital investment in a cart like that runs about $10k, so it’s pretty cheap to get into. The question is whether BH can support it as a business model. Then the next question is whether something like that could expand onto other lots and eventually become more permanent — perhaps even, dare I say, Post Alley-like? To some extent we’re an outpost of the ID. Would an Asian street market vibe work up here?

    Everyone talks about the commercial property owners not particpating in neighborhood planning, but has anyone ever approached them with a straight up business proposition? If so, how did they react? Was it different from approaching them with a “let’s talk about how your property can help the neighborhood” proposition?

    @Melissa, I do remember going to Red Apple about a week into the Snowpocalypse and there being not a single loaf of bread on the shelves. That was when I began expecting zombie hordes to show up.

    Just for the record, I know what its like to live in the center of Fremont and experience both its charm and the its drunk frat boys leaving the bars in droves at 2:00 on Sunday morning. I’d love to see BH be a more vibrant neighborhood, but my love of vibrance has its limits.

  24. Wow, what a great conversation, thank you everyone.

    @Matt the buildings in Gtown are great, but they have lots of drawbacks too. How many bars, restaurants, shops have you been to on the east side of Airport Way? None? That’s because there are not any. Imagine if half of Beacon were unusable, that would be a pretty big handicap.

    @JVA I’m more on your side than you think. I also love BH just the way it is and I’m in no hurry for things to change. HOWEVER I also realize that things are changing and our economy is in the toilet and if we want to keep many of the cool family/ethnic shops that we have now then we have to plan how to integrate them into our future. Many of these businesses have marketed limited products to a limited ethnic group and this will not be sustainable in the long run.

    There are many great buildings in BH, but probably the nicest that is available now is the old Culinary Communion spot, but don’t forget the old Spoonz location and even the garage where the car wash was at could be something cool. I’ve noticed that many BH buildings are great old buildings with bad facades built on the front in the 60’s, start snooping around and you will find more.

    @Sparky, as a small business owner with employees dependent on me I understand your fears and I hope you find the spot that works for you. I think that part of the problem with BH is that people associate change with gentrification. Why can’t we change and grow and develop into a better neighborhood without gentrifying? What if instead of focus on the great things that we have and support more of the same?

    @Brook, I agree that talk is cheap. But having a clear and vibrant vision of the future is priceless. What great event didn’t first start with a crazy idea? ‘Downtown’ BH is a bunch of gravel lots right now, we need imagination, conversation and ideas if we going to grow into a neighborhood that we all can love and call home.

  25. I hope I’m pasting this correctly

    Does anyone remember this? I used to write extensively about artist housing issues and I took this photo back when the artists from the Washington Shoe Building were talking about moving in here. Notice there is no 9lb Hammer, no coffee shop, no Smarty Pants. We think of this as a cool building now, but it took a lot of imagination back then to make it into what it is now.

  26. @Joel, the old brewery buildings on the east side of Airport Way are actually where a lot of the most interesting stuff is happening in Georgetown, but it’s industrial stuff, not retail stuff.

    You keep saying that there’s a lot of available space, but I just don’t see it. I see a lot of street level space being taken up by small service-oriented businesses that could easily be located on the second floors of taller buildings, but I don’t see a whole lot of the sort of cheap space that fuels renaissance like Georgetown. To get that, you need to have a collapsed neighborhood to start with.

    I haven’t been by the front of the Culinary Communion space in a while. Does it still have a “for lease” space in front? It no longer comes up in commercial property listings online, so maybe it’s been leased. I’ve long had fantasies of starting a restaurant, so I priced it out when it came on the market and determined the only way for that to work would be for someone with deep pockets who could afford to lose money for years to take it. Yes, it’s nice, but it’s overbuilt for the market and all that capital investment by the landlords is holding it back just as surely as benign neglect is holding back other commercial properties in the core.

    As kind of a side topic, I’ve been following neighborhood prices on Zillow and since the first of the year both Beacon Hill and Columbia City have fallen off a cliff, while the rest of the city has been stabilizing. I don’t know if there’s been a rash of foreclosures down here driving down prices, or if we were floating in a Light Rail bubble through a lot of last year, and now it’s popped. I kind of suspect the latter. Until something else changes to increase commercial activity, like increased density, maybe BH with light rail is just BH with light rail. I know if I owned one of those gravel lots, I’d just sit it until I knew whether I could build out to 40′ or 65′. I don’t know whether the owners are paying enough attention to do that or not.

  27. Joel — I bet we’re on the exact same side. I do hope something comes of this neighborhood, because I am feeling like a chump for investing in a remodel right now.

    I should take a closer look at the buildings in NBH. After living in Mid Beacon Hill for 5 years, I’m not sure I’ve ever walked around NBH as a pedestrian would. I just see the storefronts as I drive by.

    Greenwood and Lake City — those do make more sense to me as neighborhoods that BH could resemble. I just hope we don’t ever see a god-awful cheap townhouse slum like on 85th. That’s the ugliest part of the entire city, and it’s exactly what I hope does not happen here. I understand the push for density, but not at that cost.

  28. I’d like to make my last comment more specific: North Beacon Hill’s prices have been dropping rapidly. Beacon Hill in general is dropping less rapidly.

  29. I love the idea of approaching the property owners to use the vacant spaces for food trucks. This could be part of the Festival Street! These lots could also be used for mobile blood drives, donation drop-off site, temporary art installations…

  30. Very interesting discussion and I agree that development/rezoning is necessary to increase the appeal and sustainable growth of our neighborhood.

    In response to the discussion about property prices, I wouldn’t use Zillow as a primary source. Looking at what’s on the market and what’s being purchased, I see that (1) supply is low and (2) properties on the market are on the low end or in bad shape. Properties with a great location and in great shape are in demand and will continue to sell at a brisk pace, but owners aren’t selling as reflected by the current inventory.

  31. @Brook, thanks again. There are a only a few NBH commercial spaces available, but there are a bunch when you start looking at the prime empty lots that could be utilized but are currently sitting empty. What could be cheaper space to fuel a renaissance than an empty gravel lot right next to a light rail station? If I owned there would be a taco truck,a coffee cart, a flower stand etc etc.

  32. Great discussion!
    After years of working hard to improve sustainable development here (i spearheaded the Festival Street, among other causes), i do sometimes wonder if we shouldn’t just accept BH for what it is, like JvA said. Sure things will change, but we’ll be amazed sometimes at how much things don’t change. When the streetcar stopped running along Beacon Av many of the cool old storefronts were torn down, to be replaced with 1960’s warehouse-style buildings. Lot sizes are small and oddly shaped due to Beacon Av’s diagonal run, so there is an impediment to redevelopment. Property ownership has not, and is not likely to change much. There are few storefronts, and density in the area is not high–although most of the Beacon Av corridor is zoned NC-40, there are only a few buildings even close to that height (and one, the pink warehouse, sits essentially empty). Zoning to NC-65, while probably a good idea, will not bring a flurry of development. I LOVE Joel’s post-alley idea, it’s one we’ve discussed in various neighborhood planning meetings. The trick is how do we get there? Be ready for years of meetings, discussion, and planning!
    That said, one thing we’re trying to do up here is start a Beacon Merchants Association. This would replace the Chamber of Commerce which is essentially defunct. Better communication among existing businesses could help them and the greater community. We’re just in the process of forming, having had one preliminary meeting. Our next meeting will be this Friday at noon at Baja Bistro. Our intent is to capture home businesses as well, so if you’re a business owner drop by to get more info and contribute your ideas. Anyone wanting to be added to the list can contact me directly at roberthinrix@gmail.com.
    Let’s keep the positive discussion going!

  33. That’s great news Robert. A while back I would have attended as a home business since noon on a weekday would have fit my schedule far better than early evenings on weeknights does, but I’ve gone back to the steady paycheck. I’d love to see the Beacon Merchants Association take an ecosystem approach to boosting business for everyone, but I really hope that some things can be accomplished without “years of meetings, discussion, and planning.”

    Yes, I’ve seen things change in the Southeast District in the almost 20 years since I first got to know it, but I’ve also seen many more things change for the better in other neighborhoods in much less time and I would be thrilled if Beacon Hill found the willpower to speed some things up instead of slow everything down.

  34. Tina Ray wrote in with some great commentary:

    Great article on the complete lack of businesses/restaurants on Beacon Hill – the area would seem be situated in an opportune business zone, but businesses fail to thrive.

    My husband and I – 8-year Beacon Hill residents – go to Georgetown on a regular basis, and less often to Columbia City – our next destination of choice is West Seattle.

    We think there are a couple of reasons why businesses fail to thrive – the first and foremost is the narrow focus of the businesses – we have several ethnic spots that do not have wide appeal, although they are pretty tasty – there are a couple of really good Filipino Restaurants, but we don’t this this has mass appeal.

    The restaurant we frequent the most is El Quetzal – really, really friendly people, good food, good value. Java Love is frankly much too expensive, terrible service, and food is indifferent at best. The Victrola – formerly The Galaxy – is an excellent example why we make the trek to Georgetown or Starbucks for coffee. The service is terrible, the attitude is terrible, but the sandwiches are really good. At issue, according to most of my friends and neighbors, is how obnoxious it is to try and get coffee and lunch there – easier to go elsewhere – The truth is that most Beacon restuarants are not inviting, with the exception of El Quetzal. Most of our neighborhood goes elsewhere.

    The Red Apple remodeled and changed their products – I have noticed an increase in customers for the past couple of years – I never went there when we moved to Beacon, and now I believe it is better than the QFC and other area stores.

    The businesses that have tried to open and have failed – notably the cute litte store Buggy – catered to a demographic that was too specific – high-end baby clothes don’t really appeal to this neighborhood –

    Georgetown has bars and restaurants that cater to the demographic and appeal to a wide range of people. Most places have friendly staff and good food – the wider the appeal, the more customers. Beacon businesses are too narrow in scope or lack the basic customer service concept and are priced too high.

    Most Beacon Hill residents lament the lack of businesses, but until there are places up here to hang out, we will continue to go to Georgetown or West Seattle.

  35. All-

    I think this is a new record for comments on the BH Blog. Congrats to Wendi & Jason for getting it going and maintaining it. I hope some businesses are paying attention and choose to advertise on the BH Blog.

    I think the idea of implementing temporary use on the properties around the station is the best idea to come out of this discussion. Jim Deirs wrote in his book about the revitalization of Columbia City by a dedicated group of business owners, neighbors and boosters, (one of which is in the Mayor’ Office now, Darryl Smith). One of their strategies was to paint windows of empty storefronts to look like what they wanted there. Have the vision, then make it happen.
    I also remember passing the “Flower Lady”, day after day on my commute to the U-District. Rain or shine, in a tiny shack in a gravel lot where Eastlake and 12th come together under I-5. Today, she’s got a flower shop in the ground floor of the condo building on the site.
    Other temporary uses could be all manner of cart based businesses, a community garden, bocce court, bmx track, sculpture park, what else? Why not try lots of things, and see what sticks?

    As for Buggy, you can find them in Madrona, its a better fit for what they are doing.

    FYI on Rainier Cold Storage Building in Georgetown, its changing dramatically. Many of the craftspeople and artists are leaving when their leases are up, due to major increases and unfavorable terms from the new owners (Sabey Corp). Plans are for a major re-purposing to higher rent uses like retail, professional offices and housing. Georgetown could become the next Fremont, but with loads of industrial traffic, airplane noise and a garbage train leaving twice a day!

  36. “I think this is a new record for comments on the BH Blog.” Well, not on this post — we had 50 comments a few days ago on the 14th and Bayview post. But, yes, over the last 3 weeks or so we have had more comments than ever before. Keep ’em coming!

    And I want to add — I hope everyone took notice of Joel’s alley illustration for this post. It is really cool and I was glad to see an artistic rendition of the active alley idea.

  37. Thanks Wendi, I’ve never drawn anything like that before but I learned a few things and hope to do more improved drawings in the future. What else do we need to imagine?

    David, I remember 10 years ago artists saying that Georgetown could never be gentrified. One of the things that always worried me about that area was that there were no permanent artists spaces and artists were living on time borrowed from companies like Sabey. I would love integrating some long term low income artist housing into BH somewhere. Artists add qualities that are immeasurable to a community. Maybe we could have a BH artist in residence and set them up for a few months in one of the empty storefronts?

    @Tina Ray, as witnessed by El Quetzal, many businesses could do well simply by broadening their outreach. For the record I love Victrola and several other places that you mentioned. I would love to see some of our tiny businesses grow and I would hope that we can do what we can to help them.

  38. As the area develops around the light rail station I think the time is ripe for the community to be on top of the design proposals. I have really appreciated the ideas put forth by Joel and hope to avoid the kind of development like the latest mixed use building (@15th and Beacon) to be constructed. I do not support design by committee, but I think it is valuable to keep an overall vision in the public eye. In the end it will come down to whomever is footing the bill(s) and new construction seldom favors the imaginative small business person. The area around REI has some good examples of new development that has done well to attract independent small businesses that feed off the traffic generated by the REI store. Everyone on this string has obviously given this a lot of thought which is good to hear.

  39. Great article – but 2 key elements were missed.

    1) Beacon Hill ( I am a life long resident) does not per say really have a business district that offers what a normal person would expect on N. Beacon Hill. Red Apple Market – very over priced – another grocery store at the junction that is nothing more than a smelly eyesore – a lack of parking in general. In addition you have El Centro occupying land that at one time was earmarked for a supermarket in the original demolition plans for the Old Beacon Hill Elemantary. South China Cafe moved to the East Side – which took away the last neighborhood gathering place for those who have been there forwever.There is only one bar left on Beacon Hill – unless you count the other eyesore in Mid Beacon Hill next to Redbird Sports – that used to house the very popular Jolo Tavern. Travel South to the Van Asselt Juntion – and with the closing of Van Asselt School – what a prime pice of land for a supermarket – restaurants – etc. What am I really trying to say here? THERE IS NO LAND ON BEACON HILL TO DEVELOP – AND WHAT EXISTS IS IN SHAMBLES…… Hello Gerorgetown and West Seattle!

  40. Thanks David, that’s a great article. I guess that the real advantage that we have is that our alley is not a conversion, it has not even been built yet.

    @D Hagan, I’m actually fine with Red Apple and I prefer it to many of the larger grocery stores and I also disagree with your reference to ABC Market as a ‘smelly eyesore’. It is actually a little treasure that just needs some help marketing to a changing neighborhood. They have some great prices and some unusual foods that are hard to find anywhere else in Seattle and even a funky little housewares section.

  41. 10 years ago, ABC Market (then The New Beacon Market) actually was a smelly eyesore. A very smelly eyesore. It’s been under new ownership for a long time, and cleaned up it’s like having a small Uwajimaya a block from our house. We don’t go there that often, but when we do we always come back with cool, interesting things. Anyone who thinks Red Apple charges too much should check out ABC. Their prices on meat, in particular, are really good.

    In keeping with the multicultural heritage of Beacon Hill, there’s a taco stand inside that’s quite good.

  42. A taco stand in ABC?! I know what I’m doing for lunch1

    I agree that 10 years ago the market was terribly smelly and not very welcoming. It’s much better now, but I still don’t go very often because I have a traumatic memory of buying chocolate milk there that tasted like fish. I need to get over it.

  43. Melissa, please report back on the tacos. It’s probably been close to a year since I last tried it and I hope it’s still good.

  44. I haven’t seen it, but I’m told one of the lots on the east side of the train station now has a “for rent” sign on it. If anyone is in a position to rent an empty lot and do something productive with it, this is an opportunity to make something happen.

    It occurred to me that if the landowner is paying attention, the timing of this might be driven by the recent proposal to take the lot for a park. The city is less likely to take property that’s being used.

    I said it before, but what we really need is a local community bank, credit union, or savings and loan that sees investing in Beacon Hill development as profitable. Without access to capital, good ideas remain ideas. But not only is capital scarce, the neighborhood keeps sending signals that development will be met with resistance.

  45. <<<But not only is capital scarce, the neighborhood keeps sending signals that development will be met with resistance.<<<

    Your interpretation entirely.

  46. Yes, it’s my interpretation. I almost qualified that when I wrote it to include the clause, “even if not everyone involved realizes they are sending those signals.”

    It’s an opinion based on 20 years of watching how proposed development is greeted in the Southeast District versus other neighborhoods in Seattle. In 1999, the rallying cry was around stopping light rail (or spending the kind of money on a cut and cover tunnel down MLK that the big bore 99 tunnel will cost). I still hear echoes of opposition to light rail in the reaction to the neighborhood plan, even though for all I know the people involved didn’t oppose it. It’s not a message that attracts investment, and then people get mad that there’s no investment happening.

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