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Lost in progress at Midtown Center: a 23rd and Union small business and a Central District post office

(Image: CHS)

As much as some neighbors may be looking forward to the demolition of the old Midtown Center shopping strip at 23rd and Union, the end isn’t much to celebrate. You can feel the missing systematic safety net for Seattle’s small businesses as one small shop owner struggles to sort out what comes next. Other changes will be inconvenient and, for some, further evidence that Seattle — and the Central District — is tossing aside community elements as it reaches for continued growth and development.

“Please help me. Please don’t forget about me,” Saad Ali pleads. The owner of the 99 Cents Plus store in the now mostly vacant shopping center is happy to finally hear from a journalist. Attention from Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant has helped, he says, but it hasn’t helped him find a new place to move his store or any opportunities for grants or financial assistance to weather the change. More useful, he says, has been recent conversations with a few officials from City Hall who are looking into ways to help Ali move.

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In the meantime, the store where his lease ran out on December 31st remains open for now. “I’ve been there 20 years,” Ali said. “I got love from my customers. They show me a lot of love.”

The changes and the end of longtime businesses at Midtown Center are part of long-planned, now finally starting to move forward efforts to redevelop the block. Though Patrick Foley of developer Lake Union Partners says plans to demolish the existing buildings are “slightly delayed” after last month’s review board rejection of the new mixed-use project’s design, the general timeframe for construction remains the same. It is nearly time for the buildings to come down.

That means the shopping center’s post office is a goner. Starting January 12th, services are being transitioned to the Broadway post office location. “The owner of the property where the East Union Post Office is located plans to re-develop the site and has asked the Postal Service to temporarily vacate the site,” a United States Postal Service official tells CHS. “We will return once the re-development has concluded. In the meantime, we are suggesting that our customers go to the Broadway Post Office for their mailing needs.”

Other important parts of Midtown Center have more solid futures. Legendary Earl’s Cuts is set to move across and join That Brown Girl Cooks in 24th and Union’s affordable and inclusively developed Liberty Bank Building.

Noble Spirits, the Midtown corner’s liquor shop, likely won’t find a nearby new home. The state license limits the location where a new shop can be located to a one mile radius. The store, owned by a state licensee that paid $500,000 for its permit for E Union and operates multiple Noble locations, will likely be shuttered for good. Daniel Beraki, who operates the 23rd and Union store, said Noble originally was discussed as a possible tenant in the new development when it is completed but the inclusion of a chain drugstore with liquor retailing plans of its own has killed that idea. Noble Spirits remains open and Beraki said talks with the developers and the city about possible solutions continue.

Foley of Lake Union Partners said the longterm plans for Midtown Center shouldn’t be a surprise and he says that Africatown and Seattle University have both offered assistance for business planning and in trying to secure funding for new locations. The same community assistance helped Earl’s, Foley said. For now, Lake Union Partners has not begun the eviction process for 99 Cents Plus despite, Foley says, months of unpaid rent. 99 Cents Plus soon won’t have a choice. The buildings are planned to come down and redevelopment of the block is likely only months from beginning.

When the Midtown: Public Square project is complete, it will create hundreds of new apartments — and thousands of square feet of commercial retail space anchored by a new drugstore. The development will include around 125 affordable housing units allocated for households earning between $40,000 and $65,000 per year or 60% to 85% of area-median income (AMI) built as part of both the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program and the Multi-Family Tax Exemption Program (MFTE). The Lake Union Partners project will take place on 80% of the Midtown block, while the other 20% of the property was sold by Lake Union Partners to Africatown Community Land Trust and Capitol Hill Housing. The two projects have separate review processes and construction of the Africatown component is years away from starting.

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18 thoughts on “Lost in progress at Midtown Center: a 23rd and Union small business and a Central District post office” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. While it’s unfortunate this individual’s business is facing difficulty, this should not be a barrier to the (massive) public improvement the Midtown project represents.

    Also…if your business cannot find a rent-able space given sales and general business income…it’s time to find a new business or close shop.

    I’m hardly some Ayn Rand-worshipping weirdo, but “grants and assistance” to prop up local businesses of dubious value is not a good use of public or private donor funds.

    Sappy stories like this just help to further Seattle’s descent into San Francisco, where even the slightest of changes to the city are opposed at every turn.

    • I agree. The fact that the owner was way behind on rent is another indicator that his is a failing business.

  2. In the late 1940s, the house that I currently own (a few blocks from Union and 23rd) was put on a truck and moved to an empty lot a few blocks from the current post office location. This was because the post office office needed a larger footprint (for parking? or?) and was made possible, I am told, thanks to the laws of eminent domain. It might be unlikely that the African-American owner of the house received a fair deal, no way I can know that – but at least there was *some* help, some recompense. Hopefully all tenants of the current Mid-Town Center will get the help they deserve as the corner of Union and 23rd gets the next stage of its makeover.

  3. Thank you for covering th story of those who don’t have voice. I am a little baffled by the responses, though. A big part of the content is not about the small business but it seems to have attracted two comments that I felt require a response. I don’t want to speculate if the responses were posted by developers or those sympathetic to them. But I do know the contexts a bit to say the story did not clarify some facts. The small business has never been behind on rent in its twenty years of existence ( you can ask the previous landlord). It was something offered by the developer. As far as the value of a dollar store to a low-income community, you should ask the customers of the store who number in the hundreds who expressed their support to the owner in writing. Why the need to bring Ayan Rand into the travail of a hardworking immigrant family (doing exactly what Ayan Rand advocates for) in danger of losing everything?

      • How about the cruel side of socialism? There are many examples to point to all over the world in the past 150 years. While capitalism has its flaws, its still the best system which provides highest standard of living for the majority of people, albeit unequal.

    • You say that like they’re opposites or something. You realize that Socialism and Capitalism aren’t mutually exclusive, right?

    • Thank you M.Mo. Been a customer for over 15 years and couldn’t have put it better. They’ve been there when we needed wrapping paper, duct tape…you name it. I’ve also seen local teenagers allowed to shoot their music video inside the store. If they can’t find a space, they’ll truly be missed.

    • Patrick Foley (of Lake Union Partners, the landlord) says that the business is months behind on rent. Are you saying that Mr. Foley is lying?

      • No. He offered it as rent forgiveness in conversation with the owner. That’s what I know. I don’t want things to be misrepresented to make a point, especially when we don’t have the facts. Do you have access to the LUP or work there? If so, please share the evidence because such claims negatively affect the reputation of ordinary people working 18 hours a day, seven days a week just because they don’t have a megaphone or the time to manage their public image.

      • MMO:

        I agree. Is this person, in fact, behind on rent? If a landlord offers to waive rent in the period before a building is to be torn down that is not, in any way, shape, or form, being “behind on rent.”

        To misstate a business owner as “behind” on rent in that situation is not just pushing the definition of “behind,” it’s really a lie.

        Not acceptable.

        That said:

        Again, this is clearly a failing business and, really, how many 99 cent stores does Seattle need?

        The Central District is changing, and no one will stop that…perhaps that business was viable 20-some years ago. In 2019 it is not.

        Therefore: time to go.

      • Thank you for your logical approach ( speaking of Ayan Rand). If a business fails, it is the job of the business owner to do something about it because they are the ones who hurt the most. It should not be an external imposition ( Ayan Rand appeals to our ethics as well). Everything can be done in order and without causing unnecessary dramatic shock. Businesses stay on as long as there is demand. The low-income neighborhood has that demand for now and the store supplies it.

      • No, M.Mo, I do not have any connection to Lake Union Partners. The author of this article (JSeattle) wrote that Mr. Foley said the owner is months behind on rent, so if you want confirmation then I suggest you contact him and/or Mr. Foley.

  4. saad Ali at the 99cent store is not only a friend to me,but a friend to the community! he has over 200 regular customers for 20 years withstanding gun shots and pressure from Law Enforcement Developers! The Developers should follow the Vulcan(Paul G Allen) model and sensitivities to the business from the neighborhood and residents at 23rd and Jackson with relocation dollars and assisting in location change and identifying the new location! Gentrification is the issue not a make over which is needed! Each Culture has a hub in this rich diverse cultured city! My Uncle the first African American City Councilman Sam Smith was a Voice and a champion for all, especially Immigrants, and people of color that historically were voiceless downtown! He stopped red lining int he Central District with unfair banking and loaning, and interest rates toward minority groups! Fair is fair! Developers need to bring all minorities that have lived, and mad a contribution in the City as it is advertised to the Nation! with rich family legacy a seat at the planning table! Make Seattle a Model City with diversity!!! Love, Robert L Redwine Jr.

  5. Thank you JSeattle for writing this very important article. Ali is a tough hard work and his community business needs should be addressed with alot more respect. I realize some may be in the process to help him relocate. But. Black business in Seattle, is not the same as a white business in Seattle in regards to opportunities afforded, and thats just the reality. While businesses go out of business, black businesses most times are not even afforded the opportunity to re-establish itself, regardless of the amounts of money a black business may have. I’ve known black business owners with $100,000+ being ‘rejected’ at many commercial spaces and their business model, credit, background check, had nothing to do with it. Racism comes into play, as it is in alot of these comments. Regardless, if its a brown, white, black, or other ethic group, business is tough. The community mostly loves Ali and his products, and the man takes the time to tell everyone ‘I appreciate your business’. We all need to help him out.Dont hate, participate. Save this community business.If you read this,I hope you understand this situation better. Peace be with you.