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U-District Small Businesses Impact Study Holds Surprising Results


In February 2017, the City Council of Seattle "unanimously approved an upzone that [would] pave the way for the University District to become Seattle's next high-rise neighborhood."1

This decision was made in keeping with the City Council's goals to help deliver affordable housing in the areas that need it. Coupled with the University of Washington's proposal to add an additional 6 million square feet to their property, called the "Master Plan", the U-district will be undergoing some intense changes in the coming years.

This is cause for concern as the scale of growing which the U-district will be hosting in the coming years is akin to what is happening in downtown, which may increase the risk of displacement for the community's residents and the small mom-and-pop stores which serve them as the district is being turned into an "innovation district" for technology businesses to get in touch with UW students.

To assist the city in understanding the potential risks which the upzone could introduce, Gayle Nowicki, a local small business owner, in cooperation with a group of other small business owners and community members, set out to measure the potential impact, and to gauge how small businesses along the "Ave" viewed the upzone, while collecting general census data of these businesses.

In the summer of 2017 the small businesses of the U-district banded together and, with the hired help of Steinbrueck Urban Strategies, developed and produced an impact study of what the development of the "Ave" would do to small businesses in along the Northeast strip.

The purpose of the study was to "... better inform the city, small businesses and local community on issues affecting small businesses and nonprofits in the Univeristy District."(1), specifically aimed at either preventing or slowing down the upzone in the "Ave" in order to keep the unique atmosphere which the "Ave" has harbored for generations.

The study was conducted over a series of weeks by volunteers who went door-to-door along the "Ave" interviewing small business owners and managers about their business.(2)

The results were unexpected.

  • Most (85%) of the small businesses interviewed were managed by an owner-operator, meaning that the owner had an active role in the small business.
  • 65% of the businesses surveyed were owned by either a woman or a minority.
  • 70% of the businesses interviewed have minority employees.
  • only 10% of the businesses own their commercial space, with nearly 15% of the businesses being on a month-to-month rent cycle.
  • 71% have never attended a BIA meeting or Univeristy District Partnership meeting
  • In size, almost all the businesses surveyed were below 5,000 square feet, with the largest group repoprting 1,000-2,000 sq. ft. spaces.

With these results, and the others listed in the Steinbrueck Urban Strategies study (3), the U-district Small Businesses Association has a foundation from which they could better understand the community which comprises of the "Ave" and ways which will better serve the small business community on the ground level.


1"Seattle Council to vote today on big U-district Upzone", Danial Beekman, Seattle Times staff reports, Seattle Times. Originally published February 21, 2017. Updated April 13, 2017
2 "UW plans to expand upward in big growth spurt" , Katherine Long, Times high education reporter, Seattle Times. Originally published October 24, 2016. Updated April 13, 2017
2 Special thanks to Cory Crocker, Doug Campbell, Lisa Von Trutha, Devon Gonzalez-Yoxtheimer, Megan Ingalls, and the other volunteers who made this possible.
3 Steinbrueck, Peter, Meredith McNair. "University District Small Business Vulnerability Study; Survey Findings and Recommendations" December, 2017

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