REDEVELOPMENT: Alki Lumber’s Sweeney family ‘studying alternatives’ for West Seattle Triangle properties

(Photo courtesy Lynn Sweeney)

Another family-owned business with a lot of history in West Seattle is looking to the future. Here’s the announcement we received this afternoon:

The Sweeney family has announced they are studying alternatives for their properties located in the West Seattle Triangle, including the current site of Alki Lumber & Hardware. Lynn Sweeney, current owner and operator of Alki Lumber and The Grove, West Seattle Inn, provides the following statement:

In looking to our future, we are faced with the current closure of the SR99 viaduct, upcoming Avalon Way repaving and bike lane project, current ST3 Link Light Rail planning of the West Seattle to Ballard extension, and the continuing support and funding for the Fauntleroy Boulevard Project. Pairing that with the age and condition of our current retail spaces, now is an opportune time to plan long-term for our footprint in the West Seattle Triangle neighborhood.

As a result, we have been actively working to study and understand the implications of zoning, alternatives for the Link Light Rail guideway alignments and station locations, and other urban design factors that affect the extended family’s real estate holdings. Our goal is to establish a vision and a master plan for the future of our properties to benefit the West Seattle Triangle community, which serves as the gateway to the peninsula. This will be a long-term, multi-year, phased approach. Given their depth of experience in transit oriented development and complex urban design and planning projects, we are partnering with HB Management and Northwest Studio to provide their professional knowledge and expertise. Ed Hewson of HB Management and his family have been friends of my family for over 50 years. We are grateful for the broad portfolio of knowledge he brings to the table and, as importantly, for his shared passion for and understanding of the West Seattle community.

We feel lucky to ride on the coattails of Jack Miller of Husky Deli and his published letter to the community about the future of Husky Deli. Our background story is similar in many respects. In 1921 my great grandfather, James A. Sweeney, founded Alki Lumber & Hardware Co. at its original location at Harbor Avenue, on the shores of Alki Point. At the time, Seattle was home to countless independent lumberyards. Today only a select few remain, including Alki Lumber, which is now in its fourth generation of Sweeney-family ownership and operation.

When James passed away in 1938, the business continued under his wife Mayme and son, Bill Sweeney. It was at this time that the Harbor Avenue location was closed and Alki Lumber opened its doors at 36th Ave and SW Avalon. In 1957 the business, including the original building structure, were moved across the street to its current location at 4422 36th Avenue SW.

“Tell it to Sweeney” was a familiar sign on the trucks that serviced West Seattle through the early years and has become a mantra of the company’s “can-do” service philosophy to this day. When Bill passed away in 1962, his wife Hazel and his son, Jim B. Sweeney, in his early twenties at the time, took the helm. In the early 1960s, Jim purchased the wholesale dealer Dearborn Lumber Co. and merged it with Alki Lumber’s retail arm as an avenue to compete in Seattle’s booming commercial lumber market.

After 50 years of unsurpassed leadership, my dad passed away in 2012. As the fourth generation’s flag- bearer, I stepped in with a team of dedicated employees to continue the family’s heritage and the company’s ongoing commitment to service excellence. Thanks to this commitment and loyalty of numerous long-time customers, Alki Lumber has continued to serve the West Seattle community and beyond, supplying materials to contractors and homeowners throughout Greater Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.

As Jack so accurately explained in his letter, “the future isn’t the exact footprint where we are now.” Anyone who comes into Alki today knows that we still look a lot like 1957 and that the structures, lumber trucks, semis, and forklifts don’t mesh with the changing neighborhood or the changing environment for small business in the City of Seattle. The family has decided it is time to study alternatives. As part of this study, the intent is to continue to be an active and responsive member of the community. We will be looking for ways to continue to add value through new retail experiences and by enhancing the uniqueness and vintage character of our piece of West Seattle.

As part of this, we look forward to continuing our longstanding tradition of providing full-service lumber and hardware to the West Seattle community and beyond. We will evaluate new and creative ways to grow our retail footprint in the community, potentially with more mercantile-style offerings, while considering serving wholesale customers from an additional location that better meets the industrial and commercial needs of our business. This is a multi-year, phased approach and Alki Lumber will remain fully operational during the process.

It’s an exciting time, which needs support. We appreciate the loyalty of our employees and customers and we remain dedicated to being part of the community, growing together and continuing the legacy and investment in the community for a fifth generation.

In addition to the two properties mentioned in the statement – Alki Lumber (36,000+ square feet at 4422 36th SW) and The Grove (22,000+ square feet at 3512 SW Alaska) – county assessor’s office also show the family owns an apartment complex at 4500 36th SW (28,000+ square feet). We asked Lynn Sweeney about others. Her reply: “The primary parcels we are studying are where Alki Lumber sits. Family members also own The Grove Inn, the apartment, the Alki Lumber warehouse on 37th, and the buildings on 36th that are occupied by Alki Artisan and Unique Services/Seattle Sorbet. These will be studied as part of the master planning.” Most of the area is currently zoned for mixed-use to 65 feet of height, and under the current HALA MHA upzoning proposal before the City Council, would add another 10 feet. The Triangle went through an extensive planning process that was launched nearly a decade ago.

34 Replies to "REDEVELOPMENT: Alki Lumber's Sweeney family 'studying alternatives' for West Seattle Triangle properties"

  • West Seattle Hipster January 29, 2019 (2:18 pm)

    “The changing environment for small business in the city of Seattle”…… is sad to see long term businesses forced out.

    • Q January 29, 2019 (2:43 pm)

      No it isn’t. It’s the reality of living and doing business in a city, and the owners of this business are quite aware of this. And don’t think for a second that the family isn’t going to make an enormous amount of money off whatever happens to the land in question. The reality is that the triangle neighborhood is the main entrance to west seattle and is no longer an appropriate location for industry that is better suited to the georgetown or sodo areas.

      • WestSeattle January 29, 2019 (3:41 pm)

        Telling someone their feelings are not valid is not a thoughtful thing to do. You may not agree with them but don’t minimize their feelings. This is another form of gentrification. It happens. Doesn’t mean we need to be excited about it. You can be and good for you.

        • Sam January 29, 2019 (5:13 pm)

          I don’t see anywhere Q saying someone’s feelings aren’t valid, lol. Only the facts and reality. This family isn’t being forced out! They realized their land is more valuable now with rezoning and more people moving in. They’re taking advantage of it and profiting off the changes that are happening here!

          • Jim January 29, 2019 (6:46 pm)

             >>>…… is sad to see long term businesses forced out.<<<    >>>No it isn’t.<<<       Sure looks like Q said it.

        • West Seattle Hipster January 30, 2019 (9:24 am)

          Thanks for the support “WestSeattle”.  Unfortunately in Trump’s America it is too common to dismiss other people’s opinion instead of engaging in productive dialogue.   Guess I will be shopping at Home Depot from now on.  And I agree, this is probably going to be another sad example of gentrification in WS.

    • Lagartija Nick January 29, 2019 (5:12 pm)

      They are not being “forced out”, they are choosing to adapt their business model/infrastructure so they can remain a vital part of the community. Kudos to them (and Husky Deli) for taking a proactive step to remain viable in a rapidly changing neighborhood. This is great news!

  • T Rex January 29, 2019 (2:23 pm)

    What a great story! Love driving by this place but forward thinking and change are part of life and business. Good luck!

  • Justin January 29, 2019 (2:49 pm)

    This is a very thoughtful and apparently heartfelt letter – I hope it’s well-received. 

    • wscommuter January 29, 2019 (3:27 pm)

      Agreed … the businesses in the Triangle have had their time to exist in the economies past that supported them.  The Sweeney family is appropriately considering what is in their own best interest – as they should – and I am grateful that they are also mindful of our community and attempting to think of the community as they make their plans.  

  • Junction Lady January 29, 2019 (3:30 pm)

    Thanks for the information.  I recall all 3 locations.  In the current location I’ve always marveled at the forklifts and the operations of loading and unloading on a busy side street rather than a more traditional lumberyard.  I’ve never heard of any mishaps but I’m sure there have been many close calls!

  • Dakota Andover January 29, 2019 (4:06 pm)

    If they area looking for a supportive community, count me in.  They have been great for the neighborhood and was never bothered by the industrial lumber yard look that others may bemoan.  I was happy to wait while they loaded supplies or appreciated their fork lift drivers yielding to traffic, but also understand how that’s a challenging way to operate their business with the ever changing neighborhood and future growth.It would be great to keep some sort of presence and business model for them that works for that location in whatever new development that might occur on their properties.  I wish them all the best, and like Q said, the family is going to make out quite well after it’s all said and done, and West Seattle will get some new well-planned out development in the Triangle.  Win-Win all around.

  • zark00 January 29, 2019 (4:24 pm)

    Never knew they also owned the Grove – I still can’t figure out why WSea has only one motel/hotel, and as far as I can tell, we’ve only had one for decades now – like since back when Luna Park was still around?!  That can’t be right, but I can’t find any other motels/hotels that used to be.  There must be a reason, or…. anyone want to open a hotel?  :)    Would be weird if Alki Lumber wasn’t in WSea anymore.  Maybe they’d consider moving down to W Marginal, and giving that area a lift!

    • JImL January 31, 2019 (4:07 pm)

      The lack of guest lodging in West Seattle has baffled me for years. Thank goodness we now have The Grove, but who knows how long it will be there.  Some of the new buildings at Alaska Junction have apartments to rent by the night, but that seems to be disappearing. (Too much expense and  trouble for the leasing and cleaning staff.)  There just doesn’t seem to be suitable, old multi storied buildings, like a closed hotel or school or closed apartment building, that could be renovated into an Ace Hotel or similar. Or large old houses to turn into B+Bs. The  Inn on Erskine tried, but closed. I never recommended it or the B+B near Endolyne Joe’s because they had that very outdated Victorian, stuffy look.  There is a big need for a modern feeling  place for people to stay in West Seattle.  I suppose that there are AirB+Bs in West Seattle, but they can be dicey experiences.

  • West Seattle newbie January 29, 2019 (4:38 pm)

    Could I make a suggestion?  I really love the glimpse of “Old Seattle” when I come into “the gateway to the West Seattle peninsula” and see your sign for Alki Lumber.  It reminds me of our roots here.  Could you help to preserve the original West Seattle character in an updated way?  Many of us LOVE that you “still look a lot like 1957” (looking at you, too, Husky Deli).  Thank you for a heartfelt letter!

  • Jethro Marx January 29, 2019 (4:45 pm)

    I love lumber and hope there’s still a place for it in the triangle. I hear the clamoring for densifying the triangle with a bunch of people and that makes some sense, but the presence of a quality lumber store in West Seattle is important to your grungy ideals too. We need to find a way to the density that’s inevitable in a city without pushing every business that ain’t a coffee shop or dog salon out into the wilds of Kent. Because then you can ride your bike down to the Triangle to buy boards for your deck/fence/cat play structure instead of driving to Kent. That’s what West Seattle ought to look like. Sure, build your seven story building: but keep Alki Lumber going on the alley side. And make sure that shoe repair guy always has a place to operate his business too because that shop is awesome.

  • just wondering January 29, 2019 (4:46 pm)

    So there is the “Whitaker” building.  Maybe there will be the “Sweeney” also! 

  • Chris January 29, 2019 (5:52 pm)

    We are fortunate to live in an area that has such considerate business owners. I think that these development plans sound good. Especially heartening to read that he wants to integrate a Transit hub. Hopefully that would lead to better more visible Crossing points.The triangle is currently the worst place in West Seattle for pedestrians. 

  • Nicole January 29, 2019 (6:06 pm)

    We just built a house and all the lumber and many other materials were purchased from them.  I’m so glad we supported such a great local biz!

  • Peel and Press January 29, 2019 (11:01 pm)

    I have built two restaurants both in West Seattle and Burien.  I used materials from Alki Lumber whenever possible and they are just the greatest!  I really respect the thoughtful way they are going about this.  I hope they keep enough of a presence that in future construction projects I will continue to have a West Seattle option that is not Home Depot!  Thank you Sweeny family for your generations of support for West Seattle and continued stewardship of a large section of its land!  You and the Millers are a legacy that continues to give back and respect the area. Best of luck!

  • west sea neighbor January 30, 2019 (9:17 am)

    That street is one of the main bike corridors for getting from the Junction area to Avalon/low bridge. I generally find their forklift drivers to be courteous and careful, but I’ve had some close calls due to lack of visibility and the necessity for the vehicles to operate in a non-linear fashion on the roadway (to load/unload lumber). Not a judgment in any way, just an observation that as density increases in West Seattle, it is possible that uses can become increasingly incompatible.

  • RT January 30, 2019 (9:21 am)

    This is a beautifully written letter to the community and a positive approach to planning for the future.  It would be wonderful if components of the present business could be incorporated in to whatever structure is built on the site…..I like the idea of a mercantile on the first floor, and think there is a need for a supplier of nuts and bolts and lumber (as one local resident noted) for residents that don’t want to make the trek off the hill. Some of the racks and displays (like the revolving nail buckets) could be used  in alternative retail settings too.   I’ve loved having Alki lumber close by and my house includes many of their products. Will miss this option, but support the owners in their consideration of positive changes.   As an aside, the worst traffic offender in the triangle area is the Starbucks and its drive through option.  A terrible spot, often obstructed by folks who simply MUST get their java, cut across double yellow lines to pull in, ignore pedestrians and bikes, sit cross-wise against traffic and basically tie up the flow from Avalon to Fauntleroy.

  • Watcher January 30, 2019 (9:52 am)

    The moment they put the Trump for President sign up in the last election, they lost my business. I wish them well in their future endeavors. 

    • West Seattle Hipster January 30, 2019 (10:44 am)

      Wow…. I wasn’t aware of that.  Knowing that information, I will be happy to see they will be having less of a presence in my neighborhood.  

    • NeverTrump January 30, 2019 (11:01 am)

      Dang – I wish I had known that before I spent several hundred dollars on overpriced lumber that I could have gotten for cheaper if I didn’t want to support a local business. Now that I know what kind of criminal characters they helped elect I’ll never shop there again, and I won’t be encouraging friends to stay at their motel again.

      • Jim January 30, 2019 (12:40 pm)

        Electoral College:  All of Washington went for Hillary.  Nobody in the state of Washington “helped elect” Trump.  Hold off on the political hate.

        • CAM January 30, 2019 (7:37 pm)

          Actually, anyone normalizing the idea of voting for Trump contributed to him being elected. Whether they voted in a state where he earned electoral votes or not. 

      • Rico January 31, 2019 (3:45 pm)

        Good plan!    Yay!    I don’t care how they treat me or their customers, I also don’t shop at any store that has different political beliefs than me .   Or for that matter have different views on race, politics, religion, or ride electric bikes, hike, play soccer,  eat chicken, shop at Costco, drive Subarus, or cheer for different sports teams than I do.

    • lox January 30, 2019 (12:12 pm)

      That was my first thought too. Rather divisive for a community focused business. Otherwise, good luck to them. 

  • Jack miller January 30, 2019 (1:29 pm)

      The Sweeney Family has been such a big part of West Seattle for so many years (98). It is West Seattle’s good fortune that a prominent family who lives and cares about West Seattle is in control of a large part of an important area of unstoppable growth . It’s a critical time for us and they have the power to set the stage for a responsible development  Jim and his family have been so generous to West Seattle for so many years, keeping the triangle from becoming a hodgepodge of out of town development could be their greatest gift of all 

  • Pete January 30, 2019 (1:50 pm)

    I’ve visited Alki Lumber at least once a week for the past four+ years and they’ve never put up a Trump sign or any sort of political sign whatsoever.  Watcher is either confused about some sign nearby the place, assuming Alki Lumber was responsible, or is misremembering, or is flat lying.

  • Chris A January 30, 2019 (3:22 pm)

    I live down the street from Alki Lumber. I saw no Trump sign there at any time.  For right now, Alki Lumber and the development of the Triangle have co-existed well.  I think it is appropriate for the Sweeney family to look at their holdings in a planned and responsible manner.

  • Donn January 31, 2019 (9:53 am)

    Another West Seattle family sold their lumberyard recently on Elliot Ave for redevelopment. Made a good amount of retirement money off of it as well. 

  • WS Realtor February 1, 2019 (4:06 pm)

    Lets not be so quick to judge.  First you’re supportive of the family owned lumberyard,  until  one person says they saw a Pro Trump sign, and people are ready to turn on them.  Not cool, this supposed sign hasn’t been verified, I drive by there everyday and never saw such sign.  They’ve been great neighbors and now lets help those who are planning on how to best use this land in the future.  

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