Weekly  contributor Jason McBride files the following dispatch from Capitol Hill: 

We all like to see homegrown, local businesses succeed in these days of brightly


Family Feud

Is Victrola biting the hand that fed it by setting up shop near Bauhaus?

Weekly contributor Jason McBride files the following dispatch from Capitol Hill: 

We all like to see homegrown, local businesses succeed in these days of brightly lit, hand-railed corporate homogenization. Clearly, Capitol Hill's Victrola Coffee Roasters has emerged as a vigorous player in the Seattle coffee world. Set to open December 28, Victrola's second location sits near the Six Arms on Pike street. The former auto-repair shop will housetheir growing wholesale roasting business, along with a cupping room for sampling and "coffee education." A 30-seat cafe will enjoy natural lighting from massive panes running up the 16-foot walls, plus a view into the adjoining roasting area.

The new store is a testament to the upscale tastes of husband-and-wife proprietors Chris Sharp and Jen Strongin, who opened their vintage-themed shop on 15th Avenue back in July, 2000. Like true coffee aficionados, Sharp and Strongin go to great lengths in pursuit of the perfect cup, from purchasing raw beans at world-class auctions to roasting under a skylight, so as to gauge the hue of the roast with optimum fussiness.

The opening of the new space is a vindication for those who fear that corporate caffeine purveyors are using their vast reserves of investor capital to tamp down local businesses. But it's still capitalism, which means Victrola (or V2, as Strongin calls it) is also in competition with other coffeehouses, most notably Bauhaus, just one block away on Pine. Before opening Victrola, Strongin worked as a barista for Bauhaus owners Michael Klebeck and Joel Radin at their University Bookstore outpost. When Strongin and Sharp decided to open their own operation, Strongin's former bosses gave them guidance and contacts to help get Victrola off the ground. And now they're going to be in direct competition with each other.

"I guess time will tell - will it dip into our tip jar?" said one Bauhaus barista who asked not to be identified. "And that's where everybody's really concerned."

But maybe not the proprietors. Radin declined to comment. In fact, the barista said Radin is acting like he isn't concerned. Messages to Radin's partners at Top Pot Doughnuts, one of whom co-owns Bauhaus, went unanswered. Strongin says the Pike location was the only one they could find to suit their needs: an old building; one-story; the right square-footage; and not too far from the original café, which will rely on deliveries of freshly roasted beans each day. She's not happy about encroaching on Bauhaus' territory. But she doesn't think V2 will hurt their old benefactors.

"Bauhaus has been there for a long time. They do a great job. It's a really great atmosphere," Strongin says. "I think that they'll continue to have the clientele that they've always had."

And Top Pot Doughnuts, which now has three locations, isn't doing too bad itself, selling its renowned hole-in-ones to Starbucks. Strongin also points to the fact that two cafes have opened up within a two-block radius from Bauhaus during the past couple years. "Faire, they opened up and competed with Bauhaus," she says. "Uncle Elizabeth's is down the street from [V2], and it doesn't seem like it's raised anybody's dander that they opened up place near Bauhaus, so I don't feel like it should be any different for us."

If anything, this shows how experience has taught Victrola the realities of competition. About a year after Victrola's first store opened, Café Ladro leased a space on the same block, and "we were really scared about that," Strongin said.

So scared that they spoke of their fears extensively in a 2002 Stranger story, speculating that Ladro, which had five stores at the time, was going to put them under. "In retrospect, I really wish that [story] had never been written," Strongin says.

Ladro proprietor Jack Kelly, who calls the inter-cafe feud "hilarious," sees Victrola's idea to expand the same way he saw his - a simple business decision. "In this coffee market," says Kelly, "you can't go anywhere without stepping on anyone's toes."

comments powered by Disqus