Cannabis Retailers Make Great Neighbors

When Ian Eisenberg first opened Uncle Ike’s at 23rd and Union, some neighbors worried that the I-502 recreational cannabis shop was going to be detrimental to the neighborhood. During the shop’s first month, protesters gathered outside the business carrying signs with messages like, “why set up a drug house next to a church?”

The neighboring church, Mount Calvary Christian Center, filed for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent Uncle Ike’s from opening.

“The protesters really helped my business,” says Eisenberg. “The best way to launch a new store is to find people to protest, everybody knew exactly who I was.”

Back in 2013 the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reported that Seattle zoning laws might lead to a “little Amsterdam” along East Union Street, one of the few areas in Seattle where zoning allowed for a recreational cannabis shop. Eisenberg says that the way I-502 is crafted won’t allow for anything vaguely reminiscent of Amsterdam. Some people expressed fears that property values would go down. Eisenberg says, “23rd and union has been troubled since the ‘80s. It wasn’t zoned to build high and it wasn’t valuable enough to develop; when I bought the property all three corners had chain-link fences.”

More than a year after Uncle Ike’s grand opening, none of the dour predictions have come true: property values are up, crime hasn’t increased, and people aren’t loitering on the block smoking. In fact, the blocks surrounding Uncle Ike’s in Seattle’s Central District are attracting an unprecedented amount of non-cannabis-related economic activity.

Across the street from Uncle Ike’s, a 90-unit apartment building will begin leasing in January, so will the 40-some-odd unit Stencil apartment project at the corner of 24th and Union. Eisenberg says, “On the brochures for those developments, they list some of the more popular businesses in the neighborhood, and we’re right there with Chuck’s, Neighbor Lady, and Central Cinema. They’re embracing us, not shying away.”

Crime is down too. Eisenberg says that he used to clean graffiti off the building on the Uncle Ike’s lot every week. He credits his bright lights and security cameras with driving crime away from the corner. He hasn’t had to remove graffiti from Uncle Ike’s glossy façade once since. Meanwhile, a sense of community has developed amongst Uncle Ike’s and the neighboring businesses. The shop brings people to the neighborhood and many end up visiting the bar next-door for a drink, or the nearby theatre for a movie.

“Perceptions are a lot harder to change than reality,” says Eisenberg. “People perceive more danger than there is. With Uncle Ike’s open, thousands walk down from Capitol Hill and see that it’s a nice, safe neighborhood.”

Tom Gordon, a real estate broker who specializes in finding suitable locations for cannabis businesses, says it’s likely the neighboring apartment buildings were in the works long before Uncle Ike’s opened. Gordon has been finding locations for cannabis retailers since long before I-502 was on the books. During that time he hasn’t come across a better location than 23rd and Union, he says. “It’s getting much nicer over there because the State is like his 50% partner; it’s like a police station up there, with people all around, and you’re on the TV screen 24 hours a day,” says Gordon.

Gordon suspects other businesses – usually coffee shops, restaurants, or retailers, in his experience open up next to I-502 shops because the foot traffic guarantees customers. “There’s other examples where it’s led to more businesses opening up. You’ve got Clear Choice in Tacoma, a place in Granite Falls, a place by Thrasher’s Corner in Bothell, and another place in Edmonds.”

Last year in Denver, researchers at the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Affairs conducted a study to determine if dispensaries should be designated as a locally undesirable land use, or LULU. The researchers concluded that, although dispensaries tended to be located in neighborhoods with higher crime rates, they didn’t lead to increased crime.

Eisenberg says he’s just happy to see so much positive activity in the neighborhood, “It’s completely reversed from where it was a decade ago.”