A Very 99 Percent Holiday
Using results from the US Census's most recent five-year American Community Survey, we identified the neighborhoods in Seattle that have the lowest reported median household incomes, then we set out to find locally owned businesses there.
Holly Park, just south of Columbia City, is a jackpot. Take Rainier Avenue down to Graham Street. Tucked into the strip mall on the corner (4433 S Graham St) is miniature Somali department store Barwaaqo Mini Mart. Here's what you'll find, all at good prices: clothing ranging from traditional Somali garb to fashionable floor-length pleated skirts to colorful silk scarves stitched onto black sequined skirts. Spices from around the world—some in tantalizingly unmarked boxes and bags, so that you have to ask. Every available type of basmati rice. Tunisian dates, Saudi Arabian dates. Bottles of fruit cordial. Tea and coffee sets. Thick velvet carpets and matching coverlets in reds and golds and greens. Brocade and velvet pillows with sculpted tiered corners that look architectural. Skin and hair treatments from Africa and the Middle East. If you need groceries, they're there, too. When you finish here, go next door to Mawadda Cafe for the spicy homemade chai made by the Iraqi chef who guards the secret of his recipe.
Follow Graham toward Martin Luther King Jr. Way South and you'll hit Empire Shopping Center, whose anchor tenant is the Viet Wah Super Foods (6040 MLK Jr. Way S), a grocery store with six languages printed on its facade. Next to it is Fashion Store, a world of hats, shoes, furniture, clothing (especially kids' clothes, which here are elaborate and adorable), formal dresses, coats, bags, beaded curtains, lingerie—and alterations done on site by a friendly seamstress sitting right there in the middle of things at a sewing machine.
The greatest discovery of all—if you aren't aware of it already—will be the Othello Public Market (4200 S Othello St), a few blocks south of Viet Wah. It's a year-round indoor/outdoor multicultural bazaar set up by a nonprofit group called El Mercado, "formed to promote the cultural and economic development of the Latino community in Western Washington." Its vendors are primarily first- and second-generation immigrants, and the way El Mercado describes the environment at Othello Public Market is true: It's "sort of an 'international' Pike Place Market." It's smaller but by no means small, it's just as uneven and janky as Pike Place, but just like Pike Place, when it's right, it's right. Don't miss the handmade velvet Guatemalan handbags in the back. Eat fresh roasted corn as you go. It's open Wednesdays through Sundays (www.publicmarket.org).
In West Seattle's Delridge neighborhood, it's harder to find retail. Westwood Village (2600 SW Barton St) is a mall of multinational corporate retailers like Target and Starbucks, but even here there are a few local shops. This is, in fact, where you should have your kids' Santa pictures taken. Santa Photos—which now has a couple of Seattle locations, but began at Frederick & Nelson in 1943—claims to be the originator of the whole Santa photo tradition. Now the business is run by a small local company called Arthur & Associates (they do both Santa and Easter Bunny pictures). And their North Pole is a whole stage set you can wander through, not just a throne.
Also in the mall is Pet Pros, a pet supply store with locations in Washington and Oregon that was founded in 1986 in Seattle. The boss "still trains us himself," the nice employee said.
Two other areas came up high in our census search: Pioneer Square (downtown) and Licton Springs (up north around Aurora Ave and N 100th St). Pioneer Square you're probably familiar with—maybe try walking its few blocks with some holiday dollars this year? The neighborhood could use you just now. Try any one of a number of local art galleries or The Globe Bookstore (218 First Ave). At Licton Springs, most of the retail traffic gets diverted off by the proximity of Northgate Mall. But there is a great grocery store that's like a global alternative to Uwajimaya called HT Market (10008 Aurora Ave N), with barrels of chilis, shelves of Japanese jelly candy, fruits like baby bananas and cactus pears, and aisles for Russian, Middle Eastern, Indian, Indonesian, and Korean cooking—and all priced for a budget.
With reporting by Madeline Scarp.