Business, Transportation

Light Rail, One Year Later

International Examiner/Julie Pham:

Last year, Light Rail opened to great fanfare at Othello Station. A coalition of neighborhood groups, including the Martin Luther King Business Association (MLKBA), organized the Othello On The Move festival to celebrate the long-awaited launch of Sound Transit’s Light Rail passenger services on July 17, 2009.

In the many months preceding July 17, the MLKBA reached out to businesses along the four-mile MLK corridor from the intersection of Rainier Ave and MLK down to Rainier Beach to help prepare them for new clientele that everyone hoped and expected the Light Rail would bring to this business district, which had stagnated during the years of Light Rail construction.

Lan Do opened Venus Chinese Restaurant in King Plaza, the shopping center just west of the Othello station, in February 2009. In an informal interview last June with the MLKBA, she expressed great hope that the train would bring even more business. At that time, her new restaurant was thriving. Read more.


12 comments on “Light Rail, One Year Later

  1. How do we know that it is not the service or food or economy versus light rail that is why business is down? I’m sure you could find a business busy since lightrail opened as well.

  2. @Anon – I agree, targeting the Light Rail in the midst of a bad recession may not tell the whole story.

    However, I think the idea that the Light Rail would somehow be an incentive for people to come to the Valley, if it was in fact sold along those lines, rings pretty hollow. In reality, the light rail gives people a way to get downtown. Is someone who lives in Mt. Baker going to say “Hey, let’s take the Light Rail up to Othello station and grab some dinner”? Hardly.

    If anything, it seems like the best shot for business growth would be the fact that someone has already parked their car there (near the station) and is thinking “I’m here – I think I’ll try out that restaurant.” Local residents using the station location as an excuse for trying local businesses.

    Also, while we don’t want Light Rail to have a crushing impact on businesses, the primary purpose of it is not to enable businesses along the corridor; it is to get people to and from downtown/the airport in a more efficient manner, and ease pressure on the transportation infrastructure (and, to some extent, satisfy the utopian visions of transit progressives who think a world without cars is worth achieving no matter the cost :) ). So if the light rail was ‘sold’ along the lines of making a boom for businesses along the corridor, well, that was likely a deception.

    Personally, I am pretty ambivalent re: the light rail. I have to walk about a mile to get to a station, so I really have to want to use it. But the upside of it is that at least it got my picture in the New York Times!

  3. “So if the light rail was ‘sold’ along the lines of making a boom for businesses along the corridor, well, that was likely a deception.”

    Didn’t Sally Clark say something to the effect of “When the train starts runnin’ prosperity’s commin'” or something like that?

  4. South Seattle needs to do a better job diversifying its businesses. I speak especially about its restaurants. It does no good to have a dozen of the same type of cuisine over a half mile stretch. Business improves when there are choices. I live in South seattle and aside from Columbia City I rarely eat down there in restaurants. I am not saying eliminate food culture, I am saying expand it. If you have something people want, they will come. Columbia City has learned that.

  5. IMO, the trouble with too many places down here is that they have no curb appeal, and no idea of how to make a space attractive. So when you have a bunch of places that look pretty much exactly alike (drop ceilings, fluorescent lights, white walls, boring artwork) selling pretty much the same stuff (a variation on Asian cuisine) the bad ones drag everyone down. Unless they get a word-of-mouth vibe, they become part of the background, like Subways and McDonalds. The train won’t change that.

  6. Ive lived in Seattle for many years, lived in any neighborhoods, and enjoy eating most types of food. The variety is lacking when compared to other neighborhoods in this city. There are people in South Seattle who want it to stay exactly the same and still have more people frequent those businesses. It doesn’t work that way.

    I agree with the comment below mine. Many of the businesses in South Seattle lack curb appeal.

    And we need a another decent grocery store or two, but thats another issue completely.

  7. I agree completely with the curb appeal, but the food variety at Othello is diverse: Chinese (Venus), Mexican (El Chuyo + two taco trucks), Cajun (Cajun Crawfish), Gyros, Soul Food (Rose Petals), Thai (Thai Palms), African, Fried Chicken. Although there are a few of them, not all are Vietnamese or (in general) Asian.

    Maybe the earlier complaint is that we don’t have yuppy pizza, yuppy thai, yuppy bakery or yuppy breakfast, but I can go 1 mile for that in CC if I wanted to.

  8. I always thought it was “Yuppie” But I get your point.
    There was a place in San Francisco in the Chinatown area but I beleive it was Vietnamese that only served one dish per day. It was a little hole in the wall Mom and Pop joint with a chalk board with the daily dish written their language. Probably some of the best food you will ever eat.

    Getting hungry just thinking about that place.

  9. Totally agree about the lack of visual appeal of the places on MLK. I know that the strip mall storefronts lack the potential of the old Rainier Avenue ones in Columbia and Hillman City, but things can still be done. I mean, I used to think that 12th and Jackson was 100% about deliciousness and 0% about atmosphere, but Tamarind Tree took one of the yuckiest spaces in Seattle and jazzed it up with thoughtful cocktails and lighting, and landed in the NYT for their efforts:

    That article was a while ago, but they still seem to be packed all the time.

    Thanh Vi in the same building has better food and prices, but I would never meet friends there for dinner. If the MLK restaurants really want to become the sort of places that people would consider a light rail destination, they should work on their atmosphere and wine lists. If Tamarind Tree (which has no dishes that I love the way I love the ginger-char-grilled Beef on Tray at Thanh Vi, but is a million times more pleasant) opened a second location on MLK, I’d go there all the time.

    Los Huarachitos, just north of Orcas on MLK, is really inviting, and the food is great. If anyone reading this hasn’t tried it yet, go! I only wish they were open on Sunday and had an entree salad on their menu.

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