Lezz be honest. I haven’t been in this awesome city long enough to whine with the old folks about how Seattle used to be no bigger than Portland. I can’t lament the days before boxy skyscrapers took over downtown or Bellevue. And I certainly wasn’t around for Shelley’s Leg.
I’m like the droves of you reading this who didn’t grow up in Seattle. Like it or not, our nook in the mountainous bowl is a transient place now. The city has grown by leaps and bounds just in the last decade, and it’s hellacious for city officials and construction workers to keep up. (Can we say infrastructure?) Most of the reason people have moved here is because Seattle was one of the extremely few cities in the country to keep growing through the recession.
That being said, there are consequences to having growing pains. Heaven forbid the gub’ment call other cities who’ve spent the past two hundred years dealing with the problems we’re facing now. And heaven forbid we actually use the resources and brain power this city boasts of having. Point is, there are a ton of solutions out there to the tons of pains we’re having. One of these problems being gentrification.
Oh no, she said it! The big “G” word! I’m not going to reiterate or rant about its zillions of cons and near-nil pros, because a million articles have already done so. But I will say that aside from people being forced from their homes due to skyrocketing rent (yes please let’s pass rent control laws, because they’re necessary), random roads becoming more pedestrian friendly (*ahem* Belltown), and the overzealous condo-building, there’s one thing I cannot stand: The loss of a neighborhood’s character.
These are thoughts I’ve had for quite some time, but it’s only now that I’ve desired to write about it. I took a three-year vacation from Capitol Hill, and lately when I visit it I’m relieved by the passing on of overt hipster stylings (if you could call them that), yet annoyed by the doubling of crackheads, beggars, and entitled self-important bubbleheads. I can sort of be ok with the change in Chop Suey; changes happen with venues and industry all of the time. Charlie’s on Broadway is probably one of the last *real* dive bar holdouts on the Hill, but word on the street is that it’s been flailing for a while now and is up for sale. And I was actually sad to see Bill’s go. Even Linda’s has become overrun with a veneer of pseudo-disaffection. From what I’ve been hearing also, Diesel is one of the last true gay bars left for the guys.
But then Red Light on Broadway announced it was closing. That’s too bad, for the hipsters and drag queens alike. Then it happened. I was walking down that same road, and almost passed up Metro Clothing. What caught my eye? Signs saying, “Clearance! Store Closing!” WHAT. IN. THE ACTUAL. FUCK.
I get it. Rising costs, low demand thanks to online shopping, etc. New owners, new concept, blah blah. Happens everywhere. But this one caught me right in the feels. Seriously? The only place I can get (overpriced) gothy, fun clothes good for recreation and (somewhat) professional wear? Really, our choices will be confined to the brain-defying American Apparel, the boutiques you can find anywhere, and the recycled Nordstrom racks at Crossroads? Oh, and the ever-kitch Urban Outfitters, fave of college kids everywhere! So with comfortable bars and fun clothiers out of business, where is the character of the Hill? Thank goodness the ‘Rose and Julia’s is still kicking. I suppose 15th might still have a few qualities too, like that one vegan cafe…or something.
Why has the Hill become a place where artists like John Criscitello have statements to make such as his? How did this happen? Why are we letting it happen? Where has the Hill’s identity as the Big Gay Hub gone? Granted, it’s still one of the few spots in the city where some gays feel the most comfortable holding hands or making out in the streets. And the baths are still there. But with the nightlife being overrun by obnoxious douchebros and woo girls, artsy theaters dropping like flies only to be open again for SLGFF, and options for fun non-standardized clothes coming up on short supply, the character and joy of the Hill from just five years ago has waned to a pathetic cry—”Please don’t give me plastic surgery!” Yes, I’m aware I’m not the only one saying this.
Pretty soon, the Pride Fest on Broadway will only be held there because it’ll be a “historically gay” community. Don’t get me wrong. People should live wherever they want, and hopefully they can feel free to be themselves no matter where they go. You want to move from the Hill because you found “The One” and now you want to settle somewhere to have babies and dogs? Go ahead. You want to act like a professional with a high-profile consulting job and need a loft in Bellevue to prove it? Feel free. Not saying by any means that ALL the gays NEED to stay in ONE community. But for fuck’s sake, we don’t need to let the character of our safe place slip quietly into the night. Inclusion is ok, and desegregation is ok. Just let the community, architecture, small businesses, parks, nightlife, and general sleaze/filth stay, because it’s a part of us. It’s who we are. Where’s the next closest place like it? San Fran? As many gays point out to me, half the fun of having alternative sexualities is that we don’t have to be boring! We don’t need all of the boxy mall stores and chain restaurants to feel validated! We’re the ones with those great random porn/video/sexy stores for all shapes and proclivities. (Is that one shop still there in that hole in the wall on Broadway? Yanno, the one where if you sneeze you miss the old Hollywood books on display in the window?) If we’re being completely blunt here, we all know *that* hetero who appreciates having a token LGBTQ in his/her life simply because we offer different viewpoints, expressions, styles, and…oh yeah, we’re wicked great at catering, bartending, and throwing awesome parties. And we have taste! So let’s go ahead and allow the heteronormitive big businesses and gentrified Great White ‘Murica take over the community we built.
Sadly, that’s where the Hill is headed. Just another extension of the downtown retail core. At the risk of sounding all Doom and Gloom, is that really what we want? Who’s next for the axe: Bimbo’s? DeLuxe? Crypt? Is Oddfellows destined to become condos with mirror siding? Decide your fate, queers. There isn’t much space left elsewhere.
This rant is at least ten years too late, and so typical of the problem, which boils down to complacency.
People don’t give a rat’s ass UNTIL their favorite ‘dive’ like the Metro Clothing Company closes. If you, and others had spoken up, rallied, or attended City Council meetings back in 2005, or even earlier, there’s a chance the ol’ Broadway, or the old Capitol Hill might still be recognizable.
At least we have a better mayor than the last a-hole.