The Hottest Little Coffee Shop in Seattle

The first rule of retail success is location, location, location. And did we mention location?

"I was banking on the Sculpture Park to pull people in," says Uptown Espresso owner and founder Dow Lucerell, but when he added a shoebox location at Pier 70 (on Alaskan Way at the foot of Broad Street), the place was dead on weekends. That was 2005, and things were so sleepy during winter months that the coffee shop was closed on Sundays. In summer he got the tourists, plus weekday traffic from law firm Graham & Dunn (in the same building) and folks from RealNetworks up on Western. Since this location was shoehorned into the old ticket office for Argosy Cruises, it barely had enough space--maybe 600 square feet, says Lucerell, "really tiny"--for its customers. They could even relax, kick back, sit at one of the few tables and read the paper.

Not anymore. Since the Olympic Sculpture Park opened, Lucerell has found himself in possession of the best-situated espresso joint in the city. Business is "crazy" he says, up fourfold on weekends. "It's a blessing. Clearly I can attribute it all to the sculpture park."

Indeed, you couldn't possibly plan a better location than being at the bottom of a flight of stairs depositing dozens of thirsty visitors per hour. Early this month, my first visit to OSP was fairly typical in this regard: You start up on Western, wind your way down, pause regularly to look at the art and admire the views, then finally cross the railroad tracks on the bridge and descend to the waterfront. After an hour in the open air, planning to continue walking along the waterfront or back through the park, coffee seems like an excellent idea. Only when you try to open the door to Uptown Espresso, it's packed, overflowing with customers.

On that particular day, insane coffee drinker though I am, I actually had to turn away from the mob. It's a case of too many customers, the curse of too much business. "There are worse problems in life," says Lucerell. Unfortunately, he notes, there isn't room on the busy sidewalk plaza to add a coffee cart. Nor room inside the pier to expand. My solution: Get a small boat, moor it to the seawall, and start vending caffeine from Elliott Bay. The foam might not pour as pretty with the rocking waves beneath, but at least no OSP visitor will again go away empty-handed.

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