Photo courtesy of Lynette Huffman

At Large in Ballard: Signs of the times

By Peggy Sturdivant

There are always many signs in March. Signs that spring is on its way in the appearance of very fat Robin redbreasts, the scent of Daphne odora by my front steps, the litter of the pods dropping from Magnolia trees. Plus a sudden plethora of pregnant women, and a non-related spike in the pollen count.

But there’s a strange crop of what we’ll call “sign signs” in Ballard this month. What is with all the store closures and retail folks moving on to new endeavors? After 40 years in the same location Hawley Realty is moving due to a pending new development on 24th. BikeSport has already moved to their new location off Leary, by BevMo! (Exclamation point theirs). In February Smokin’ Pete’s on NW 65th closed their retail doors, moving to just catering. No more free live music on Thursday nights.

I was slow to find out that Filthy Rich, the jewelry store across from the bell, had announced its going out of business sale on March 1st. I heard that B & O Espresso had essentially come and gone; never able to regain the place it occupied for me as one of Seattle’s first distinct, Capitol Hill hip, dessert nightspots. I am still recovering from the loss of La Tienda, not just as a great place for gifts, but for Monique’s passion for helping Ballard businesses.

Then I heard that Savour was closing. It was a place I allowed myself to browse more than to purchase, perhaps I became part of the problem. Then again, perhaps there was no problem, just the general exhaustion of being in retail as a small business owner. The owner plans to return to the world of corporate travel. I had no clue about Great Harvest on Market closing until the morning of its last day on March 17th; three years since new owners came along to keep up the good smells, restore the bread samples and be a healthy lunch spot.

Is it March? Do rents get raised; did a slow season last too long? Lately I see so much new construction, cranes in our skyline, townhouses packing themselves onto lots formerly occupied by a single house. I can’t keep track. It used to be that someone would ask me about a proposed new structure and I could answer. Right now I don’t even know what’s happening at the former site of Ballard Escrow. No clue.

When I was reading the Sunday paper at the local coffee shop I overheard talk about the new Bartell Drugs on 15th and speculation about the final design of the seven-story mixed use apartment building that will replace the current Bartell’s. “Probably condos,” a man announced, “Ballard is the condo capital of the United States.”

So it was a good change of pace to have the next customer come in full of praise for the misty day. He’d just walked around Greenlake.“Briskly.” He was full of the daffodils, warm air and a sense of being ready for his next Sunday; his seventh year doing the stairs at Columbia Tower as a leukemia and lymphoma fundraiser. His fleece was a actually an announcement: The Big Climb.

I was able to honestly tell this breath of spring, Paul Albertson, that I’d donated on-line to one of the other climbers the night before. Lynnette Johnson, the unforgettable founder of Soulumination, has been planning to do the Big Climb as a “natural” follow-up to her 60th birthday. Her zeal for the cause was displaced for one day only (according to her) by the fact that her routine follow-up last week revealed that her lymphoma is back. Now she’s angry, and determined to do the stairs twice and be #1 in the individual fundraising department. “Watch out for the woman with wild hair wearing a Super Woman outfit and cape,” I warned him. Quite sincerely.

I will leave it to the news reporter to find out if the business closures are linked. I would rather study other signs, those for upcoming events and that of apricot-colored tulips. There’s the Spring for Seniors auction on March 30th and I’m one of a team acquiring auction donations for “Let’s Meet at Sunset” beer tasting on April 26th at Sunset Hill Community Association. Amazing Grace Spiritual Center plans an Interfaith Good Friday/Holocaust Remembrance service on Friday, April 18th with Rabbi Ted Falcon, Pastor Pat Wright, The Total Experience Gospel Choir and world music performer Rafe Pearlman. All good things.

I would love to see a sign that loopholes could be closed regarding zoning and building code, and there could be set asides to increase affordable housing and oversight for what gets built on any given street. But before I get too depressed it’s time to walk below the cherry blossoms, and stop to smell the Daphne.

For more information on the above events:,,, (The Big Climb)

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