Sureshot Espresso closed its doors on the Ave for good May 23. The cozy cafe known for its quality coffee had been struggling to procure a new lease from their landlord and finally lost that battle at the beginning of the year. Now the question becomes whether it is the first of possibly many small businesses to go under in the U-District over the next few years.
Throughout the talks for a new lease with their landlord, Sureshot Espresso owners were given tough terms for which they were not willing to bend.
The owner of Sureshot was not available for comment on this story, though Rick McLaughlin, owner of Big Time Brewery on the Ave and president of the U-District Small Business Association, described the closure.
“The landlord really wanted to add a development clause into the lease,” McLaughlin said. “That’s just not sustainable for small businesses like us.”
The development clause in question here, ominously called a demolition clause by tenants, allows the landlord to take down the building at any point in favor of developing the land. All that would be issued to the tenants would be a notice of eviction, often providing only weeks to vacate the premises.
These clauses are difficult for small businesses since in a city that is growing quickly, space for local operations is limited. If they are told to leave and only given weeks to find a new location, it is often an impossible task that leads to the business disappearing.
Yet landlords on the Ave continue to push for development clauses in their leases, seeing the U-District as a place that will soon be thriving with big businesses vying for space to sell to students and professionals alike. A new Target store on the Ave is likely to illustrate what is to come for the street, which has long been a haven for local businesses.
This increased commercialization of the Ave, which is poised to have disastrous consequences for businesses like Big Time, is being supported by many members on the Seattle City Council. The sentiment is exemplified through debates on recent upzoning in the district.
“I went and spoke at the last city council meeting because they have been repeatedly trying to upzone the Ave,” McLaughlin explained. “That would not be a good situation for small businesses.”
McLaughlin believes that, in the next six months before the November elections for the city council, the current council will continue to push for upzoning on the Ave. By doing this, McLaughlin contends the city will allow for increased commercial use of land in and around the UW, potentially clearing the way for larger businesses to take over.
But McLaughlin sees this tactic as foul play.
“Abel Pacheco [the current District 4 representative] wasn’t even voted into office by the residents of District 4,” he explained. “He doesn’t represent our interests and shouldn’t have a vote concerning our futures.”
Abel Pacheco was appointed by the city council in April to fill the seat vacated by Rob Johnson, the former District 4 representative. Pacheco’s tenure is temporary and is set to end once the November elections take place and a new city council member is elected.
Reasons for following through on this upzone exist nonetheless. With more commercial activity, city codes requiring more affordable housing will kick in as well.
“The larger the upzone for a [plot of property], the larger the affordable-housing requirement or fee there, so scaling back upzones could result in fewer new affordable housing units generated,” Seattle Times reporter Daniel Beekman explained in an article.
Facing Seattle’s ongoing homelessness crisis, mandating more affordable housing by way of upzoning may be an attractive option to many city councilors and candidates alike. While McLaughlin appreciates the gravity of the situation, he still opposes this plan.
“Building more affordable housing is great, I’m all for it,” he said. “I just want it to be done in a way that doesn’t cause problems for me and my small business on the Ave.”
As the city council continues to deliberate whether or not to take action on these plans, their consequences are already being felt by the citizens of their district. Sureshot Espresso, a quaint little spot for good coffee on the Ave, is closed down, and there remains question as to whether businesses like it can withstand the changes in the district.
Reach reporter Jacob Slater at email@example.com. Twitter: @jpslated
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