Random Thoughts on Tacoma and White Center
Two elderly ladies walk into Cafe Rozella gushing about the cafe. Unprompted, one of them says, “we love White Center. We tell people we live in West Seattle, because of White Center, not in spite of it.” I relate this anecdote, because despite it’s ragged edges, White Center is a place of vibrancy and life.
Years ago, I used to have an office job in downtown Tacoma. If we wanted to get something to eat, we would troop into our cars and head to Old Town or the Tacoma waterfront. The downtown core was desolate. As one of my colleagues used to say, “you can’t buy an Aspirin in downtown Tacoma.” Sadly, he was right, there was nary a Bartells, Walgreeens or even a small Asian grocery store to buy anything essential. Coffee shops were nonexistent and the hilltop area was still a war zone. I relate this, not to knock Tacoma, after all, it has really improved, but it has improved in ways far different than White Center.
Most of Tacoma’s improvement has been the subject of heavy top-down government investment and tax incentives. While the Greenbridge Project on the west side of White Center might be considered similarly, “top down,” it is but a small part of what makes the area a better place. White Center has always had a community and a functioning business core. Many White Center businesses, (Center Tool Rental, White Center Glass), have been there for decades. Nonetheless, there was a time, not too long ago, when the walk on 16th Avenue SW, south of Roxbury, was undertaken with trepidation and certainly never after dark. Today, White Center is a different place.
Immigrants from all parts of the world have opened businesses throughout the White Cener business core. This is organic growth, from the roots up. Projects such as Greenbridge seek to encourage such growth. As well, there are businesses opening from locals who want in on a dynamic area. Cafe Rozella is but one, there is also Full Tilt Ice Cream, Proletarian Pizza and word of a couple of other new businesses. These are businesses operated by young people who are dynamic and future-oriented. Tolerant and educated, they are what social scientist, Richard Florida would call the creative class. Rather than berate the lack of a McDonalds, we celebrate the Pho shops, the Salvadorean pupusas and the Guyamas Burritos amongst many other great eating establishments.
So next time you have friends visiting from out-of-town, do the Space Needle but bring them to White Center and invite them to take in the rich melting of cultures inherent in this corner of the world. And, if by chance, one of your guest gets a headache and, if you want to buy an Aspirin there is the Super-Walgreens and the local Bartells. But I suspect a custom ice cream cone from Full Tilt or an Americano from Cafe Rozella would work just as well. Cheers!
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