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Volunteer Park Cafe and Chop Shop sibling Canal Market shutters in Portage Bay

Part of a ripple of Seattle boutique grocery markets — and a member of a small but ambitious family of food+drink venture — has shuttered in Portage Bay after less than a year of business.

Canal Market, on Fuhrman Ave E squeezed between the north tip of Capitol Hill and the water, closed without fanfare this week due to “business reasons,” a former employee tells CHS. Neighbors wondering about the suddenly darkened stretch of retail asked CHS to check in on the market. A representative for the business has not responded to our inquiry about the closure.

The project from Capitol Hill food and drink entrepreneur and chef Ericka Burke took over the space of a former neighborhood bodega with a vision for a marketplace and cafe as other ventures like 19th Ave E-born Cone and Steiner also were forming to give the small-scale grocer business a try.

(Image: Canal Market)

(Image: Canal Market)

“I want this to be the quintessential neighborhood market, a vibrant hub,” Burke’s press release read at the time. “Canal Market will be a meeting place for neighbors to catch up over a cup of coffee, quickly grab a bottle of wine, and shop for dinner. We’re even going totally old school, offering house accounts to make getting in-and-out easy and convenient.”

Designed by Graham Baba and beset with construction delays, Burke finally opened Canal Market last May as her Volunteer Park Cafe settled in after a dispute with neighbors at 19th and Galer and as she geared up for her largest, most ambitious and expensive project — the centerpiece of Pike/Pine’s preservation-friendly Chophouse Row development, Chop Shop.

State corporation documents indicate the company behind the Canal Market has ceased operations. The companies behind Chop Shop and Volunteer Park Cafe, meanwhile, remain active.

UPDATE 2/8/2016: A spokesperson for Burke has responded to our inquiries with a short, simple reply. “It was a business decision.  Ericka wants to focus on VPC and Chop, and spend time with her young son.” There you go.

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32 thoughts on “Volunteer Park Cafe and Chop Shop sibling Canal Market shutters in Portage Bay

  1. I figured this was coming.

    The location was less than ideal, but could easily support a bodega style shop, especially when you consider there was nowhere to buy beer and wine in the neighborhood. Trying to shoehorn a high-end green grocer (with very strange and sparse produce choices) and boutique $$$ cafe into the same space felt tone deaf to the needs of the neighborhood. Not to mention the staff were just so nasty. Really bizarre, aggressive experiences the 3 times I went there.

  2. Walk into any of the establishments associated with VPC as a minority, and you will get less than stellar service. They love their rich, white ladies, but if your skin is a darker shade than eggshell, you will definitely be skipped over and given a bit of ‘tude. Went to VPC with my white lady friends, and we got great service, tried to go back twice once with my sister, another time with my mother, and just subpar, skipped over the line to make a coffee for their ‘regular Lululemon wearing ladies’. And when I asked about it, she lied and said “she ordered ahead”.

    • Totally agree! But I have come to the conclusion that this is a feature, not a bug, for their preferred clientele. The blonde lululemons don’t want us there polluting their space, so the staff is really just doing their bidding.

      There’s really not much POCs can do about this, as places like this make plenty of money from their white ladies. BUT, I would say that those white people who do not belong to this class of spoiled, racist women should attempt to notice things like this and not put all the burden on outnumbered (especially in “nice” neighborhoods) POCs to point this out. And then consider whether you want to spend your money at a place that is so unfriendly to some of us.

      • They shuttered?

        Sometimes explicitly being a dick to customers costs business and you showed and the person above show

    • I think this, unfortunately, is just part of the bigger picture of what’s going on all around the city. My understanding is that all the old business were economically evicted from that building. I don’t remember what used to be to the right of Canal Market, but I’m pretty sure it was just office space. Now it’s a very high end looking pilates studio–and every time I pass by, I see the Lululemon ladies you’re talking about. I grew up in Montlake and these business do NOT represent the Montlake I know. I’m speaking here to an overall lifestyle and demographic shift, more than racism specifically.

      Montlake has always been predominantly white, but this particularly demographic and lifestyle choice group is new. When the rents get hiked up, these are the only folks who can afford to move in, and, clearly, they think there is a market here for these kinds of businesses.

      So @Another POC, I agree with you, but I diverge on one point. I consider myself a white person who does “not belong to this class of spoiled, racist women.” I wasn’t aware of their any racism at Canal Market because it looked so unwelcoming that I never went in. That said, I can only speak for myself in saying that I do try to speak up as much as possible, not only about racism but about the classism inherent in the gentrification that’s going on in our city right now. I think a lot of us, regardless of race, are angry about what’s happening in our city’s neighborhoods but often feel powerless in the face of corporate forces, big developers, and city government.

    • Yikes, good to know. I used to be a regular at VPC years ago when it was under different owners (I lived on the hill when rent was still affordable on a college student budget). Was just thinking about going back there, but I will make a point not to now.

      Signed,
      definitely not a lululemon whitey, definitely someone who calls out that shit.

  3. Can’t compete with Trader Joe’s/PCC in scale, can’t compete with QFC/Safeway in price. These upscale places that opened up in the last year or two are going to be in trouble as the stock market tanks.

  4. Ditto on the customer service. Went there twice and it was like they were doing me a favor.They were out of drip coffee and they literally asked me to bring the carafe back to the counter (not just hand it over, but literally walk behind the counter). Five minutes later when it was done brewing they said “its finished, come back and make sure you bring it back to where it was before”.

    Not to mention the prices…

  5. Unfortunate but foreseeable. Really enjoyed the staff all very friendly. Agree with Norb, the product selection was odd and way too upscale. Pastries were awesome but horrendously overpriced. Shame really, the neighborhood needs a bodega. Unfortunately, it just was aimed at a market that apparently didn’t exist. Hopefully, someone will come in and convert to a real bodega with a few tables in the front and in the summer on the sidewalk. The lack of tables never gave it a chance to become a neighborhood hangout. Add the tables and provide products more reasonable in price and you have a winner. Really hope someone steps in.

  6. I love VPC. Live in neighborhood. If I have a bad experience with a place I care about, I tell the owner. I’m sure Erica would address something she hears about and would not tolerate some of what is alleged.

    • If you read the Yelp reviews, complaints very similar to these comments have been posted time and time again since the day they opened. She had her chance to take these (pretty easily fixable) experiences to heart but chose not to, for some reason or another.

    • Erica WAS being told, the Yelp reviews seem to be begging her to fix the place. Sounds like most reviewers really wanted it to be better, more affordable, warmer .. I was there last month and my overpriced underwhelming sandwich, that the staff begrudgingly made for me told the same story as the Yelp reviewers. Erica is a pro but she obviously either couldn’t fix it or didn’t want to.

    • I believe you re: VPC, and regarding Erica’s professionalism. That doesn’t mean that she was as invested in this venture. People can be less passionate about certain projects, or just spread themselves to thin. Happens to the best of us. The fact is, she did fail and running this particular store well, and responding to feedback from the community.

    • Yup – I think it all comes down to ever increasing rents and the type of business that can afford them. Small convenience stores are struggling.

    • Exactly, similar to what happened at the Hop-In, but they managed to for the most part remain a neighborhood, corner convenience story and go get over-the-top with the boutique stuff.

      I saw the same thing happen with the neighborhood corner stores when I lived in Brooklyn: business-minded people thinking they can capitalize on a moment and turn a perfectly good corner store into a place where you can only find a quarter of what you need, at 3X the price. Guess what? Not interested!

  7. Judging by the reviews on yelp you gotta wonder how long it would stay open :

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/canal-market-seattle-2

    I would add lack of seating (maybe due to zoning at the outset?), strange array of products, and high prices. Might have worked in madison park, but not on Boyer.

    The economic eviction of the previous market / owner didn’t help with goodwill either. Who is the landlord and what is the NNN ?

  8. I heard that the owner asked her multiple times to make it more of a market, since that what it was zoned for.
    The previous market was nothing special but fit the needs of the neighborhood,
    It really feels as though Ms Burke didn’t care about this place. Inventory truly sucked and was way overpriced.
    Cone and Steiner would do well in this space.

  9. I mean, really, just how stupid do they think we are? That place had little to buy, and what there was was over-priced. Seattle is not Tribeca yet.

  10. The owner and management ignored scores of comments suggesting longer evening hours, lack of several “neighborhood grocery items,” ice, very high prices, and not meeting the basic needs of the neighborhood and the community. Even milk was only sold in gallons only. I’m surprised the store was able to stay open as long as it did.

  11. As a lifelong Montlaker, I find the owner’s explanation incredibly irritating. A business is a big commitment. You own a place for a year and then just “change your mind”? Well lady, it must be very nice for you to have that much fun money to throw around. But people live in this neighborhood, people who had a perfectly good convenience store in that spot to begin with, and where there is now a vacant storefront, vulnerable to who-knows-what kind of development (just down the street at the old Red Robin, a three story building is going in, with 55 apartment units and commercial space at the ground level, so there’s an example of what can move in when a local business moves out–that said, I’m hoping the Canal Market building has some kind of historic preservation status).

    I completely understand wanting to focus on her other two existing businesses and time with her children. I don’t excuse not having thought that through first, and being flighty enough to change her mind, affecting a whole neighborhood, WITHIN A YEAR. Flaky and irresponsible, period. Makes me less inclined to patronize VPC in the future.

    I also agree with other commenters’ points that this just wasn’t the right fit in the first place. I’m sure overpriced artisanal goods appeal to a certain demographic, but there are a lot of us who still think of Seattle as a middle class, down to earth town, and don’t want cr*p like that in our neighborhoods. And regardless of purchasing power, when I want to just pop around the corner to grab a few items, so I don’t have to bother to go all the way to a big grocery store (hence the terms “convenience” and “corner” store), I want to walk into a low key, unassuming place, with normal, friendly people (not hipsters who are too cool to say hello or make eye contact–I don’t pay people money to be treated like garbage) and get the ice cream, or beer, or tampons, or what have you that I needed. End of story.

    Have the items people need, don’t be a d**k to your customers, i.e. the residents of the neighborhood where you’ve set up a business. That’s how Jay’s and Mont’s have lasted so long. It really isn’t rocket science.