EDITOR’S NOTE: Earlier this year, WSB started a series of stories about independent local businesses and why they matter more to a community like ours than you might realize. Then, the “West Seattle: We Have That” campaign launched at midsummer. Now, we’re continuing to publish stories as part of the series – and inviting you into the conversation. Many of the reports, including this one and the one we published four weeks ago, are being underwritten by the West Seattle Junction Association, but not as ads – it’s their contribution to an issue of importance from Alki to Westwood, Fauntleroy to Highland Park, and all over WS.
By Keith Creighton
Special to West Seattle Blog
This past month, my wife and I moved from a hill atop Morgan to that same hill a mile south in Gatewood. One of the biggest considerations we faced was trading more space for less view and giving up the easy walk to the Morgan and Alaska Junctions.
We’re not the only family facing big changes in West Seattle.
How will the surge of demolition and construction (California/Alaska, above), store closures/moves (Sweetie, Coffee to a Tea, Alki Arts) and chain introductions (including Fatburger on Alki and plans for Whole Foods Market, LA Fitness) affect the values of your home and the quality of your life? I asked several Junction-area residents and real estate pros to share their expertise:
√ Dawn Leverett of Windermere Real Estate
√ Katie Hildebrand and Kirsten Donovan of The Usonia Group/Keller Williams Realty
√ Jill Campbell of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Northwest Real Estate
Can you put a price tag on the concept of walkability? What will happen if the big chains push mom and pop shops out of West Seattle? Is White Center becoming the new West Seattle? Read what the pros have to say and weigh in with your comments.
We Have That:
Does the hometown charm of the three junctions (Morgan, Alaska and Admiral) affect the property values for homes around those areas?
Buyers have become more and more concerned with preservation, public transportation and walkability scores of the neighborhoods where they purchase. Around the Alaska Junction, you’ll see a property-value bump that extends south of Genesee, north of Hudson, west of 40th Ave SW and east of 45th Ave SW. Today, there are 15 homes on the market in this area (7 condos, 8 homes) compared to 360 homes available in all of West Seattle.
The Junction certainly is a magnet and known to be a positive selling factor. Many buyers want walkability. That could mean proximity to parks or beach or schools, but more often they want proximity to village-style shops and restaurants, the farmer’s market, etc. Entertainment options like ArtsWest Playhouse and Gallery make the Junction a highly desirable neighborhood, therefore increasing nearby home values. It’s hard to put an actual number on it, but if you look at two very similar houses in size, condition, and view, one is within 5 blocks of the Junction and the other is a mile or two away, you could easily see a 10 percent difference in price.
In early 2010, a young couple bought a refreshed craftsman bungalow three blocks from the Junction and ended up selling their car. They wanted a community with character, where everything was in walking distance and close to a bus line. They wanted to be close to the city, but in an area that wasn’t citified. The home they purchased for $265,000 in 2010 would sell in a heartbeat today for $375,000.
West Seattle is similar to an island in that outsiders [generally] do not drive through our neighborhood to get to somewhere else. Walkability to West Seattle’s three Junctions seems to be a big deal, especially for buyers 40 and under. Young professionals want to live in and near the center of activity rather than drive to the Junctions. For those who cannot necessarily afford a view, walkability to the Junctions scores second in popularity.
We Have That:
Would real estate values change if the locally owned restaurants and boutiques gave way to giant chains?
Growing up, most of the retail areas in West Seattle were mom and pop, including Westwood Village. Now that Westwood consists mostly of national retail stores, residents can buy just about everything they need without having to cross the bridge. If the Junction remains boutique, ‘coming to the Junction’ will remain a unique experience. My friends from Issaquah and Wallingford like to hit the Farmers Market, grab a latte at Easy Street, and shop up and down California Ave.
This topic is a double-edged sword in most small communities. All big changes have an effect on home values. Giant chains come with the promise of more jobs but typically at a cost of community. If we wanted to live in a metropolis of big business, we would live downtown. People adapt, but that does not mean they like it. Nobody knows who the owner of Home Depot or Target is, but they can personally meet shop owners like Jack Miller of Husky Deli.
This is a tough one. I’m not sure that I would say values would change because variety would give way to convenience. After conversations with many buyers over the years, independent businesses and boutique shops are still highly desirable over big box stores. Sure, it’s nice to be able to go to Target for toilet paper and toothpaste, but we can also buy specialty items at Pharmaca. All the big box stores sell wine, but boutique wine shops like Bin 41 and West Seattle Cellars provide the personalized expertise of the shop owners.
I think people who love the small-town charm of West Seattle will tend to support local businesses and make the giant chains feel less welcome, but over time, most of us have grown to appreciate what Westwood Village has to offer.
We Have That:
What is the commercial perspective for shop owners and tenants in these areas? Are their rents high or competitive compared to similar demographic areas in the city?
15 years ago, these numbers had a massive spread with West Seattle being far less expensive. Today, West Seattle is slightly higher than Ballard/Fremont. For a quick number comparison … active for-lease retail spaces in Ballard/Fremont, 2000 square feet or less, are averaging $22.45 per square foot per year, compared to $26.50 for West Seattle. That little difference really adds up and puts more pressure on these retailers to do steady and brisk business.
We Have That:
What will the impact be of all the new apartments going in around the Junction?
Something close to 1,600 new units are under construction or permitted. Developers and landlords are challenged to find anchor tenants such as national chains that can provide long-term financial stability versus a start-up mom and pop shop with no business history. It’s important that both the developers make lease rates realistic for small business and that our community gets out there and supports these shops.
We are seeing many local business owners go to White Center to start their business, as lease rates are far less there, as are the housing prices. In terms of small, family-owned businesses, White Center is becoming the new West Seattle. Naturally, businesses of all sizes are essential components of a thriving, stable, business community. West Seattle has those bases covered.
The new apartments will absolutely bring more business to the Junction-area retailers. One challenge will be parking in the Junction and surrounding neighborhoods. Because of this, living in a walkable distance to the core will be even more desirable and thus more lucrative for home sellers in this area.
The new density plan will impact us all. Of course it will be great for area businesses and service providers, but tough on traffic, checkout lines, and getting into our favorite eateries. Those of us who love the sleepy little community of West Seattle feel sad and upset this density plan is coming so hard and fast.
In Summation, What Can You Do?
If you’re interested in keeping West Seattle a thriving and unique community that’s filled with independently owned businesses, take some time to explore everything that West Seattle has to offer. The holidays are a critical time for local retailers. When you add up the advantages, it makes sense to shop in West Seattle:
√ Avoid the crowded malls, the bridge, and the traffic
√ Discover one-of-a-kind treasures
√ Engage the expertise of store owners and staff
√ Keep more of your money in your community!
Will you be shopping in West Seattle this holiday season? Share your thoughts and your discoveries here.