The newly proposed plan to build 570 apartments by Vulcan Real Estate means ending his entrepreneurial dream for Berhane Amanuel who runs and Ethiopian restaurant.

By Sarah Stuteville |

The Promenade 23 shopping center at Jackson Street and 23rd Avenue South in Seattle isn’t much to look at — a neon-signed Red Apple Market flanked by a dozen squat, cinder-block storefronts.

But it’s one of the main commercial hubs in the Central District, a place where Washington Middle School students buy after-school snacks and neighbors call to each other by name across the parking lot.

It’s also been a holdout against encroaching gentrification. The Promenade’s small businesses are beauty salons, barbers and nonprofits — not the pot shops, brew pubs and sleek restaurants that are bleeding south and east from Capitol Hill.

But all that may be about to change. Last month, Paul Allen’s Vulcan Real Estate announced it had purchased Promenade 23, as well as a second shopping center on the other side of Jackson, with plans to build 570 apartments with underground parking, a public plaza and retail on the ground floor. Construction is slated to start next year.

For Berhane Amanuel, owner of East African Imports and Restaurant, that could mean the end of an entrepreneurial dream.

 “There was no big Ethiopian store here, and I decided to do importing from Ethiopia,” says Berhane Amanuel, remembering the decision to open his business in the Promenade in 2002. Among the stores’ items are berbere, an Ethiopian spice, and teff flour, used to make injera, an Ethiopian flat bread.

And it was a good decision. Six years ago, the import business and store was doing well enough that he quit his job as a part-time Metro bus driver and expanded into an adjacent storefront. He used the extra space to open a restaurant that specializes in traditional Ethiopian beef dishes.

Berhane Amanuel says the location of his business has been key to his success. Not only is he centrally located but also near large East African populations, including an Ethiopian and an Eritrean church.

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