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Monday, January 19, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Businesses in Valley make way for Transit's light rail

Seattle Times staff reporter

King's Deli & Grocery, a tiny stop along Martin Luther King Jr. Way South in the Rainier Valley, closed Friday to make room for light rail.

"Eleven years here, a long time. I am sad," said Cheool Ki Shin, 61, as he looked at his empty floor last week.

Even after he dismantled the shelves, he tried to squeeze out every last dollar from his inventory by selling bottles of beer and tea from the cooler. Then the distributor reclaimed the leftovers. Shin donated his last boxes of candy to a church's after-school program.

Shin's deli, at the corner where Martin Luther King Jr. Way meets South Graham Street, is among 80 to 100 businesses that will relocate or close this year as construction begins on Sound Transit's Central Link.

A four-mile stretch of Martin Luther King Jr. Way must be widened so rails can be installed in the center of the street while maintaining the existing four lanes. Utilities will be buried, housing density increased, and four train stations built.

Proponents say the project will give a neglected corner of the city a more comfortable transit service plus redevelopment. Critics say it's devastating existing businesses to the benefit of others and creating a risk of people being hit by the trains.

Then there are the 408 properties — including homes, apartments, shops and thin slivers of land for the right of way — that Sound Transit needs in the valley.

Each story is different.

Some owners are pleased with their settlements. Some have accepted the buyouts rather than fight a powerful government agency in court. Others are holding out.

While Sound Transit's land-acquisition effort is going slower than planned, work can begin in some areas.

Shin and two neighbors on his triangle-shaped lot had a Feb. 17 deadline to leave. Four employees at the Radio Shack store will transfer to other stores. Trim Cleaners will likely move out of the neighborhood.

One of the satisfied merchants is Don Bracy, who runs an auto-repair shop a few blocks north. He said his leaky shop will be razed to make space for equipment during rail construction. But he expects to get a new building next door — with help from Sound Transit.

"It's old; I'm glad to see it go," he said. "Now I can make it the way I want to make it."

There will be time between demolition and reopening, but Bracy says he hasn't had a vacation in years.

Bracy has been talking with Sound Transit's Rainier Valley Community Development Fund, which has $50 million to provide loans and other services. That money is in addition to the official $2.44 billion price for building the 14-mile light rail line between downtown and Tukwila.

Bracy's landlord of the auto-shop building, Ruby Arreola of Lynnwood, said she will get close to the property's $332,000 assessed value from the transit agency. "In all the dealings we had with Sound Transit, they were very nice," she said.

But some merchants are reluctant to leave. Michael Cho, the owner of Manna Teriyaki, one of six shops in the Alaska Street Mini Mart, has been given until mid-July to clear out. Cho said he is scouting sites in Issaquah, Northgate and Bellevue.

"Sometimes I drive 200 miles a day, looking for a good location," he said.

At the north end of the valley, near Franklin High School, the owners of Pacific Fish & Chips display fluorescent-green "Save Our Valley — Tunnel" signs. Sound Transit will build a short, elevated segment around the fish stand but tear down the lube shop in back.

Vivian Sung, who owns both buildings, thinks construction probably will force Pacific Fish to close too. But it could recover, she hopes.

"It probably would help the business, once the station is built," she said. "I think the whole area would look new."

The owner of Trim Cleaners, Chae Kyong Cho, considered relocating in the Valley, but he said as other merchants move, land becomes scarcer and more expensive. He plans to move to a smaller building on Roosevelt Way Northeast, in the city's north end. Cho says that would cost more than the $264,000 he expects from a settlement.

Cho thinks wealthier North End customers might be more lucrative in the long run. But he knows that some 36,000 cars a day pass his corner in the Valley. He can only speculate about the potential on Roosevelt Way.

"We're starting over," Cho said.

As for Shin, he says he is through with the deli business. He wants to open a laundry.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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