What’s wrong with the retail space at John Court?

The John Court apartments are mostly full. Retail space on the hill is in fairly high demand, and E John Ct and 15th Ave E has good bus access and a lot of foot traffic from the Safeway and Group Health buildings across the street. So why have most of the building’s retail spaces stood empty for years?

“Most is the fact that we don’t have any parking,” said Adam Greenberg of First Western Properties, which leases the retail space. “But that’s kind of indicative of that area.”

But on transit-oriented Capitol Hill, surely there must be a progressive business owner who will take a risk on people walking and biking to their business. And there is a giant Safeway parking lot and non-metered street parking only steps away.

It seems John Court’s retail must suffer from a double whammy. Aside from the lack of parking, the John Court spaces are also large, which can be intimidating to businesses during tough financial times.

“People who previously were not afraid to take on 2,700 square feet now don’t want to,” Greenberg said, referring to the size of the main corner lot, which has never been filled.

Make that a triple whammy. The space is also not set up well for restaurants.

“That building was not constructed to be able to vent for a restaurant,” said Greenberg. It could handle a coffee or sandwich shop, but installing a class one or two hood is not possible.

Meanwhile, coming soon from 19th and Madison to Pine and Belmont is a new wave of mixed-use retail space. A quadruple whammy?

John Court is currently home to Green Clean dry cleaners and an Edward Jones office. Greenberg said parties have been expressing interested, from financial firms to yoga studios.

“We’re getting more phone calls,” he said.

15 thoughts on “What’s wrong with the retail space at John Court?

  1. And the previous businesses at that location were:

    Kidd Valley burger joint (seemed successful)
    Small restaurant (bit of a turnover here)
    Christian Science reading room (always been there)
    Vegetarian Teapot Chinese Restaurant (always successful)

    OK, so I’m not a businessman, but “what worked there in the past” might be a good starting point for your business model!

    (BTW how do venting requirements for a dry cleaner differ from those for a restaurant?)

  2. There are many issues developers need to consider when creating spaces for retail clients .. one of them is tinted glass .. there are UV/Energy requirements to consider and all. Retail businesses do NOT flourish behind tinted storefront windows. Walk and drive-by appeal is very important and there are regulations about how much lighting stores can have, it takes an awful lot to try to compensate for darkened glass and even the best solutions aren’t 100% effective. Additionally, lighting is expensive for retailers to purchase and when tinted windows are added to the mix, professional lighting design is often required. Most small, local retailers can’t afford this, so national chains, and offices often fill the spaces. These type of retail businesses don’t really add much to a business district in the way of charm or vigor.
    As far as John Court goes .. not only are the windows dark but the spaces are large and the set back corner diminishes visibility.The retail spaces are poorly conceived. It’s too bad the space on the north side would’ve been great for a restaurant with the pocket park across the street.
    I bet if they swapped out the tinted glass for clear and broke up the spaces into smaller storefronts there would be tenants in more of the spaces
    Who were the developers? Do they have any other projects in the city?

  3. Andrew there are HUGE differences in restaurant vs. retail (if any) venting. Most dry cleaners don’t even do cleaning on site anymore. A Class A hood has to run in a shaft all the way to the roof and be fireproofed inside – this is very costly to put in and near impossible if the building didn’t build in the shaft from the get go.

  4. Makes total sense now, how could they not design for restaurant space in that great building?!? That corner space would have made an awesome pub, I always assumed it was terribly expensive which was keeping business out, now I see it is poor design. Too bad, without a strong restaurant to pull people there its going to be hard to fill those spaces.

  5. It’s outrageous to me that they didn’t design shafts in. It’s pretty simple, and as kgdlg notes, impossible to retrofit because you have to go through the PT slab. Also, the retail spaces are not easily divisible in this building because of the way they designed the entrances. 2700 SF at $20 triple net is a heck of a lot of money for a non-restaurant/bar use.

  6. There’s also the empty retail space at 1700Madison next to Trader Joe’s. I wonder if it suffers the same problems.

  7. In just about any other business, if nobody is buying at the price you’re asking, you lower the price until someone does. When nobody is renting a property, I ask not what’s wrong with the property, but why the owner insists on asking for more than the property is apparently worth.

  8. Er, from your own blog, May 22 2008, Denise Benitez’ email:

    “The reason that the “East John Court” retail spaces have sat empty for lo these many months is because they are asking way above the market rate for the spaces. I own Seattle Yoga Arts down the street (mention this blog and get a free class!), and was excited when I saw the new building going up, as we could definitely use a bigger space. When I got the prospectus for tenants from the realtor, it was all fancy schmancy and was titled “Success Now Has an Address.” Gag. When I saw the prices they were charging, I thought they must be out of their minds. When I inquired whether they had any other tenants lined up, they said, yeah, “A coffee place and a dry cleaner.” Like we need another coffee place. And a dry cleaner isn’t exactly the first business I think of when…”

  9. Anyone know what they’re asking? I’m guessing nowhere near what it used to be, but without the ability to vent, not sure what could possibly make money there. I don’t see panini and coffee paying rent on those enormous spaces.

  10. The rents in that building are fairly steep (believe me, I know!). I definitely wouldn’t pay them if I were dealing with the annoyance/noise/smell of a restaurant downstairs.

    My preferences for that space:
    1) Discount high-end bourbon shop
    2) Lending library that stocks all P.G. Wodehouse books in triplicate
    3) Zoo annex with only baby animals (and you get to feed them)

  11. I’ve been very curious about why all that space is still vacant after 3 years. The corner spot would be great for a cafe, I can’t believe they didn’t plan appropriately. Why won’t the owner lower the rent? How is it better to have 3 years of vacancy in their building than lower rent?

  12. Yes, thanks for reporting on this issue. I’m a Financial Advisor with the Edward Jones branch on the 15th Ave side and we’d love to have a neighbor or two. Stop by if you’re interested in a retail tenant’s point of view, or just to say hi.

    Take care,
    Paula Fedirchuk