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Originally published April 9, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 9, 2007 at 9:03 AM

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Trophy shop for sale; owner is fed up with alcoholic neighbors

A trophy shop that got a controversial new next-door neighbor 16 months ago...an apartment building housing 75 of Seattle's most sickly alcoholics.

Seattle Times staff reporter

A trophy shop that got a controversial new next-door neighbor 16 months ago -- an apartment building housing 75 of Seattle's most sickly street alcoholics -- is searching for a new downtown location at which to do business.

Robb Anderson, a partner in Northwest Trophy, said the family-owned business has put its 2,200-square-foot building on the sales block because of what he describes as continual nuisances related to the apartment house next door.

"I know every business has nuisances they have to deal with, but the problem is they put 75 of them right next to me," Anderson said.

But Bill Hobson, executive director of Downtown Emergency Service Center, which manages the apartment, said Anderson's complaints are "more driven by his bitterness toward this project than by any factual reality."

Anderson said problems include trespassing, filth, noise and the inconvenience of having the store's parking lot blocked by medical-aid vehicles that respond to emergencies at the four-story apartment building.

According to Seattle Fire Department statistics, 222 emergency-response calls were made to the apartment building in 2006, with 45 more calls logged during the first three months of 2007.

But Hobson said the city striped a loading zone in front of the building about seven months ago so that emergency vehicles have a place to park without blocking Northwest Trophy's lot.

"It's a medically fragile population, and there are a lot of aid calls," Hobson said. "I've instructed staff that we always err on [the side of] taking care of clients. If we need to get a paramedic response, that's what we do."

The apartment building, called 1811 Eastlake, opened in December 2005 as a way to get chronic alcoholics off the street and into safe, secure housing. As a lure, tenants are allowed to drink as much as they want inside their rooms -- a recognition that chronic alcoholics are unlikely ever to go sober. Tenants of 1811 Eastlake are allowed to come and go as they please, although the number of visitors is restricted.

In return, tenants must agree to standards of behavior that include being conscientious neighbors. Public drunkenness in and around the building is not allowed, and repeated violations can subject a tenant to eviction.

Northwest Trophy, which has been in business for almost 70 years, has operated out of its small building for the last 29 of them.

"The garbage I have to deal with ... some guy urinating in front of my building," Anderson said. "Is it those tenants who are responsible? I can't tell you that the answer is always yes. But that stuff didn't happen before they got here."

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Hobson said 1811's residents do not loiter outside the trophy shop and Anderson is the only neighbor still complaining about the apartment.

"We police his property," Hobson said. "Our staff are instructed to look around his property because he has made a lot of complaints. Occasionally, we'll see an empty beer can, but we're not sure if it's from our residents or passers-by."

Unhappy

The $11.2 million apartment project, financially backed by the city, county and state, was built only after a failed legal challenge mounted by the Benaroya Co., which owned an office-tower complex in the area that it has since sold. The trophy shop was a party in the suit.

"Robb Anderson seems like he's determined to be the last dog in this fight," Hobson said. "I feel like this guy is inconsolable. We've enacted a set of protocols, and we've been pretty good at faithfully implementing those."

Al Poole, director of homelessness intervention for Seattle's Department of Human Services, said he followed through on several of the trophy shop's complaints and was unable to determine whether 1811 Eastlake residents are causing the problems. He said the city is receiving no other complaints from businesses in the area.

"We think we've addressed a number of the trophy shop's complaints," said Poole, who was instrumental in establishing the loading zone in front of the building. "We obviously can't make them happy because 1811 simply being there is something that makes them unhappy."

Tenants of 1811 Eastlake have been addicted to alcohol at least 15 years and failed at alcohol treatment at least six times. They are chosen off a list of people identified by King County as having drained the most emergency and criminal-justice resources from the community.

Saving money

The philosophy behind the housing program, which is the first of its kind in Washington and only the second in the country, is that taxpayer money will be saved by reducing that population's visits to emergency rooms, jails and detox centers.

Anderson said he has no argument with emergency-response personnel who block the entrance to his parking lot, saying "they're just doing their job. But I feel like our business is being disrupted for nothing that we've done. I think we have been patient. But now we are over a year into this thing and we're at the point where we just need to move."

He said he has had to absorb increased expenses related to delivering trophies to customers who elect to no longer pick up at the store. The customers prefer delivery now because either they can no longer find parking or they fear being harassed by loiterers in the area, he said.

"I have never once had a customer or an employee or one of our owners disrupt the day-to-day operation or vandalize their property over there," Anderson said. "That's all I ask of mine, but they can't guarantee that."

Hobson said one resident with dementia once wandered into the trophy shop by mistake and was brought back to 1811 by an apartment staffer. He said another resident once admitted to urinating in the trophy shop's parking lot. That resident wrote a letter of apology and swept the parking lot for two weeks, Hobson said.

Northwest Trophy has listed its building at $1.1 million, and Anderson said he is unsure whether his new neighbor will adversely affect the value of the property.

"Things might be different for a developer or a different type of business owner," said Anderson, adding that he approached Downtown Emergency Service Center about buying the property, but that the agency price was way below $1.1 million.

Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or seskenazi@seattletimes.com

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