Virtually any conversation about Seattle’s south-end neighborhoods requires consideration of the concept of gentrification. Traditionally, these neighborhoods—Beacon Hill, Columbia City, and those further south—have been areas into which the Emerald City’s low-income residents and people of color have been pushed. Now, though, with rapidly increasing rents all over Seattle, those neighborhoods are becoming more middle-class and whiter.
In a vacuum, gentrification might not be a bad thing. Raising the standard of living and fixing up abandoned and dilapidated buildings in a neighborhood isn’t an awful move, provided those improvements don’t remove or exclude the people—especially people of color—who have lived there for generations. But if you’re a new business—say, a new brewery—that wants to move into a south-end neighborhood, what do you do?
“I think it’s really important now—and increasingly so—to continue to have that sense of community,” says Griffin Williams, co-owner and operator of Columbia City’s 3-year-old Flying Lion. “We want to welcome the people moving to the neighborhood, but we also have to remember that there are people who have lived here for a long time. It was their home first.”
Williams appreciates that he’s a transplant in a historically diverse neighborhood. “We try to create that kind of community space that helps to educate people who have moved to the neighborhood about what this neighborhood has been in the past,” he explains. “Hopefully that knowledge goes a long way. In Columbia City, there is such amazing diversity—we see it every day.” Upon moving to Seattle in 2014 from the Midwest, Williams says, he explored many of the city’s neighborhoods, but Columbia City felt most like home. “It has its own little community down here,” he adds, “even though it’s still part of Seattle.”
Two light-rail stops north is Beacon Hill, and right by that stop sits Perihelion Brewing, owned by Les McAuliffe and his wife, Karin Paulsen, residents of Beacon Hill since 2002. McAuliffe, 63, recently left his job as a general contractor to jump into brewing, opening Perihelion in 2016. “I can’t think of any place in the city I’d rather be,” he says, adding that the brewery, equipped with a full kitchen, creates a welcoming energy for the neighborhood. “We’ve been able to bring a gathering space for people of all ages and demographics,” he offers. “It’s a place where they can get to know one another.”
And while no brewery alone can change the conversation around gentrification, Williams says he’s hired only people who live within a mile or two of Flying Lion. “It’s important for us to continue being sensitive,” he says, “and to maintain the community that lives here.” But maintaining that warm feeling is often a precarious task. “I think there are a lot of people who moved to this neighborhood in the last six months and they’re excited about it,” Williams says. “But sometimes it feels like they’re only excited because the neighborhood is ‘up and coming’ and the rent is cheaper—not because of the community that lives here.”