The Broadway Alley mall is inconspicuous from the outside. You might assume that it’s simply two adjacent restaurants: HaNa and Americana, which used to be Table 219 and before that, El Greco. The folding signs out front on the sidewalk advertise the shops and restaurants within, but beyond that it’s probably word of mouth that’s brought you here.
Last week, CHS looked at how some of the newest retail space on Broadway is faring. Here’s a look at some of the oldest.
Built in 1918, the Alley has weathered a long lifetime of changes and seen many businesses come and go.
The longest running business currently open is the sushi restaurant HaNa. Yoshi Hori and his partner Ken Wada have operated it since 1989. If you’ve ever walked through the Alley from the entrance to the back you’ve probably noticed either Wada or Chef Takashi preparing sushi through the glass walls, and you’ve noticed how the restaurant is often full.
Takashi was a student of Seattle’s celebrated chef Shiro Kashiba, and he’s been making sushi for 25 years. Takashi condescends to make spider rolls and other trendy dishes, but as he said, “we try to keep it traditional as much as we can.”
Across from HaNa is Americana, formerly Table 219, formerly El Greco. They’ve been Americana since December 2011. Chef/Owner Jeffrey Wilson says, “it’s a twist on comfort food.” Alcoholic milkshakes are on the menu as are dishes like a chicken andouille sausage corn dogs, and of course, their variant of mac and cheese. on May 20th Americana will be involved with the Bite on Broadway along with other members of the Broadway Business Owners Association. Being one of the two street side businesses in the Alley, Americana will also have a booth extending into the street for Pride, with outdoor seating for the event.
As you continue to walk into the Alley, on your right you’ll see Mustafa behind the counter at the Smoke Stop. He’s owned the shop for fourteen years. Staying open that long proves something is going right, but he concedes that it can be a struggle to attract new business.
“I’m surviving on the people who already know me,” he said. His main concern is landlords increasing rents on Capitol Hill. He contends that the increases are coming too early. With the light rail still years away, he sees major increases here and now as opportunistic. With the Alley mall valued at over three million dollars as of 2010, his concerns over rent increases are perhaps not without justification.
“I have no plans to expand,” Mustafa said. “My only plan is to survive, make a living, and raise a family.”
At the end of the Alley on the left is Guanaco’s Tacos Pupuseria. It’s Capitol Hill’s best (and only) pupuseria. Pupusas are Salvadorian street food. (If you haven’t had one, you’re lucky, because you get to try one for the first time.) It’s a stuffed tortilla that’s fried, and you eat it with a spicy cabbage slaw. Order a couple — they’re good, and inexpensive.
The Capitol Hill location has been open for about two years, and their original location in the U District is coming up on its fifth year. The U-Dist location remains the more profitable location. Owner Eduardo Revelo concedes that it’s a bit of a handicap to not be more visible from the street.
“We are working on some signage that will hopefully point that we are in the back of the building,” he said. It’s all word of mouth when you are a hidden restaurant. “I try to make sure new people are happy so they will tell other people and come back.”
Upstairs in the Alley there’s the sadly absent Pilot Books, the vacant space now taken over by an alkaline water business. adjacent to them is Broadway Nails, which has been open for thirteen years. After getting your nails did, you could stop by Laughing Buddha next door and get some ink, or a piercing.
In addition to a sister shop in California, the owner of Laughing Buddha also owns a shop in Bellingham, and Evolve Body Jewelry. “[It’s] an organic jewelry distributor,” said tattoo artist and jewelry designer Chris, who has worked in the Alley for two and a half years. LB has been open for thirteen years. Piercings make up a lot of the business, as they’re quick.
Chris says that people visiting the Hill are there as often as locals getting work done. “Over the last couple of years there’s been good and bad, but I stay busy, for the most part,” he said.
These days, the building is owned by Ron Amundson who also owns buildings throughout Pike/Pine. He paid $3.7 million for the stuffed-with-tenants Alley in 2008. Amundson is known around the Hill as a set it and let it landlord. There haven’t been a lot of changes to his properties even as Capitol Hill development has exploded.
The nooks and crannies are filled with more commerce. There’s a T-Mobile shop, Tacos Chukis taqueria upstairs, the Kimchi Bistro across from Guanaco’s — many business are housed in this old building. If the goal is high density of business per acre, then the Broadway Alley mall is an organic example of what that looks like. It is entrepreneurs and restaurateurs who have figured out how to last, or who are still in the process of learning. When the building turns one hundred in 2018 it might be all new businesses, but perhaps some of today’s tenants will continue, and with luck, thrive.