BOTHELL — The Yakima Fruit Market, a fixture in Bothell, has been in the Poage family since the 1970s. Stuart Poage and his siblings began working there as teenagers, zigzagging their bikes down then-empty roads before their shift started.
His children and grandchildren — the sixth generation of Poages in Bothell — all have a hand in managing the expansive market that pulls produce from up and down the West Coast. Hand-painted signs advertise Yakima cherries, corn and tomatoes. Next to them sits a crate of string beans from Mount Vernon, and the nearby raspberries hail from California.
Now, however, the Yakima Fruit Market could be disrupted by Sound Transit’s plans for a bus lane that would claim much of the narrow parking strip that separates the fruits and vegetables from busy Bothell Way.
As part of a $54 billion plan voters passed in 2016, Sound Transit is expanding Bus Rapid Transit routes in Bothell along SR522. Blueprints call for cutting into land in certain spots next to the highway, including the fruit market.
The news came as a blow to owners Karin and Stuart Poage. The market has remained relatively unchanged since they acquired it from Stuart’s parents in 1986, save for a new pantry section that sells pastas and other dried goods — which Stuart still grumbles about.
“This business has nurtured Stuart’s parents, our generation,” Karin Poage said. “Our grandchildren are … helping out around here. So we look at this as the family farm.”
That could change. Sound Transit is looking to claim, through eminent domain, a slice of Yakima Fruit Market between 12 and 25 feet wide along Bothell Way. It could eliminate roughly half of the market’s parking spaces.
“Our next big expenditure was going to be repaving the parking lot. Thank God we didn’t do it,” Karin Poage said.
The Poages said the plan would force them to move the market farther from the road and make costly renovations, including knocking down walls in their office, expanding and rearranging the produce section and bulldozing a hill behind the market where farm crates stamped with crop names are stacked high.
“Last year we spent $60,000 replacing our roof,” Karin Poage said. “Had we known that we were on the chopping block I would’ve spent $600 in big blue tarps instead.”
The small hill that marks the boundary of the market, piled high with vegetation, separates the market and the main road from the quiet cul-de-sacs on the other side.
The Poages are hoping Sound Transit will pay for not just the land, but the remodel of the market needed to accommodate the bus lane.
“What we’ve saved from our years of working here, that’s it for us. That’s our retirement,” Stuart Poage said. “So that’s why I need them to tell me what they’re going to do, so I can decide what I can do.”
After Sound Transit contacted the Poages for the first time last month, the family took to Facebook to ask for a lawyer recommendation. That was because the first five lawyers familiar with eminent domain that they contacted turned out to already do work for Sound Transit. In the process, they received an outpouring of support — some customers threatened to boycott Sound Transit, while others proposed starting a GoFundMe account.
Kathy Paul, a Bothell resident for over 20 years, said she escaped Seattle for the appeal of a small city. But even in Bothell, her favorite small businesses are slowly disappearing.
“I grew up in Seattle and they tore down all my memories,” she said. “As an older person, retired now, it’s really important to me to be able to come to here and get a whole lot of fruit for maybe $15.”
The Poages aren’t on a first-name basis with many customers, but on Monday, several of them approached the couple and asked if there was anything they could do.
Karin seemed overwhelmed by the outpouring, saying, “When you need all your energy to just do your daily business stuff and then you get this emotional thing … it’s a wonderful thing and it’s very draining.”
Sound Transit is still in the early stages of surveying property for the expanded transit lines. What it’s seeking around Yakima Fruit Market is room for a bus lane, which is normally about 12 feet, plus an additional 10-12 feet for a possible sidewalk and extra space.
“But we’re as much as possible using public right of way,” John Gallagher, a public information officer with Sound Transit, said regarding the extra 10-12 feet.
The transit agency is not likely to have a final plan drawn up before next spring. Construction would start the following year.
“We hope to be continuing the conversation so we can understand what their concerns are and how we may be able to address those,” Gallagher said.
The Poages said their profit margin is low and they compensate for that by selling a
“You’re not a multimillionaire running a fruit stand,” Stuart Poage said. “You are paying your bills. You’re paying yourself and you’re paying your help and you usually have to dip into your own funds to get started again next year.”
Karin Poage said if Sound Transit won’t pay for the remodel of the stand, one of the last reminders of Bothell’s farming days will be in jeopardy.
“You’re not going to improve the region when you wipe what’s unique and full of character off the map.”