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Melrose Market merchants say Capitol Hill construction hurting business

The future view from Melrose of the eight-story Excelsior

The future view from Melrose of the eight-story Excelsior

Melrose Market from developer Liz Dunn, often held up as a prime example of locally friendly development on Capitol Hill, is apparently the victim of locally unfriendly construction in the neighborhood:

Russ Flint, owner of Rain Shadow Meats, says sales have dropped between 13 and 20 percent each year since construction began in earnest in 2013, while his newer Pioneer Square location remains steady. Obviously there could be tons of factors at play here, but Flint points to instances when construction shut down Melrose on a Friday or plans called for blocking all street parking the entire week of Thanksgiving (those closure dates changed after some serious pushback from Melrose Market businesses). If you’re performing repair work on a major city thoroughfare, these are the times that cause the least disruption. If you operate a business that sells food (like, say, heritage Thanksgiving turkeys), it’s the financial equivalent of a sucker punch.

Cheese monger Sheri LaVigne announced that construction headaches are enough to force her to close the market’s Calf and Kid cheese counter. Her Culture Club cheese bar opened late in 2015 on 12th Ave. UPDATE: LaVigne tells CHS Calf and Kid will live on. She’s moving the cheese counter to Culture Club where you’ll be able to enjoy cheese flights and pairings — and, now, pick up some of LaVigne’s delicious selections to take home.

Restaurateur Matt Dillon, who operates two businesses inside Melrose Market, also told Seattle Met that construction is disrupting his restaurant’s business. Dillon just opened Upper Bar Ferdinand inside Chophouse Row on 11th Ave, Dunn’s newest project.

The biggest development in the area is the current construction of the eight-story Excelsior building at the corner of Melrose and Pine that incorporates the facade of the former Bauhaus. Demolition began there in June of 2014. The planned structures will include 205 units of housing, 16,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space and underground parking for 180 vehicles.

While Melrose Market, which celebrated its fifth anniversary last May, has been looked at as healthy example of preservation and local business-friendly development, its results for tenants outside of food and drink has been mostly mixed. The development is currently fully leased and includes centerpiece restaurant Terra Plata from Tamara Murphy.

Nearby, Starbucks opened its massive roastery on Melrose in December 2014. It draws hundreds of coffee lovers every day — enough to warrant a new crosswalk to help with the increased foot traffic.

Other examples of business change around Capitol Hill related to the construction impacts include Restaurant Zoe which was converted to an events space due to what owners said were ongoing construction challenges for the 14th and Union building.

Complaints about Capitol Hill construction during the relentless waves of development sweeping the neighborhood have been met by efforts to help improve conditions for area businesses and residents. The City of Seattle honed its “construction hub” concept in the neighborhood to help address merchant complaints. New rules also have been designed to keep sidewalks and streets open around construction sites.

Meanwhile, the impact of Seattle’s growth on small businesses has become a hot button issue at City Hall. Various departments are now trying to sort out a $650,000 business stabilization plan approved for 23rd Ave merchants affected by a major road construction project after a community push for a stronger response to struggling business owners in the Central District. So far, nobody is asking for a Melrose Market stabilization fund.

UPDATE 3/16/2016: CHS spoke with Russ Flint of Rain Shadow and he says he is looking into working with SDOT’s Capitol Hill Construction Hub to address the current problems around street parking but said that he’s surprised the city expects business owners to take the lead on these kinds of problems.

“Why are we policing construction workers?” Flint asked.

As for hopes that business will rebound if not boom when developments like the Excelsior open nearby?

“That’s the idea,” Flint said. “The hole in that idea is it took us three years to really build the business. We can’t just wait for the construction to be over with because (the businesses in the area) are going to have to fill in again.”

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14 thoughts on “Melrose Market merchants say Capitol Hill construction hurting business

  1. I’m confused. How is the construction near Melrose Market resulting in a drop in business? Traffic and parking availability in that area is already bad. Does the construction detract in another way?

    • Construction has eliminated easily 50% of the very minimal parking available, making even that much more difficult for customers to visit us.

  2. I’m inclined to empathize, I suppose, but Melrose Ave was shut down to build their building, and now Melrose Ave is shut down to build an adjacent building. Not sure what to do for them.

  3. Maxim – did you see the bailout for the business owners off of 23rd? Money was even given to businesses that had full knowledge of the construction and decided to open anyway. It’s hard to believe.

    Other businesses are trying to get similar bailouts now.

    • Yes…I’ve been following that in the news. But I’m still curious about how the construction is actually detracting customers. The thing going against the 23rd Ave businesses is that they aren’t in as dense of an area as Melrose Market, so I could understand the argument that the construction has turned away customers-by-car.

    • The aid for the businesses on 23rd is only going to businesses that existed before the construction began, that can show their sales have declined as a result of the construction and have fewer than 5 employees, including the owner, or something like that. And most of the aid is in the form of tax breaks and/or breaks on utility bills, not straight cash “handouts.” Also, there is a big difference in that 23rd is not as pedestrian friendly of a neighborhood as Melrose Market. They’ll be fine.

  4. I can sympathize, but without the high priced condos, who’s going to buy the high priced offerings at Melrose Market. Their success is part of why this is happening. Also, as another commenter noted, did the construction on Melrose Market not disrupt anyone else?

  5. I love Melrose Market! This is a good reminder to support small businesses in the neighborhood and the business model of restoring older buildings rather than reducing them to a facade. We vote for what we want in the neighborhood with our dollars.

  6. “Russ Flint, owner of Rain Shadow Meats, says sales have dropped between 13 and 20 percent each year since construction began in earnest in 2013, while his newer Pioneer Square location remains steady.”

    So wouldn’t the more logical conclusion be that several of their cap hill customers found their new pioneer square location more convenient…

    I can’t take any of these business owners seriously when there continues to be new businesses and residences opening amidst the construction in the area – including the tourist-destination starbucks roastery. So, it’s not like there isn’t an influx of fresh potential customers. Plus, all the complainers mentioned in the article have recently opened other similar establishments.

    Any lower sales patterns they see is just them cutting into their own customer base.

    This is a totally different situation than the 23rd Ave businesses. I hope the city gets a chance to strike down any Melrose Market requests for subsidies as it would set a fitting precedent to thwart the greed of these types of business owners.

  7. I suggest, before blaming limited parking, that someone take a travel survey so the company can correctly access why their business has slumped. I walk places, so parking has never detracted me from Melrose Market. The expansion of Homegrown has, however, created an environment that just doesn’t speak to me because it doesn’t feel like a market anymore. I seriously doubt that 8 public parking spaces shutting down would affect 20% of someone’s business.

    • I second this. It’s just the opinion of one (or now two) people, but I was a fairly regularly patron of Homegrown and the Bar Ferd’nand coffee shop before the renovation. Now, Bar Ferd’nand is gone and Homegrown is just . . . uncomfortable and I’d rather be elsewhere. With the tiny tables, it’s as if it now aimed as a takeout business, but paradoxically it appears as if it takes up way more space. And while I still go to Rain Shadow and Culture Club, I can imagine that others who weren’t already customers might simply walk by the place without giving it a second thought. Obviously not the most scientific perspective, but it could be one contributing factor (although maybe I’m an outlier and other people really like the change).

  8. blaming construction for their woes? HAHAHAHAHA tough luck folks! They DO remember without construction THEY wouldn’t be in that location, right? So it was OK to inconvenience the others around them for the construction of their businesses, but not now so another place can be built?

    I had a similar situation several years ago when I bought a new condo at the end of a long driveway. I was one of the last folks to move in and one of the neighbors got pissy and complained because I blocked her accesss to the driveway. Same thing here. Just because you were there first, doesn’t grant you completely uninhibited access to the area. Buck up and let progress happen.

    Excuse me while I call them the WAHmbulance.

  9. I walk my dog down by Melrose Market every day. It’s a pleasant walk, despite nearby construction. Other than the street being shut down, which I haven’t witnessed, I can’t imagine nearby construction creating that much of a problem for those businesses.