Leaving Greenwood

Rainy Spring in GreenwoodI’ve written about Greenwood before, a bit over 7 years ago. I’ve lived either on the fringes or in the heart of this northern Seattle neighborhood since 2006. It’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere by choice.

Greenwood has been my home.

I’ll be leaving it, quite possibly forever, in a week.

Greenwood has never really been one of the “cool” neighborhoods of the city. It doesn’t have the celebrated character or charm of Fremont or Ballard. It doesn’t display the history of Pioneer Square or Queen Anne. It certainly doesn’t have the convenience or views of Capitol Hill or First Hill. If anything, Greenwood has been labeled in local magazines as “up and coming,” or “affordable.” The sidewalks have buckled because of buildings squeezing water out of wetlands. There are a lot of bars, many of them with a reputation for rowdiness. It’s core sits on the axis of two popular bus routes and busy cross streets, Greenwood Ave and N 85th St. respectively, so traffic can be a nightmare at times. And there are sirens every night.

When I moved there, Greenwood was a little working class pocket of the city, but it’s gotten more upscale over the years. The explosion of cramped townhome clusters and mixed-use residential amenity apartments that have transfomed other neighborhoods (Cap Hill and Ballard for example) is finally reaching the neighborhood. Afordable housing is hard to come by unless you’re willing to live in an Apodment (which, why would you do that, especially now). I’m expecting retail to follow suit before too long. Most of the businesses here are locally owned, and in my years here I saw the McDonalds, a Safeway, and a big chain drug store (pretty sure it was a Rite Aid), all close up shop and move on. But it’s had to tell who has packed up and moved out now and who is simply weathering the current economic storm. The pandemic has come down hard on the bars and restaurants this year, and that’s the majority of business in Greenwood.

It’s made a hard business model even harder. I don’t know who will survive. Some of them, like Gorditos, have a pretty strong customer base and can transition to a take-out model easily to scrape along. Others, like the Baranof, Coindexters, or the Angry Beaver who survive by offering an in-house experience, are facing a harder challenge. The corner coffeeshop, Monkey Grind Espresso, continues to hang in there, outliving Green Bean, Ampersand, and Neptune Coffee (which, to be fair, blew the hell up in a gas main leak a few years back). We’ve also seen several other painful losses since my original post seven years ago–especially the game shop, Naked City Brewery & Taphouse, and the Yen Wor Garden (where I won’t miss the food but will always miss the karaoke).

And I get it. Neighborhoods change. They evolve as old businesses move in and new ones come in to replace them. It’s not always gentrification (though in this case, that’s certainly been a major factor before the plague hit). I’m 100% on board with closing places down to reduce the risk of COVID transmission. I wish the government put more of a safety net in place for these businesses and the people who have to work at them to pay their ever-increasing rent. But they haven’t and we’re on the edge of a real estate apocalypse.

No lie, the economy is fucked everywhere, but I’m really feeling it in my neighborhood.

My cohort and I had already been planning on leaving Greenwood this year. We just figured it would be different. She finished getting a new professional degree and we were considering moving for grad school or, barring that, for her career. While a lot has changed, for instance grad school just isn’t a responsible choice now for several reasons, we find ourselves moving nonetheless–not to Georgia or California, but to the suburbs.

Times are tough. People do what they have to to survive. For us, that means moving into her parent’s old house in the boondocks. There is no cool neighborhood packed with local shops, small coffeehouses, kitchy bars and restaurants waiting for us. No bookstores. No conveniently close karaoke bars. No community that we have come to love in our years here.

But it will be a lot less expensive. And why pay more for the privlege of living in a community with features that you can’t use? I’ll miss the Oak Tree movie theater, but I can’t forsee watching a movie in the theater for the next year. I just can’t. Nor can I imagine sitting in a sports bar enjoying a beer or sharing a table at karaoke with my best friend as long as there’s a reasonable chance that I could get sick with something truly terrible.

When life is reduced to internet and the confines of your own walls, a person is forced to reevaluate things.

So we’re leaving you Greenwood, you cute, scruffy, transitioning neighborhood where I once had everything I wanted or needed in easy walking distance. I will always love you. But it’s time for something new. Maybe something I can’t even imagine right now.

I promise to visit when I can.

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