A So-Called 'Slacker' Talks Back
Seattle, A Love Letter

Bye-bye, Bartell... And Seattle, Too


I don't know why this one hit me so hard. I knew they were going to close my favorite Bartell store - they'd been letting us know in their characteristically customer-service-centered way for months. And it's not like there isn't a replacement Bartell nearby. The new one is in fact a Bartell on steroids, all swankified with New Seattle features like a place to refill your microbrewery growler. Plus, the building isn't special in any way, not Googie architecture like the Denny's they tore down or a beloved, Old Ballard 'third place' to hang, like Sunset Bowl.

But hit me hard it did. I was walking down the street, wondering if I needed to pop in and get something from Bartell, and there it was, already fenced up, a construction backhoe poised to begin ripping into the establishment like an angry beast.

For the past decade, I've popped into this Bartell thousands of times to fill a prescription or fulfill a chocolate craving. I've loaded up on discounted vitamins and bottles of salad dressing. The photos of smiling family members on my walls are framed by the high-quality but reasonably priced picture frames I've purchased here.

And I've been a long fan of the locally owned Bartell chain. I once pitched a story on it to an editor (rejected), and I tried to swing a gig writing the Bartell corporate history (scooped). See also: Making a living as a writer.

Oh, I know that all things must change, that the only constant is change, and that arriving here as a newcomer myself ten years ago, I was part of this change. Bartell had already changed apiece. I've just recently come out of mourning for the retirement of my favorite crew of elder statesmen pharmacists and their assistants, who knew me by name, treated me like a respected neighbor, and delivered on the best customer service I'd experienced at any drug dispensary, anywhere. Their youthful replacements are poster children for the Seattle Freeze, and they wouldn't know customer service from The Postal Service.

So many of the things that drew me to Seattle's Ballard neighborhood - its Scandahoovian fishing culture, the working class set of its jaw, its annexed-small-town vibe, seem to be slipping away. The sky used to be filled with seagulls; now it's construction cranes. A newspaper once listed each Seattle neighborhood by its residents' most likely attire, and Ballard's was something like "the jeans I left on the floor the day before." Now I think it would be "the $200 jeans I bought online." It used to be I couldn't wait on a street corner without having an overly polite driver insist on my pedestrian right-of-way. Now, I fear for my life in crosswalks even though they're brightly painted and marked with flashing lights.

I had a conversation recently with a woman who's moved from Ballard to Everett. "I can't afford to buy a house here," I whined to her, and she replied, "I can't afford to buy the house I just sold here." The house next door to hers had been sold to a developer, who promptly put up a block of four three-story homes, what I refer to as "stacks." The stacks blocked the light to her backyard, and the garden she'd cultivated for years could no longer grow. So she decided it was time to leave, even though she runs a business out of Ballard, for how much longer, I wonder.

For the past four years, I've been weighing the advantages and disadvantages of staying put. In the end, going won out over choosing to stay. My husband and I didn't think we'd be leaving for a couple more years, but opportunity elsewhere knocked at the same time that Seattle seemed to be shouldering us aside. In a couple of weeks, we'll be moving to a city with a population that is one-sixth the size of Ballard's.

I have no illusions about what small-town life will mean for me. So you can spare me the lecture about how isolated I'll feel, how bored I'll get of the handful of restaurants in my new burg, or how much more conservative it will be. 

But what I do have is hope. Hope for a more sustainable lifestyle where a person can afford to purchase a home and save for retirement without over-leveraging herself on a micro condo, its fancy "community room" full of partying techsters.

And maybe a friendly pharmacist who remembers my name.