Alki Urban Market: Proprietor reveals what you’ll find inside


Since we first reported two months ago that the last remaining space in the ex-Alki Market would become the “Alki Urban Market,” hopes have run high, as has the volume of questions. A few more facts emerged when a sign appeared on its door December 21st featuring an e-mail address with the “” domain, thus confirming AUM will be part of a group of stores run by Eastside businessman Thampipillai Thilakarajah (WSB photo above). But the website doesn’t have Alki specifics (yet), so to find out more, we requested an interview. Here’s the result:

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Thampipillai Thilakarajah learned his trade from a mentor in Manhattan, where you’ll find a neighborhood deli/market on almost every corner.

But his learning didn’t stop when he left New York in the ’90s; he is passionate about research and feedback. Even the name of his upcoming Alki store, which he hopes to open around February 1st, stemmed from a lot of discussion and consideration — he said he was asked, “shouldn’t it be the Alki Beach Market?”, but as he looked at the condos and apartments around the area, it became clear to him that “urban” made more sense. His group of neighborhood stores has now grown into double digits, so he seems to have found a niche.

As we talked inside his market-to-be on New Year’s Eve morning, he was eager to share all the details of what it will look like and what it will offer, though the space is still in raw-enough shape that he didn’t want the interior photographed — counters are in, the walls are pleasant shades of cream and brick, refrigeration and freezer units are in, but there’s a lot of work left to do.

Here is what Thilakarajah plans:

Facing into the store from Alki Avenue, the left front will be dominated by the deli area. Self-serve items will include two soup selections from Woodinville-based Stock Pot each day, brewed Caffe Appassionato coffee (he says espresso will be available too), and pastries from Bindi. The deli case will feature Boar’s Head meats and cheeses, as well as prepared salads, with employees behind the counter putting together made-to-order sandwiches (including panini) — he expects the menu board will be on the store’s west wall, over an area with a few tables as well as a corner-wrapping seating counter where customers can dine in if they choose.

Perpendicular to the deli case will be the checkout counter, with candy on its shelves like most stores, though Thilakarajah is quick to note that will spotlight imported European chocolate.

Going further into the store, just past the checkout counter, something that is likely to be wildly popular when the beach crowds arrive for summer — gelato, to be dished up/scooped out by store staffers.

Down the middle of the store space will be its wine rack — “I picked the good wine,” Thilakarajah says, “not too high-priced, not too low” — generally ranging up to $20 a bottle, he says. Lining the wall to the left, a small area with sundries such as painkillers, a cold case with items such as cheese, some pre-made sandwiches, and a small selection of produce — “basic fruits and veggies,” as the proprietor puts it, such as lettuce, tomatoes, and apples.

The latter is something he knows well, having started his US business career many years ago exporting Washington apples to his native Sri Lanka, though he says the competition there is tough now, since they can get apples more cheaply from Southern Hemisphere producers such as New Zealand.

Returning to the store layout: In the back, some items Thilakarajah thinks customers might need on an “emergency” basis, between regular trips to the bigger grocery stores — paper towels or tissue, for example. “But no pet food,” he laughs, noting that All the Best Pet Care next door has that area covered.

A freezer case will line the west rear wall of the store, with ice cream including Haagen-Dazs and Ben and Jerry’s, bagged ice, and frozen food including pizzas and items from the organic Amy’s line, and heading back up the wall to the front will be the beverage coolers. Thilakarajah says the beer selection will include some microbrews but will not include any single-serving containers; the non-alcoholic offerings will feature water and “high-end juices” along with soda pop.

Oh, and let’s not forget the bread: He plans to stock varieties from Islands Bakery and La Panzanella.

closerupalkiproprietor.jpgHe says Alki Urban Market will start with 7 am-10 pm hours, 7 days a week. “It could be later, if there’s demand,” he adds, especially in the summertime. And as he has learned at his other locations, from Bellevue to downtown to the North End, it’s really all about the walk-up business. “I’m not going to compete with the big markets. I know people will still go to Costco or to (their local supermarket). It’s just about filling the neighborhood needs, between shopping trips.”

We wonder who will be working at his store; he says he is still in the process of hiring, but has a formula of sorts that has worked at his other locations, including student workers – he says he often advertises directly on local college campuses. He smiles as he talks about the rapport he sees between his workers and their customers, as he makes a point of visiting each of his stores at least once a week. “I’m enjoying this,” he says, and he thinks that people on Alki will enjoy his business too – he says the comments he has heard from customers at other stores focus on each location being a “clean, small market, healthy-looking.” It’s clear that while his businesses could fit the term “convenience store,” he works hard to separate them from the image that term often conveys.

And he says he wants to hear from you, even before Alki Urban Market opens – that’s why his e-mail address is on the sign that’s on the door: – write to tell him what you hope he will offer, and once it’s open, write to tell him what you think. He talks a lot about having learned from each store he has opened – he hasn’t had to close one yet – and that knowledge is carrying him to even more expansion, as he looks to other possible locations as far away as Tacoma.

By the way, if you meet him in person, he goes by “Thampay” for short – pronounced TOM-pay. You can peek inside his other stores at their pages on his site; asked which one Alki Urban Market will be most like, he thinks for a moment, and lands on his Westlake store, though he notes it’s in an older building and designed to suit those surroundings, unlike Alki, which is going into a building that’s less than five years old – built for the big market that closed almost exactly three years ago.

How will he succeed where that big market failed? Thilakarajah is confident that what he’s offering is what Alki neighbors and visitors need. Starting in about a month, he — and we — will see if he’s right.

20 Replies to "Alki Urban Market: Proprietor reveals what you'll find inside"

  • Cami January 2, 2008 (8:24 am)

    Thanks for the great scoop! This is going to be a huge hit in our community. The Met stopped carrying Boar’s Head at their deli a couple of years ago. And we’ve all missed the option of a deli since Liberty closed down. Sounds like the sundries style extras + beer and wine is certainly going to be the right mix. I can’t wait to ride my bike to the store again!

  • Kristina January 2, 2008 (8:52 am)

    It sounds like a great business plan. I didn’t understand how the previous market could compete with the large grocery stores in the area (and it seems that they couldn’t), and I’m glad to see that the new owner understands that issue. I can imagine myself frequenting this market particularly in the summer, when my family is hanging out at Alki, looking for picnic food. And the gelato is a stroke of brillance – just what Alki needs! I live further south in West Seattle, so it wouldn’t be my neighborhood market, but I still think I’ll go there occassionally. I wish the new market all the best.

  • hc January 2, 2008 (12:22 pm)

    Mmmm, gelato.

    How lovely it will be to have a market again!

  • TomD January 2, 2008 (12:24 pm)

    Before I moved to West Seattle I lived in Madrona and really enjoyed the deli selection at Thampay’s Madrona market. A good store, friendly staff, a real asset to the neighborhood. Good luck to him!

  • A.A. January 2, 2008 (2:59 pm)

    Something about this article really moved me, and I’m having a hard time putting a finger on it.

    We’ve been looking for a REALLY GOOD deli sandwich in the greater Seattle area for some time. It will be fabulous to have a location in our own back yard.

    Good, fresh pickles would be wonderful. When I was a kid, there was a deli that had old-school style tubs of homemade cucumber chips on the tables. I’d love to find a deli with fresh pickles. It’s the simple things, really.

  • Charlie January 2, 2008 (3:28 pm)

    The Alki Urban Market’s location is on the route of my evening walk, and I’ve often wished for exactly this kind of store to pick up a loaf of bread, bottle of wine, a forgotten menu item; that sort of thing. Also water, coffee, an apple, or even a light picnic while on my walk is going to be fantastic. I hope having an establishment of this sort, along with the other successful businesses along Alki, will encourage more people to get out and walk and shop locally. Kudos for not stocking single-serving containers of beer. I wish Thampay the very best!

  • JunctionMonkey January 2, 2008 (3:55 pm)

    I, too, often walk from Alaska Junction down to Alki. A store of this type would be most welcome. We need more “small business” like this. Best of luck to Thampay; I will do my part to make your store successful.

  • Chase January 2, 2008 (4:33 pm)

    Thank goodness for the Urban market. I have missed my little store. The kids on my street need a little market to go down to for candy and pops. Can’t wait to send them down there for the older people on our street it will help them out so much.. Thanks

  • Mark January 2, 2008 (5:13 pm)

    Finally, Gelato comes to Alki Beach, Amen!
    Hopefully the gelato will come from Bottega Italiana at Pike’s Market!

    Vino, gelato and boar’s head deli treats, life is a beach down on the beach!

    Thanks for update!

  • David January 2, 2008 (7:31 pm)

    FANTASTIC! I’m SO looking forward to being able to simply buy a Coke, lottery ticket and ’emergency’ butter without driving all the way up the hill to the big grocery stores and their long (express) lines. It’s about damn time! :)

  • Tonya January 3, 2008 (4:42 pm)

    I cannot wait either and will also be shopping there. I am so sick and tired of driving all the way up Admiral for butter or what not.
    I think the selection sounds great and I second the pickle request!

  • grr January 4, 2008 (8:41 pm)


  • grr January 4, 2008 (8:42 pm)

    granted..a lot of what I’m reading here sounds an awful lot like Husky Deli…I hope that our new friends can create something a little different and put a special spin on the ‘deli’ aspect of it. Like, maybe..some fresh matzoh ball soup…


  • Pelicans January 5, 2008 (9:07 pm)

    This will be great. But the people working there will be important, too. I hope Mr. T. will ask Bonnie (AlkiBon) from the former Alki Market to work for him. If it’s customer rapport he needs, she’s it. I’ll go there just to have her brighten my day. Besides, she knows most people on the beach by their first names already!

  • Jo January 6, 2008 (9:05 am)

    Great idea, Pelicans, about Bonnie.
    I talked with her on Friday re: asking about a job there, but she said she’s going to stick with working at Spud’s right now.
    Maybe later on she’ll change her mind.
    Let’s hope so, because she’d sure be an asset to our new store.
    WSB: that is an incredible write-up about the new store and the owner. It gives us a really good idea of what to expect. Thanks again for coming through for us. Again!

  • Eaglelover January 7, 2008 (8:52 pm)

    Just what we need, for those last minute things. Welcome TT and your store, after missing the alki market for those basics I heard that B&C were the largest sellers at the old missed market. Bring on Bonnie. I think that Gelato will be a smash in summer, and think that Husky D takes care of the broader client–ie I’ll drive for husky but not get butter there when fridge is suddenly missing it.

  • Pelicans January 8, 2008 (2:10 pm)

    Jo, it,d be nice if Bonnie would change her mind. BTW, you wouldn’t be Jo from the old Alki Mkt., would you? If so, it’d be neat if you could work there too. Have the old gang back again!

  • Jo January 8, 2008 (6:31 pm)

    Thanks, Pelicans, for the kind words. Yes, I did work at the old Alki Market doing POS (pricing), the books, a little checking, etc., etc. Also I did pricing at the new Alki market, but was up in the office on the computers most of the time and didn’t get to see the customers very much. I missed that part of the old store alot.
    I’m presently working part-time (not in West Seattle) and like my workplace.
    It would be great to get some of the old gang back, though. It was a good group of people to work with, and we looooooved our neighbors. I’ve not given up on trying to get Bonnie to reconsider.
    Let’s start a campaign. AlkiBon at the Alki Urban Market!

  • Jo January 13, 2008 (8:55 am)

    FYI: Heard from a very reliable person on the #56 on Thursday afternoon that someone told him that Bonnie (AlkiBon) is going to work at the Alki Urban Market.
    I talked with her last night, told her about the rumor that’s going around, and she said “NO.” She’s happy at Spud’s and is going to stay there.
    Reminds me of the time that those of us who sit in the back of the #37 going to work in the morning, were voicing wishlists of the restaurants we would like to have in the vacant Alki Market (before Cactus). Doing a vocal brain-dump. We all decided that Anthony’s would be a great addition to the beach.
    Before we knew we were hearing everywhere that Anthony’s was indeed going to be the new restaurant at Alki. Cheez!

  • Amy January 27, 2008 (9:09 am)

    Am I totally out of sync with my community? Is anyone else tired of the mediocre standard of fare we have on Alki (and most of West Seattle)? If we have a thriving farmer’s market, why don’t we have more restaurants that are doing delicious things with fresh, local foods? When I saw the Urban Market sign, I immediately hoped there would be folks inside actually making good food on-site. While I am glad there will be a market within walking distance, I’m disappointed that Alki is still without a location that serves food made on-site from real ingredients, that builds relationships with our community’s farmers and artisans. Why is everyone so excited about Boar’s Head (mass produced and shipped from New York) when we have Salumi right here in Seattle?? Wouldn’t it be great to have a place like Salumi on Alki? Dream Bigger!!

Sorry, comment time is over.