Editor's note: Ethan Chung, a Greenwood resident and our esteemed colleague on the custom publishing side of the office, didn't get much sleep last night. But he still agreed to share some thoughts on his neighborhood coffee and gyro shops, leveled in the overnight explosion.
I was awake when I heard the explosion at 1:40am. My wife and I are expecting our first child soon, leading to many a sleepless night for both of us. The boom was bone rattling, but brief–my first instinct was “Earthquake!” but the quickness of the event and my cat’s dismissiveness of the noise (she went right back to sleep) made me think otherwise.
My wife and I started poring through social media. Me on Twitter, and she on her Northwest Seattle Chatter page on Facebook. Reports of an explosion in the Greenwood neighborhood. Comments about ash and debris falling on their homes on Third and Palantine. I could hear neighbors in our condo building stirring. After assurances from my very pregnant wife that she’d be OK, I went out to join the gossip column to see what they knew. I shared what’d I’d read so far on social media—there was an explosion somewhere near 85th and Greenwood (we are near 90th and Greenwood). Much speculation from the condo crowd ensued: Was it the pot shop cooking hash oil? Did the gas station explode?
I scrolled through my Twitter feed and the scene became much clearer. Incredible footage from someone named @danthetruckguy, a KOMO employee first on the scene, raised my sense of the devastation—almost a half a block’s worth of buildings had been leveled. Mr. Gyros, Neptune Coffee, and Greenwood Quick Stop (a convenience store), were completely gone. Windows of surrounding businesses were shattered.
The photos popping up on local news sites had me certain there would be loss of life. Incredibly, according to Seattle Fire Department, nine firefighters sustained only minor injuries. I echo the sentiments of many of my neighbors–had this happened earlier in the day…
These businesses were at the heart of a vibrant and growing neighborhood. I didn’t know the business owners personally, but their establishments were certainly a big part of my life. Our Sunday strolls take us through this part of the neighborhood on weekends. I’ve spent countless hours “working from home” at Neptune Coffee. I led my team to victory at Seinfeld Trivia there one night. The baristas put together a damn fine soy latte. And Mr. Gyros was the place I first tried a gyro sandwich (I grew up in Hawaii, and there wasn’t much in the way of shawarma or falafel there), and so in my mind, was the best place to get a gyro sandwich. Or maybe I loved this place because I had a man crush on owners Sammy and Joni Arsheed, brothers who had grown the business into locations in Wallingford and Ballard over the last few years. You wanted to be friends with them. They were the type of people who, despite the scores of customers who came through their door, remembered your name and that you didn’t like onions on your gyro sandwich.
This whole ordeal isn’t anything new for me or my Greenwood neighbors. In 2009, an arsonist went on a burning spree in my neighborhood (and throughout North Seattle). He took out several businesses, including Szechuan Bistro (one of my all-time Seattle favorites), which never reopened. The neighborhood’s resiliency was on full display as Taproot Theater, also damaged in the arson, reopened, and new businesses came into Greenwood.
It’s unclear at this point what will become of those businesses lost in this morning’s gas explosion. I am also curious about the status of FlintCreek Cattle Co., Eric Donnelly’s new steakhouse that was set to open soon. This space is a few doors down from those lost businesses.
Folks in the neighborhood are already clamoring to help. A Go Fund Me page has been set up for the damaged businesses (and the page’s accompanying feed is full of folks willing to help out in other ways.) Phinneywood also has some links for people who want to lend a hand.
This event has been unexpectedly affecting for me. I’m sad that I won’t be able to take our soon-to-be-born daughter on walks to what were some of my favorite places in all of Seattle. But on the bright side, I am proud at the prospect of raising her in Greenwood, which, in the face of adversity, is proving once again its worth as a neighborhood.