Pubdate: Sun, 28 Sep 2014
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2014 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Danny Westneat
Page: B1


There may be no corner in Seattle with an image problem quite like 
the Central Area's 23rd and Union.

"We've had property appraisers come from Bellevue and be afraid to 
get out of their cars," says Tom Bangasser, whose family has owned 
part of the corner for 73 years.

It's always been a bad rap, he says. Especially recently, as street 
crime around the long-troubled corner has plummeted. But when a 
restaurant there was torched in an arson last year - after two 
previous owners of restaurants at the same location were murdered - 
it seemed to clinch that the corner is vexed by a terrible misfortune 
it just can't shake.

Now there's a new force on the corner: legal pot.

A marijuana store is opening there - Uncle Ike's Pot Shop. Next door, 
in the drive-through that burned last year, will be Uncle Ike's Glass 
and Goods, where you can buy pipes, rolling papers and bongs.

One skeptical neighbor wrote to me: "Just what the corner needs to 
get going again, right?"

I don't know; a pot store doesn't seem that different from a liquor 
store. But it will be fascinating to see what happens. Can selling a 
newly legalized drug help revitalize a corner that has been plagued 
by the illegal selling of drugs? Or will it further the trouble?

Some neighbors are worried the pot shop will attract blackmarket pot 
dealers looking to lure customers with lower prices. But some Central 
Area residents and business owners I spoke to said legal pot with its 
high taxes is such an expensive luxury item that they are more 
worried about the shop having a different influence: gentrification.

"I don't think you're going to see much of the old CD going in 
there," said Saviour Knowledge, who works with the Bangassers 
maintaining their corner property. "It'll be the white folks lining up."

"I don't expect it to bring some crime wave," said Earl Lancaster, 
who runs the famed Earl's Cuts and Styles and is known as the "mayor 
of 23rd and Union."

"It's a little close to the church though. So close we thought they 
were going to call it 'Holy Smokes.' "

There's another potential pot store licensed nearby, on 24th Avenue. 
Because the corner is one of the only places in central Seattle where 
pot stores are allowed, it's being called "Little Amsterdam."

"This corner's had it hard for so long, you could say that any 
business opening up is a positive," Knowledge said. "But I'm not sure 
Little Amsterdam is the answer."

Knowledge is helping the Union Street Business Association, a 
coalition of businesses and residents trying to retain some 
black-owned enterprise in the neighborhood. The corner is about to 
see a development boom, with a six-story, 92-unit apartment building 
already going up and more on the way.

"If you're not planning for gentrification in Seattle, then you're 
probably going to be a victim of it," Knowledge said.

Is Little Amsterdam an image upgrade?

"Ask me in a month or two," Bangasser said. "We don't know what it's 
going to be like. It's completely new; there's nothing to compare it to."

Seattle's corners reveal how its culture is changing. Nearby is 
another one, at Martin Luther King and Cherry Street, that all by 
itself tells a sweeping history of central Seattle.

Fifty years ago that corner was the Jewish hub of the city, anchored 
by the old Brenner Brothers Bakery. After the white flight to the 
suburbs, it was African-American, home to the beloved Creole fish 
joint Catfish Corner. The place was such a fixture the intersection 
itself came to be known as Catfish Corner.

Last month, after 29 years, Catfish Corner closed. The intersection 
has come to be dominated by six restaurants and groceries owned by 
some of the city's newer black residents, Ethiopians.

Messeret Habeti, owner of Assimba Restaurant on Cherry Street, says 
the change has been as complete as it is bittersweet.

"It's so sad Catfish Corner is gone; it won't be the same," she said, 
tearing up.

"They are calling this corner now 'Little Ethiopia.' "

Little Amsterdam. Little Ethiopia. Even Seattle's names for itself are in flux.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom