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Like most of Capitol Hill, 15th Ave E hit by COVID-19 closures — What happens when QFC leaves?

From the 2017 sale listing for the 15th Ave E QFC property

It’s hard not to be a little concerned when a COVID-19 testing center that opened on the street can’t even stay open during a pandemic, but, believe it or not, 15th Ave E won’t live or die by the exit of QFC from the top of Capitol Hill — even if massive parent grocery company Kroger makes things difficult.

An empty 17,000-square-foot grocery store might add to the pandemic’s plywood, recent closures, and a few businesses in a kind of limbo making it feel like 15th Ave E’s commercial core has met its match but those doing business in the neighborhood are not giving up.

Tuesday, CHS reported that the 15th Ave E grocery store will shutter in April as the company says Seattle’s $4 an hour COVID-19 hazard pay has forced it to cut two underperforming stores in the city. The company says it will meet with the store’s workers to “help them with this transition and will comply with any contractual commitments” and “consider any transfer requests.”

CHS has learned the grocer has two years remaining on its lease and developer and property owner Hunters Capital says it is talking with the company about keeping the store and its 10,000-square-foot surface parking lot a useful, active part of the neighborhood.

“The activation of storefronts is critical – especially at this time when we see many of them darkened,” Hunters representative Jill Cronauer tells CHS.

“QFC holds a lease for another two years and we will be working with them on how we can activate the area until there is a long-term plan in place,” Cronauer said.


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That could mean new business. It could also mean other creative efforts like this temporary art installation in the space of a former high-end fashion boutique in Pike/Pine. Of, if you really want to dream big, something on the scale of V2, the temporary arts space used to keep the former Capitol Hill Value Village building active as it awaited redevelopment.

Smith is also closed — temporarily (Image: Smith)

QFC’s surprise announcement caught employees and Hunters Capital off guard. It was also an unwelcome surprise for the neighborhood which, like most areas of Capitol Hill and the city, is dealing with pandemic-related closures — both temporary and permanent.

Recent shutdowns include a dry cleaners and a COVID-19 testing clinic business that popped-up briefly where the Take 2 consignment shop called home for 36 years before closing due to economic fallout from the pandemic.

Other shutterings appear to be temporary. Coastal Kitchen remains closed and has not joined other area restaurants in scrambling to get by on a mix of takeout business and limited in-restaurant dining. But its shutdown is likely temporary. The owners that bought the longtime restaurant business in 2016 also purchased the building.

There are other 15th Ave E businesses hovering and waiting to spring back to life.

“We are opening again,” Christopher Forczyk tells CHS. “We have the funding to be able to open.”

Forczyk purchased Smith in 2019 as Linda Derschang downsized her Seattle food and drink holdings.

The pub has remained close despite loosened COVID-19 restrictions but Forczyk says he is hopeful that will change by mid-March or early April as the situation around the pandemic becomes more clear. Opening and closing as restrictions were lifted and reimposed was hugely expensive, Forczyk says, with $15,000 to $20,000 of food and drink at risk of going bad.

“If we close again, this yo yo effect is enough to drive you crazy,” Forczyk said.

But the relatively new restaurant owner is hopeful for 15th Ave E and he sees optimism even when he looks across the street where the pandemic claimed one of the most popular cafes in the city. The Wandering Goose’s story might work out OK on 15th Ave E. Forczyk says word in the neighborhood is that Ethan Stowell Restaurants, which operates Rione XIII next door, is readying a new project for the former Goose space.

That hope is based in sound reason, Jeff Pelletier​, principal at neighborhood design firm Board & Vellum, says.

“While there are some closed storefronts, and certainly a large one soon with the closure of QFC, the heart of our neighborhood is the wonderful collection of local businesses which remain open up and down the street,” Pelletier and the 15th Avenue Merchants Association write in a statement on the QFC closure. “We have faith that as the pandemic ends, the vacant storefronts will fill, and creative business owners will find opportunity in this wonderful neighborhood, just as they have for decades.”

The merchants group also expressed its faith in Hunters Capital. That is also a reasonable bet. The small developer has made a big investment in 15th Ave E’s success — it also purchased the Hilltop Service Station property and is planning this five-story, nearly 70-unit apartment building for the corner.

For now, the wait is for April 24th and the 15th Ave E QFC’s planned final day of business — and for a plan for what to do with the building when the grocery is gone.

The full statement from the merchants group is below.

15th Ave East, like other several neighborhoods on Capitol Hill, continue to grow and change. The pandemic has certainly supercharged the speed of this change, of course, and our thoughts go out to all of the workers losing their jobs as part of Kroger’s decision to close this QFC.

Change is the nature of cities, and while many of us still miss businesses like Red and Black Books, City Peoples Hardware, and Rainbow Grocery, new members of our neighborhood are just now forming their connections to all of the wonderful businesses here. 15th Avenue East has one of the most dynamic retail and dining environments in the city, and this past year the streetscape was revamped with enlarged sidewalks to create more space for pedestrians, bicyclists, and outdoor dining. Throughout this pandemic, the Merchants Association has been focused on the years ahead and our members have been working to create a Community Improvement District to ensure the long-term health of our beloved street.

While there are some closed storefronts, and certainly a large one soon with the closure of QFC, the heart of our neighborhood is the wonderful collection of local businesses which remain open up and down the street. We have faith that as the pandemic ends, the vacant storefronts will fill, and creative business owners will find opportunity in this wonderful neighborhood, just as they have for decades. We encourage our neighbors and visitors to come and support the fabulous local businesses up on 15th Avenue East. As we look forward, we have faith in Hunters Capital, a local developer with deep roots in Capitol Hill, to shepherd the QFC site, and make it a space that will form fond memories for all of us in the years ahead.


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Kelly
Kelly
17 days ago

I missed the news about the testing center (as noted at the beginning of the article) closing. What happened?

Touareg
Touareg
16 days ago
Reply to  Kelly

They were a for Profit testing center catering to the rich, who did not show up in numbers for testing.

lee
lee
16 days ago
Reply to  Kelly

It was a silly business model because one can get tested for free at several other locations

RWK
RWK
16 days ago
Reply to  Kelly

At a time when free testing is available, the business owners were trying to take advantage of the pandemic to offer expensive testing. It is not a surprise that they failed.

CHqueer
CHqueer
16 days ago

If one leaves the Hill and downtown Seattle, it is interesting to see that closures, plywood, and vandalism are not the norm in other neighborhoods and cities. All have experienced a year of pandemic. What is different here?

CHqueer
CHqueer
16 days ago
Reply to  jseattle

It is a matter of degree. Businesses whether opened or closed in more functional areas do not have to put plywood over the windows. This is an indication of much larger problem.

RWK
RWK
16 days ago
Reply to  CHqueer

Exactly. The large number of boarded-up businesses on Capitol Hill is a direct result of the violence and property destruction which has been perpetrated by the far-left criminals on our neighborhood. Along with the huge increase in graffiti, this results in a very dystopian feel to Capitol Hill these days.

JCW
JCW
16 days ago
Reply to  jseattle

Links are from Spring/Summer 2020. From what I’ve observed CH and downtown have a much greater percentage of businesses (open and closed) that are still boarded up. Indicates there’s concern their property may be threatened, which frankly isn’t unjustified.

Winston
Winston
16 days ago
Reply to  JCW

Bill Mahr summed it up pretty well https://youtu.be/L5DZlZE4pqQ

James T.
James T.
16 days ago
Reply to  CHqueer

Love when a troll gets called out on trolling. Haven’t left your neighborhood?

McCloud
McCloud
16 days ago
Reply to  CHqueer

Both locations have essentially been “ground zero” for the protests that took place most of last year, for starters.

Jesse
Jesse
16 days ago

City People’s on Madison should move in there!

Paul
Paul
16 days ago
Reply to  Jesse

Probably many readers don’t know, but City People’s early home was on 15th Avenue East, first right off 15th on Republican in the Postal Plus space, and then in what is now Walgreens.

Nope
Nope
16 days ago
Reply to  Paul

I have a feeling rent would be $$ for gardening although I guess owners could discount just to keep space occupied while planning process kicks in.

beeeeeee
beeeeeee
16 days ago
Reply to  Paul

You are right! I loved shopping in the location.

lee
lee
16 days ago
Reply to  beeeeeee

me too..i was sad when city peoples left that space

genevieve
genevieve
16 days ago
Reply to  Paul

I still miss that City People’s.

Nope
Nope
16 days ago

The best outcome might be the lower priced Amazon local buys it like they just took over new seasons in Ballard. Would also be good if they avoid putting in an expensive masterpark like operation.

James T.
James T.
16 days ago
Reply to  Nope

Please no more Amazon anything in this town. I can’t handle the ubiquitousness of it and the reminder of it killing a once-proud and diversed small business oriented Seattle.

Touareg
Touareg
16 days ago
Reply to  James T.

Small business oriented since when? Seattle was built on the backs of Boeing and other defense contractors such as Honeywell that then consolidated. Seattle’s boom was post WW2, cold-war arms manufacturing until Tech took over. Amazon is just the current top dog, before it was MS, before that Boeing. Neither of which actually left. The population growth boom was also during that period peaking at 3.72% in 1962, back when the World’s Fair was in town showing off the future of technology and the area. All to be sponsored by Boeing for the foreseeable future (still going!)… Somehow this history is glossed over or ignored even. But it is fact.

bernard
bernard
16 days ago
Reply to  James T.

Huge conglomerates and billionaire owners are likely to be the only businesses standing as Seattle continues to ramp up micromanagement and mandate increased costs. Add to that the breathtaking increase in insurance premiums due to the year long unmanaged street disorder, and boarded up empty stores will be more and more common. At least we might see an improvement in availability of cheap space available for artists in all the unused strorefronts.

Critical
Critical
16 days ago
Reply to  James T.

WE THE SHOPPERS chose Amazon over mom & pop Place blame accurately and take responsibility for your decisions.

Ariel
16 days ago

Thanks for this thorough update. I’m impressed Smith will be reopening, and am glad to hear Rione will be using the Wandering Goose space.

I worry about the QFC space becoming a blight, so fingers crossed for something (anything!) intentional happening there.

Rob
Rob
16 days ago
Reply to  Ariel

Agreed. Long term I’d love to have another grocery store when the eventual redevelopment happens but I hope they find a good use for the space in until that happens.

Michael
Michael
16 days ago

Wondering if a deal could be made between Hunter’s Capital & the City/County for a temporary shelter space. I’m not sure the merchants would be thrilled but it does seem a shame for such a large space to sit empty. And it has running water and bathrooms…

Joe6969
Joe6969
11 days ago
Reply to  Michael

Not only would the merchants not be thrilled, the neighborhood would not be thrilled as well. This is a terrible idea.

KinesthesiaAmnesia
KinesthesiaAmnesia
16 days ago

I’m curious about how does this grocery store closure affect walk scores for neighborhood buildings? As a car-free resident I wonder about walk scores that advertise a place is “92%” and “Very Walkable – Most errands can be accomplished on foot” with nearby grocery stores closing. A few grocery stores that are still open near center of town (like the Safeways on top of Q Anne and at John/15th) are due to close soon for a few years while their land is redeveloped.

Randy johnson
Randy johnson
16 days ago

Now I’m gonna have to walk two extra blocks to Safeway.

Nope
Nope
16 days ago
Reply to  Randy johnson

Which is also closing.

Frank
Frank
16 days ago

15th Ave is a low-density neighborhood on Capitol Hill, not enough people to support all the existing businesses during a recession.

It’s not the end, though. There’s a Safeway on the same street, and for those driving another 2 QFCs on Broadway.

Dave
Dave
16 days ago
Reply to  Frank

Low density? Where the commercial strip on 15th is, the west side of the street is one of the city’s most densely populated census tracts, and the east side is still pretty dense, which is exactly why the commercial area has supported so many businesses (pre-COVID) for the past 100 years.

https://www.seattle.gov/opcd/population-and-demographics/geographic-files-and-maps#2010census

Do better
Do better
16 days ago

A development plan for 15th Avenue is needed that takes into consideration both public and private concerns. How the street is used, how it could be improved and how social and aesthetic concerns align should be explored. With QFC exiting, it’s time to consider how the street can be re-envisioned without its ugliest tenant. Repurposing the space temporarily for shelter might be difficult, given its proximity to the pot shops and the clandestine activity they have generated in the alleys and nearby. An educational purpose would be better. There is a lack of child care in general on Capitol Hill, and we have many who need it, particularly lone parents. 15th could be an attractive streetscape once more, as it is level and channels through to our most beautiful park, but it has had more than its fair share of abuse and neglect imposed on it. It needs acknowledgment by the city that it has a role to play here and we can’t use the pandemic as an excuse for inaction.

AngryModerate
AngryModerate
16 days ago

Hopefully an Aldi

Winston
Winston
16 days ago
Reply to  AngryModerate

Oh that would be cool

Edward
Edward
13 days ago
Reply to  AngryModerate

There was talk about Lidl coming to Seattle. Kinda like Aldi

AllCAPHILL
AllCAPHILL
14 days ago

I think a homeless shelter should replace the QFC space. Can’t Sawant make that happen!!!!

Joe6969
Joe6969
11 days ago
Reply to  AllCAPHILL

Sawant can’t make anything happen. A homeless shelter in that space would be horrible for the neighborhood businesses.