Sometimes, while I write this column, I start to feel like the ghost of Emmett Watson is haunting me. I have an eerie feeling that he is looking over my shoulder as I type these words. I’m referring, of course, to my recent exhortations regarding the loss of Seattle’s unique culture to over-development and gentrification.
That eminent journalist and raconteur from Seattle’s past history is surely rolling in his grave now as the city is transformed overnight into just another average West Coast boom town full of yuppie shops and wine bars (been to Santa Monica lately?). Watson’s vision of a “Lesser Seattle” has been buried by billions of dollars in real estate developments launched by giant multinational tech corporations. Today, his campaigns against grandiose development schemes are but faint echoes from a much-too-distant past. In fact, his vision was always counter to the way in which our city has developed.
William C. Speidel wrote a revealing book in 1967, “Sons of the Profits,” exploring the means with which the Denny and Yesler families gained their wealth from the lucrative business of growth and development. The outfitting of Yukon gold rush miners was a prime example of this type of pioneer business strategy. To make more money, you need to attract more businesses to the area (including a railroad) and bring in a lot of people who are willing to spend their hard-earned cash on foolish ventures and outrageous promises.
It’s evident to see that our city’s original blend of hippie bohemianism and authentic art house intellectualism is quickly being replaced by the latest scourge of real estate/tech money-grubbers and by a vast invasion of recently transplanted upscale hipster wannabes.
Please forgive me for the harsh tone of my criticism, but after witnessing the death of dozens of longstanding local businesses, art galleries and music venues, I admit that, along with most of the rest of the original residents of Seattle, I’ve had just about enough of this crass over-development!
I’m only repeating the topic of daily public conversations that I hear taking place all over the city in local cafes, at neighborhood bars, in restaurants and on the streets. It’s a common refrain: “What the hell is happening to this city?”
The most recent victims
I must report on the two most recent victims sacrificed on the altar devoted to real estate and property management gods: Charlie’s Bar and Grill on Broadway and Angel’s Shoe Repair on 15th Avenue. These sweeping changes on Capitol Hill have been so outrageously rapid and over-expansive that most folks can hardly believe their own eyes.
How many more local establishments will be wiped out before this crazy real estate bubble finally bursts and the developers flee to plunder and pillage some other hapless and defenseless community?
But, just to set the record straight, I am not a complete Luddite. I certainly do not wish to see our fair city reduced to the undeveloped and abandoned slums we see in declining industrial cities like Detroit. I do, however, believe that we should adopt sane development policies. I stand against extreme over-development, which threatens to destroy any sense of community in our traditional neighborhoods. Local establishments that have served the community for many generations should not be forced out of business at the whim of greedy landlords and real estate companies.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what has been happening all across the city of Seattle. The tenants are simply given 30 days to find a new location before an eviction is forced upon them. In many cases, local business owners have been unable to find suitable rental spaces at another location. This kind of mistreatment and disrespect for local businesses and art venues is simply criminal in the minds of many local residents, and so far, our elected representatives have been unable or unwilling to halt the momentum of this “divide and conquer” strategy.
Angel’s Shoe Repair is a sad example of how many local businesses are being replaced by well-financed enterprises that are more than willing to pay triple the rent of the previous tenants.
Ray Angel has been doing business at 15th Avenue and Republican Street for the last 35 years, but apparently, that means nothing to property managers in the current rough-and-tumble, Wild West-style, no-holds-barred world of lucrative real estate dealings.
Angel’s grandfather founded the business in 1912. Both his father and grandfather enjoyed a fine reputation as generous contributors to the community. In June, the real estate property management company presented him with an eviction notice.
Last month, Angel’s neighborhood decided to organize a block party in support of his shoe repair shop. Dozens of customers and local residents visited him during the last week of his occupancy. None of them were happy that he is being forced to move or retire. Local supporters have launched a GoFundMe campaign called “Save Our Angel!” Although he was recently advised by an attorney not to speak to the media, it is clear that Angel is proud of his business, and he does not want to close up shop.
He told one customer, “Shoes are the only things I know.”
Angel and the real estate management company have disputed each other’s statements on the situation. A public battle ensued in the local media, bringing further attention to the matter. Whatever the truth is, the relationship between the two parties has not been warm and cordial.
Angel’s Shoe Repair is being replaced by Capitol Hill’s first legal retail pot shop, which brings up yet another very pertinent question: Why has it taken so long for the neighborhood to finally get its own legal retail cannabis dispensary? (That’s a subject for another column.)
What concerns me here is the current total disregard for local business owners who have done their best to serve the community faithfully for so many years. There ought to be an award for Angel, who has worked so hard to develop his craft and whose family has provided such a vital service to the city. The chambers of commerce should build a Hall of Fame for people like him —women and men who have served the community well and who deserve our full support.
A seed fund?
Although some banks and corporations are considered “too large to fail” and have been bailed out by the taxpayers (thanks to their powerful friends in government), small local businesses are simply left out to dry with no consideration for their long-term benefits to the community.
Perhaps a beneficial seed fund can be established, funded by local governments, business associations, community councils and real estate companies. Somehow, assistance must be provided for relocation costs and rental assistance. Otherwise, say goodbye to local businesses and say hello to mass-market chain stores and out-of-state owners. If local, small family-owned businesses are going to survive, they need much more than just a 30-day notice to relocate. Even a 90-day notice would be an extreme hardship for most of them.
If you live near any of these businesses, please support them. And if you have any sense of pride at all for your community, you’d better start lobbying your elected officials to act before it’s too late. With no real limitations or effective regulation of the local real estate markets, you can expect many more stories like this sad tale of Angel’s Shoe Repair to be repeated again and again.
It’s only a matter of time before that small business on your block disappears, to be replaced by something tall, shiny and disconnected from the community.
Mark Taylor-Canfield is a Seattle journalist, artist and musician. He’s written for Huffington Post and Daily Kos and is currently working on a film noir-style detective novel set in Seattle circa 1947. To comment on this column, write to [email protected]
[“source – capitolhilltimes.com”]