The Day Seattle Lost Its Soul

Photo: Jeff Samsonow. CC-BY-NC.

I heard about it on the news the week before but it didn’t really hit me
until I stood in front of the Capitol Hill Value Village store,
on a gray November day,
and saw the ‘CLOSED’ and ‘OUT OF BUSINESS’ signs
plastered on the windows and the doors.

I walked across the street and under the giant green awning above the storefront,
pressed my face against the glass
and gazed into the gloom of all the empty shelves and racks
that were once so full of merchandise and bric-a-brac.
I stood there for a while,
in a final act of closure I suppose,
as if to commemorate the passing and departure of an old and trusted friend.

I walked back across the street and went into to a place called Grims
– a fitting name for how I felt –
ordered a beer and recalled the first time I ventured into that Value Village store
– which was about the time that Macklemore shot his amazing video of the Thrift Shop there.

I was in the neighborhood at the time and wandered in out of curiosity,
a little taken aback by the sheer size of the place,
took the time to explore all three floors
and ended up buying a shirt, I think, for five bucks or so.

It was like that all the other times I shopped in there (going in without a plan, or a general one at best)
and then – as if by chance or fate or by effin-magic –
always seemed to find an item that was perfect for my needs,
as if it just jumped off the racks toward me when I browsed by.

I picked out a good deal of my wardrobe from that store,
as well as household stuff:
for the kitchen, dining, living, bed and bath rooms,
area rugs, lamp and lamp shades, wall art etc.
In fact one of the last things I bought there was a black and white portrait of Dale Chihuly
– slightly imperfect –
which I then framed and found a perfect spot to hang
in my new Tacoma digs.

Yes, I moved to Tacoma late that summer,
partially to get away from the crippling gridlock that gripped so many of the Seattle city streets,
but moreover because I was and unwilling and unable to fork out so much of my modest income on housing
– an ever-increasing percentage as the years went by with no end in sight.

Still, I had to make the often-brutal commute to Seattle and back a few times a week,
and whenever I did I always tried to pop into that Value Village store.

But now it is no more,
and soon to be flattened and demolished and replaced by a newer, shiny, bigger building
like one that is proposed,
a 36 story condo and apartment building
– a structure that will provide much needed shelter
for the otherwise-homeless
Amazon and hi-tech employees flooding into the area.

I ordered another beer,
and went online so I could try and figure out
just how the hell this happened.

Turns out that the VV chain is owned by a multinational corporation called
Savers Incorporated – based in Bellevue WA,
which somehow has been allowed to rig its business model so that only a small percentage of its total revenues and profits are returned to the donating agencies contracted to support it.

Savers Inc tries to keep this secret
but according to a recent investigative report in the Seattle Weekly,
in the fiscal year ending April 2015 Savers Inc took in $1.2 billion dollars in revenues and profit.

Of that, only 17% – roughly $200 million – was returned to these donating charities,
which means that 83% – a cool billion – was kept by Savers Inc,
much of which was used to pay for the high six-figure salaries commanded the CEO and other executives,
who live in million dollar homes on the eastside in Bill Gates territory etc.

A much smaller portion of that was dribbled out to its other employees,
like the fucking awesome hard-working helpful Value Village workers,
who barely make the minimum wage with little or no benefits,
and when they’re kicked to the curb like the ones in the Capitol Hill store,
they weren’t given penny-one of any kind of a severance package ,
the only acknowledgement of their situation from Savers Inc was a press stating that:
“all Capitol Hill employees have been notified and are encouraged to apply for positions at other Value Village locations.”

A little tale of woe to be sure,
but not an altogether unfamiliar one in this booming bursting busy metropolis that Seattle is becoming,
where the relentless crushing machine of ultra hi end development is now encroaching into the Capitol Hill’s Pike-Pine corridor,
one of last neighborhoods in the city trying to retain a connection to its past
– which is exactly where this Value Village store was located;
on 11th Ave right between Pike and Pine.
– in the very center, and heart and soul of city.

November 7, 2015
was the day that the Capitol Hill Value Village was forced to close its doors for the last time.

And you can call it:
the final straw
the breaking point
the accumulation of a multitude of sins
the unkindest cut
the final shebang
the last lick,
or whatever.

It was also the day that Seattle lost its soul.