Brian LeBlanc
With the closing of Mr. Spot's Chai House on Leary Avenue, Ballard will lose another part of what makes it unique and colorful.

21st Century Viking: Ballard – Come shopping, but don’t hang out

With the imminent closing of Mr. Spot’s Chai House on Leary Avenue at the end of January, downtown Ballard is about to lose another unique space where people can hang out.

While there are certainly plenty of coffee shops and bars to hang out in, the question is for whom?

Hangout spots like the former Sunset Bowl and Denny’s were places where older and younger people could hang out in a relatively affordable environment.

It seems to me like the renewal of downtown Ballard is leaving older, younger and eccentric people with less places to hang out.

Is this what we want to see happen in Ballard?

The Chai House is a cool place that caters to a pretty eclectic crowd, in addition to serving up good chai tea and falafel sandwiches.

I’ve never hung out here later in the evening, but judging by the calendars that I would pick up, they have something interesting going on every night.

I hear they’re going to look for another place to reopen, but it might not be in Ballard, which would be a shame and a loss for the arts community.

As for the space they currenly occupy, it’ll be occupied by someone who can afford the rent the landlords are now asking.

With the opening of the QFC condoplex, I can only imagine there will be a crackdown on the people who currently use Ballard Corners Park as well.

The people who paid to live in a luxury condo probably won’t be cool with all that skateboarding or children frolicking in the sprinklers.

So what is going to happen here? Where are you supposed to hang out in Ballard anymore?

Despite the recession that is hurting people everywhere, Ballard, or should I say the Ballard condo-building market, has hardly slowed down at all.

New businesses are popping up all the time along Ballard Avenue.

On the one hand, this is an extremely good thing. On the other hand, some groups who are less demographically desirable and not the target audience of the condo developers see their hangout spots taken away and redeveloped one by one, and find themselves priced out of the neighborhood.

Is there anything that can be done? Should anything be done? Is it fair to ask a landlord to take below-market value rent from an otherwise popular tenant and pass up an opportunity to get another tenant who will pay much more?

What we’re seeing now is the culmination of a redevelopment plan passed by the city 20 years ago. So, this was the plan for Ballard all along.

Evolution is a tricky thing. When it is occurring, you have no idea what the end result is going to look like.

Will Ballard become an upscale, exclusive neighborhood with a colorful past? Or will it continue to be an interesting, eclectic place?

Losing a beloved neighborhood place isn’t very fun, and sometimes it feels like we have no say in how Ballard is being developed. But, on a fundamental level we do.

We vote with our wallets. So, you can send a message by supporting the businesses that you want to stay in Ballard by supporting the Chai House in its new location.

Going to public meetings and voicing your concerns to elected officials is another way.

Maybe you have always had a dream to open up your own business that could become the next legendary Ballard landmark.

There are lots of ways to make it known that you think Ballard is a much more interesting place with places like the Chai House around. Pick one and get to work!

Do you have a column suggestion or a comment for Brian Le Blanc? Leave a comment on this story or reach him directly at brianleblanc76@yahoo.com.

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