Editorial: How much density do you have to have to support a coffee house?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

By Diane Hettrick

The Bounty, the last coffee house in North City, closed its doors on December 15. It had previously reduced its operating hours in an attempt to cut costs, but that was not enough to keep it financially viable.

This is the third coffee house to close in North City. Brown's Coffee, with a charming decor, great food, and coffee roasted and ground on site, closed its location down the street three years ago.

The Bounty took over from a  previous business which was also failing, the Laughing Ladies.

The North City business district has high density housing, with half a dozen high rise apartment buildings within walking distance.

All three venues had experimented with live musical performances, play spaces for children, different kinds of food. All had wi-fi, various size of tables. A couple were friendly to groups meeting on their premises. Some had friendly staff, some were said to be a little grumpy.

Brown's had terrible parking, the others had a generous parking lot. Brown's had gourmet food; The Bounty had egg muffins stuffed into plastic cups.

In other words, their business models had little in common, but all ended up closing their doors.

It makes me wonder how much density you have to have to support a local business like a coffee shop.

I worked in downtown Seattle for five years. I discovered that every high-rise office building had a small cafe. Some were on public streets. Some were entered from loading docks on alleys. The Columbia Center had at least two cafes on the mezzanine - and possibly more. For the most part these cafes had no decor, but they did have great food.

All had long lines during lunch time and did a booming business.

Our residential buildings are not enough to support coffee shops. Will it take 12 story office buildings to support a cafe?


ABinLFP December 19, 2015 at 11:23 PM  

Honestly, the only way a coffee place could possibly make it in that space is to have corporate money behind it. A Starbucks could survive there, but nothing independent. It's been Hotwire, Laughing Ladies, and The Bounty. All failures. There's just not enough traffic to make it viable.

Kenrick December 20, 2015 at 4:03 AM  

Density is only a part of the equation for the survival of this type of independent business. You need the density: yes; however Shoreline, Lake Forest Park, Mountlake Terrace are dormitory towns. People live in those cities and work outisde. Of course there are jobs like grocery stores, hair dressers, doctors, etc but those are 'just' the necessary services to support a town.

When people leave to work in the morning, they are not there in town, at the coffee place to support the business. they are at their office to support the business down the office building. Your post contains this answer already when you say "I worked downtown Seattle for 5 years". This imply means that you were not in North City to support the coffee house that were there. I am in no way blaming you, I am only pointing out out the logical need of a business to survive.

When people come home at night, they usually don't want to go to the coffee shop. Either they already went with their coworkers for an after work drink or they are going home back to their families.

Those are key interactions for a business to be able survive and is demonstrated pretty much by any successful city in the world with its associated suburb.

So what can we do will you ask? Edmonds has nice restaurants, stores, coffee shops, etc. and they seem to survive pretty well. It's an enjoyable place to go to. What do they do differently than Shoreline that makes them so successful?

Well first of all they have a well defined downtown where the businesses reside. Shoreline however doesn't have that and the city is trying to push the evolution of different neighborhoods all together while hoping the free market will create this for the city. It is a different approach which is however not likely to work as expected. Free market is there to for people to invest, make money and leave for the place where they can make money. Defining a downtown however requires a vision and a direction from the city to develop a specific section under their of supervision and not freely open to the market.

Secondly, the city, like Edmonds or Seattle (at their own pace), need to grow organically as the demand requires it. Those cities used to have single family homes with big yards like Shoreline. Seattle went to homes next to each others, then town homes, then 2-3 story buildings, and finally in some places 5-7 story buildings and even more downtown. I'm not saying that Seattle did everything right but it shows what growing organically means. Shoreline decided for a different approach: go from single family homes with big lots to 5-7 story buildings. This will have the following impact: little businesses like the you described will still have the opportunity to exist however the cost to start their businesses might be higher. No matter what, the people living in those buildings will work outside of Shoreline and the high value jobs won't be here in Shoreline (it doesn't look that Shoreline has any plan to attract bigger companies with higher value jobs or at least I am not aware of it). The result will be the same as before. The final result is very likely to be that only chains (Starbuck, Hair Master, etc...) will be able to afford to be in our neighborhoods by benefiting from economy of scale.

Saving our local businesses will come through the will of the city to make the right choices to grow organically as needed and not to to let the free market change the city too big too soon. We need them to set a vision for the whoe city and drive it.

Anonymous,  December 20, 2015 at 7:19 AM  

What a false analogy. There is a thriving coffe shop on 160th and 5th Ave NE, and only the Crest Theater is nearby. Why didn't anyone go to Brown's Coffee - it was expensive, slow, and as you mentioned no parking. BUT, there is no parking in Downtown Seattle so I would say that parking is not the issue.

The Bounty suffered from poor customer service, perhaps not the Bounty management but their predecessors. I never went back after quitting on the Laughing Ladies, I don't need to spend my money on a place owned and operated by rude people.

So what do I do instead? There are Starbucks all over Shoreline, even a former Mayor and present City Councilmember works there. Starbucks may be considered a giant soul less corporation, but they serve their products quickly and conveniently.

Retail sales (including coffee shops) are all about location. And North City is a terrible location no matter what you consider. On the other hand, Leena's and the burger/pizza shop have kept on going for years. And why would that be? They have quality food at a reasonable price with employees who care about their customers.

Anonymous,  December 20, 2015 at 8:25 AM  

The Bounty was surrounded by apartment buildings and many other businesses... one of the denser areas in Shoreline. How does that explain the viability of Cafe Aroma, tucked in a quieter, less dense, SFR neighborhood?

Janet Way December 20, 2015 at 8:30 AM  

Good points! We are constantly told by City staff that "coff e shops and yoga studios" will pop up at Light Rail Station areas, and that is a valid reason to displace thousands of single-family homes! This latest coffeeshops closure is ample evidence that that is a pipe dream. Long live Leenas and Cafe Aroma! But using the coffeeshops meme to sell density, is a false narrative Shoreline.

Bob Shook December 20, 2015 at 8:43 AM  

The Starbucks down the street from where the Bounty was seems to be doing just fine. The Richmond Beach coffee shop also seems to be doing just fine, and without the density that you somehow think is necessary to support such an establishment. That said, if you believe that density planning should center on the success of a coffee shop, please do yourself a favor and move out of Shoreline. I'm sure you'll have no trouble finding another community to live in with plenty of coffee shops. Of course, whether you'll be able to afford to live there is another question.

Anonymous,  December 20, 2015 at 8:48 AM  

I would imagine that there will be a coffee place at or next door to the future light rail station. How many people are actually going to support a coffee shop up on 15th or elsewhere when they have the convenience of picking up an espresso at the same stop before hopping on the rail?

Laura Dodson December 20, 2015 at 9:53 AM  

I don't think you can compare the Seattle downtown density to Shoreline.

Wendy DiPeso December 20, 2015 at 10:54 AM  

It depends upon the TYPE of density. Apartment buildings where people have to travel to other places to work will not support a local coffee shop. It would not matter how many units your added. You need office buildings full of people who work in North City who want places to go for coffee and lunch to support a local coffee house and noontime restaurants.

Unknown December 20, 2015 at 9:49 PM  

Without businesses bringing people to an area, it is difficult to draw people to a neighborhood.North City zoning regulations make it impossible for businesses to thrive. My understanding is the door store is on its way out of town because they cannot build a place to build doors on their property because zoning doesn't allow that use.
Apparently, apartments are the only thing the city wishes to encourage.

Anonymous,  December 20, 2015 at 10:04 PM  

Browns was a great coffee shop! I went there every morning before work, parking was not a problem. But Shoreline is not a destination, and it will never be a destination. Downtown Edmonds has traffic because it is on the waterfront and has a ferry terminal, it is a destination. Shoreline is home,
and existing businesses have a hard enough time competing without new chain stores that the new expensive development will require due to the high rents. I will skip the new light rail businesses because it will just be a hassle, like trying to shop in the new Ballard. I will also skip using 145th and 185th, hello 155th and 175th as crosstown streets.
Margaret in North City

Anonymous,  December 21, 2015 at 8:19 AM  

The Bounty failing has nothing to do density. It was a mediocre place to go and suffered from a sterile atmosphere, prepackaged, uninteresting food and the legacy of rudeness from the Laughing Ladies. I wold be interested to know why the Hotwire closed because when that happened we were all sad. It had a cozy atmosphere, good coffee, really good homemade food and friendly service. Browns was cramped and service was very slow. The one time we tried it we left with a coupon for a free meal to compensate us for our experience. Leena's and Suni's succeed because they have long-standing reputations and offer quality products. Density has nothing to do with it.

Anonymous,  December 21, 2015 at 1:35 PM  

I would like to have a successful coffee house in North City. The Bounty unfortunently did come with reputation from the former very unfriendly owner. I am not aware of any publicity concerning the new owners so people thought of it as it had been. That being said it never had a feeling of comfort, it is austere, too high ceilings not enough light, sturdy instead of comfortable seating, it felt too much like a classroom. Browns tried to do too much. The coffee roasting was loud, took up too much space and because of the heat generated the doors had to be kept open and there was always a draft. The service was slow, a friend got cold eggs and when she complained was told to take it home and heat in her microwave. We need to have Starbucks, but rather than that how about Sully’s. Just deciding to serve coffee and expect to have a huge following is not enough, there are factors known only by the big companies that are conducive to success. That being said, we love the Richmond Beach Coffee place that is a former gas station, it is cosy and does only what one expects. Nancy Utter

Anonymous,  December 21, 2015 at 2:44 PM  

I believe Hotwire was driven out by their "success" with underage youth -they would/could hang out, but not spend any $. When a gun showed up on the porch one evening, that was that!
I frequently walk my dog through North City, and would sometimes think I could stop at the Bounty for a cuppa, but it was usually closed.
Years ago we were at whatever the venue was called, and we were asked to leave our table do to upcoming entertainment. The folks I were with vowed never to return. The entertainment filled the place with their family and friends (little children running amok) but I didn't see them buying anything. I was welcome to sit outside in the cold with my coffee. I now take my chances at Third Place - I may or may not get a table but I can find soemwhere to sit, even if it's downstairs by the library.

Anonymous,  December 21, 2015 at 3:08 PM  

The coffee shops at the top of the North City hill have been a mixed bag. Laughing Ladies had food, but were rude. Bounty didn't have much food, but decent coffee and weird hours. Browns had pretty decent food, tough parking, slow service and good coffee.
To be honest, the Bounty/Ladies site is ideal for coffee, but they need to have a viable commercial kitchen and someone with some culinary grit to crank-out food.
We really enjoy our coffee at the Ballinger Thriftway. The ladies there can actually pull a shot, know when their crema is crap and enjoy sharing a lively conversation....unlike most Starbucks.
So. Density, yes its here, its coming. What is needed are some business owners with chops, culinary ability and the desire to involve a very diverse neighborhood where not everyone is open to walking 1/2 mile in the driving rain for a cuppa.

Anonymous,  December 21, 2015 at 3:41 PM  

I really enjoyed Hotwire and was surprised when it closed since it always seemed to have steady business. I agree with other posters that the main problem with The Bounty was that they couldn't overcome the bad reputation the woefully misnamed Laughing Ladies left behind. Combine that with the bare and not particularly welcoming space, slow service, and uninspired food options, and you have a recipe for failure. I also wonder how much the name was a contributing factor in their demise. "The Bounty" doesn't say "coffee" to me, or even "cafe" or "restaurant"..

Sweet Lou December 21, 2015 at 3:54 PM  

Twisted Sister - Greek Restaurant has applied for a WS Liquor license in the former Bounty space as well as adjacent. Would be a nice addition to North City!

Anonymous,  December 23, 2015 at 11:18 PM  

I hated the laughing ladies because of the Rude/slow help (besides too expensive - I avoid starbuck also), I haven't wanted to go back even under a new name. Who needs a snobby rude over priced coffee shop anyway.

KevinJAuld February 10, 2016 at 10:14 AM  

The Bounty was under completely different owners and was not overpriced, snobby or rude.

Margaret March 5, 2016 at 10:50 AM  

Starbucks coffee tastes disgusting. I loved having good coffee so close to home at the bounty, very sad they had to close. Going to cafe aroma now & I think maybe the bounty would have done better if they also had a drive through??

Unknown March 29, 2016 at 12:06 PM  

Not the right kind of demographics. The people in most of the apartments in that area don't seem like coffee shop types.

Anonymous,  July 26, 2016 at 3:50 PM  

Let me first start off by saying.........I AM NOT a Starbucks (Upchucks) Fan, and never will be. Overpriced, bitter, overpriced, gives me heartburn, overpriced, long lines, oh..........and did I mention over priced? I have been into The Bounty several times when it was open, and to be honest......not impressed. Tried on every occasion to order a (hopefully) decent White Chocolate Raspberry Mocha..............no luck. Either not enough Half and Half in it, or line was long/slow, or not enough Raspberry Syrup in it, even after asking for an extra pump. Atmosphere was very bland. Would go in there for Volunteer Meetings for a group and the chairs were uncomfortable, people would take up a whole table with all of their personal belongings, for just themselves........all the while seeing a group of 8-12 people try to find seating together. Parking was so so, but hey....that's part of North City! I also thought that the prices at The Bounty were kind of high, considering the sizes of their drinks. Just really was never impressed, and after our Volunteer Group quit meeting there, I never went back, and honestly was not surprised when I saw them close down. I do really like Java Jane's that is located in the parking lot of the Goodwill on 145th and 15th! NO, it is NOT a Bikini Barista Place.......the Raspberry White Chocolate Mocha's are wonderful, the girls who work there are polite, and they keep the line going, considering they have a double drive thru window!!

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