The city of Seattle is reviewing plans for a six-story building in the space of City People’s Garden Store in Madison Valley. Now, finding a big-enough space in Seattle’s real-estate market is proving tough for the small-business owners.
In the upheaval that has been the Seattle Boom, many things in this city have been moved up, out, downsized and expanded.
Well-worn restaurants like Bill’s on Broadway and longtime retail stores like Fox’s Gem Shop have stayed open and found new life in street-level retail.
But the impending move of the City People’s Garden Store out of Seattle’s Madison Valley has posed an unusual challenge for its owners, Alison Greene and Jose Gonzalez. They bought the business last year knowing redevelopment plans would one day be approved by the city, and the countdown clock would start for them to move the whole, wonderful mess out of its location of 30 years.
Last Friday, the developer submitted corrected plans for a six-story, 250-foot-long building with a 140-car garage. (Word is a PCC Natural Market will anchor the building.) The city will review those plans, make corrections if necessary, and once those corrections are resolved, start the approval process, which will take at least six weeks.
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“Now it’s actually happening,” Greene told me the other day. “We held out hope that it would be delayed, but we have to move now. It’s real.”
A group named Save Madison Valley has 14 days for its attorney to appeal the approval of the plan, which they say will overwhelm the neighborhood.
But Greene and Gonzalez — who signed a lease extension that will allow them to stay until June, and then month-to-month until the new development breaks ground — are staying focused on their effort to find a 20,000-square-foot space: half of it split between an outdoor nursery and a greenhouse, and the rest for a gift store.
“We’ve been working for a year to find a spot, but as you can imagine, real estate is crazy,” Greene said. “We’ll go and look at places to buy or lease, but the things that came up were too expensive. We can’t even get our foot in the door. We’re up against developers and foreign investors.”
It all raises a good question for City Hall: Why isn’t it doing more to keep successful businesses in the city, instead of tossing them into the coliseum to join the ongoing battle for square footage and survival?
I asked all this of Joe Mirabella, a spokesman for the Seattle Office of Economic Development, who pointed out Mayor Jenny Durkan’s creation of the first Small Business Liaison and Small Business Advisory Council “so owners have a strong voice in their government.”
The mayor’s office has started working with small-business owners to “address a range of concerns” including rising rents, regulations and finding ways for city departments “to address the pressures on small businesses like City People’s,” Mirabella said.
His department also has a team of small-business advisers “to help businesses one-on-one to evaluate their business plans, connect them to low-interest financing, learn about lease negotiations and more.”
That’s swell — but it’s likely not enough to help City People’s uproot and replant itself anywhere in the south end of Seattle, where most of their customers live.
“How can we afford to with the land value so high?” Gonzalez asked. “Even with a successful business, it just doesn’t pencil out.”
The dream would be for Greene and Gonzalez to partner with a developer on a new building, but that could be two years out. So they may end up leasing a small space in the interim.
It’s ironic, when you consider that “City Peeps” is in the business of removing stress — and tending not just to plants, but to people.
“People come here to be soothed and nurtured,” Gonzalez told me the other day.
Said Greene: “They come to City People’s for the experience. People walk through like it’s a park and just shed whatever they’re dealing with. There is something about it that makes them feel better. It just feels good to be there.
“It will be heartbreaking to see it go.”
That, too, will be an endurance test. This isn’t just a retail space where items can be boxed, moved and unpacked. We’re talking about trees, shrubs, perennials. Tables. Planters. Bags of soil. There are parts of the greenhouse that may be salvaged — it’s a permanent part of the property and can’t be moved — “but there’s beautiful old lumber we may never see again,” Gonzalez said.
The good news is that in May and June, “We go through so many plants, that when the time comes, we’ll be able to move what we have,” Gonzalez said.
The bad news is that this is the time of year when they order for fall and holiday seasons, and can’t be sure how much space they will have for it all.
And then there are the customers — some who shop year-round, some who just stop by in spring and some who come in just to walk around.
“We don’t want people to go into this panic,” Greene said. “We are continuing to conduct business as usual, as we continue to look.
“We are going to keep this thing going. That’s what Seattle is all about.”