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Is Capitol Hill Business Booming Because of Light Rail?

Some businesses on Capitol Hill are reporting 15 to 20 percent more customers since the light rail station opened there.

Jennafuh Singer has seen a bump at The New York Xchange, a clothing store she runs on Broadway.

It's a niche store, drawing people from all over the city who dress in a style only she can describe accurately: “Kind of like punk meets goth meets modern overall fashion. Yeah, kind of modern overall fashion meets business goth."

Singer says The New York Xchange and another store called Panache are moving in together, even closer to the station a few doors down. Light rail gave them an excuse to do a big remodel. Singer, who has lived in Seattle for a decade, is breathless with enthusiasm for light rail.

“It's been interesting to me as a New Yorker to get to see these changes and how the city has changed," she says. "Just a little bit more of that flow and influx of people from the light rail being open."

A manager at Dick's Drive-In threw out a rough estimate of a 20 percent increase in business. That makes sense — on one of the first days after the new stations opened, I saw a man on the train with a big tray of Dick's burgers in his lap on his way to the University of Washington.

At Charlie's Bar and Grill across the street from the station, manager Alexander Kane says he's seeing new kinds of customers.

“People that are coming in to the airport on their way out," Kane says. "They want to eat something, both directions. They’re coming in with luggage. So I know that it’s helped us.”

Kane says his customers used to be mostly young people. But now families are coming in with strollers. He’s also seen more students and people doing pub crawls using light rail. Collectively, he estimates these customers have expanded his busy hours and increased his sales by 15 percent.

Farther from the station, the effect is more diluted. Karen Schwartz runs a neighborhood apothecary called Sugar Pill. She has not noticed an increase in business. But she says she still benefits.

“My customers come from all over town," she says. "I have noticed that people are saying they’re taking the light rail and they’re really psyched to not have to drive here.”

And some other businesses say it’s just too early to know.

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