Opinion: Bring Back the Neighborhood Corner Store

A call for zoning reforms that legalize commercial buildings in residential neighborhoods in Seattle—a building type and land use that has fallen out of favor all over the United States.

2 minute read

July 11, 2021, 9:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Victoria, British Columbia

Roshan_NG / Shutterstock

Sam Kraft, principal of D3 Architects and instructor of architecture at the University of Washington, writes a guest article for The Seattle Times that begins by singing the praises of two building types that are no longer legal in Seattle (like in most cities in the United States): fourplexes and corner stores.

A few corner stores predate the 1923 zoning code written by Harland Bartholomew that implemented a widespread preference for single-family detached housing:

There are a small handful of stores and cafes like Boulevard Grocery (now called Seven Coffee Roasters Market & Cafe) speckled throughout the city’s residential neighborhoods. They have all been in continued operation since at least 1922, weathering the depression, WWII and the Vietnam War, the oil embargo, the Great Recession and now online commerce. Why have they been able to maintain business for 100 years? Because they are beloved local places that connect us — to Seattle’s past; to each other; to the food, drink, art, culture and life of a specific neighborhood. They create more activity on the sidewalk, reducing crime and cars and increasing walking, biking, skipping, scootering and maybe even laughing.

Kraft's appeal is simple: "Let's allow corner stores back into our neighborhoods." The article includes a call to action to appeal to local elected officials with the power to change the city's land use code. An architect in Portland, Oregon made a similar case in 2020, calling for "Accessory Commercial Units," which could be retrofitted for some of the same benefits described by Kraft here.

Friday, June 25, 2021 in The Seattle Times

Large blank mall building with only two cars in large parking lot.

Pennsylvania Mall Conversion Bill Passes House

If passed, the bill would promote the adaptive reuse of defunct commercial buildings.

April 18, 2024 - Central Penn Business Journal

Aerial view of Oakland, California with bay in background

California Exodus: Population Drops Below 39 Million

Never mind the 40 million that demographers predicted the Golden State would reach by 2018. The state's population dipped below 39 million to 38.965 million last July, according to Census data released in March, the lowest since 2015.

April 11, 2024 - Los Angeles Times

Wood-frame two-story rowhouses under construction.

Fair Housing Cannot Take a Back Seat to ‘Build, Baby, Build’

If we overlook fair housing principles in the plan to build US housing back better, we risk ending up right back where we started.

April 11, 2024 - James Jennings

High view of woman walking in parking lot with red and white cars visible at left.

Non-Roadway Traffic Deaths On the Rise

A growing number of traffic deaths occur in driveways, parking lots, and other non-roadway spaces.

2 minutes ago - Streetsblog USA

Purple jacaranda trees in bloom in Los Angeles with tall white Art Deco buildings in background.

LA County Releases Draft Community Forest Management Plan

LA County's Chief Sustainability Office just released the discussion draft of Room to Grow, the first Community Forest Management Plan for the county.

April 21 - Los Angeles County Chief Sustainability Office

Aerial view of downtown Seattle, Washington at dusk.

Seattle Downtown Plan Expands Permitted Uses

The Downtown Activation Plan shifts from Euclidean to form-based zoning to encourage more commercial development.

April 21 - Governing

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.