A small Central District restaurant is quickly becoming notorious with neighbors for shootings, late-night fights, loud music, and drug deals. The neighborhood has called in the cavalry, in the form of the city attorney's office and the Seattle Police Department.
While Neighborhood animosity toward Central District businesses like Deano's, Haitian Lounge, and Thompson's Point of View over the last several years is common, this latest standoff is a little different. Neighbors of Hidmo, the small Eritrean restaurant on 20th Avenue South and South Jackson Street, say they actually want the place to stay in their Squire Park neighborhood. They say they eat at Hidmo and they support the community events the restaurant hosts, but they say they don't feel safe in their own neighborhood because of crowds they associate with the club.
As the Central District gentrifies, area restaurants like Thompson's, Waid's, Deano's—and now Hidmo—have been the targets of intense police and community scrutiny. However, these black-owned businesses have become important cultural and social hubs for longtime residents in a rapidly changing neighborhood.
In 1983, Rahwa and Asmeret Habte moved from Eritrea to the Central District with their family. Almost 24 years later, the sisters purchased Hidmo with hopes of creating a community gathering place. The small, three-room restaurant—with its walls brightly painted in pinks and oranges—soon became a home for a number of community organizations like Youth Speaks Seattle and Washington Asian Pacific Islander Families Against Substance Abuse, who hosted weekly meetings and benefit nights. Hidmo has also become a "hiphop mecca" ["Soul Food," Charles Mudede, Feb 22, 2007], and it's not unusual to find local MCs and DJs in the back washing dishes.
Despite Hidmo's socially conscious, youth-oriented programming, in November, a group of neighbors asked for a meeting with the owner to talk about problems they had with the club. Rahwa Habte, 29, says she agreed to meet with community members, police, and city attorneys at Seattle's East Precinct. But, at the meeting, Habte says she was shocked when confronted with complaints about drug deals and disturbances on the streets surrounding her business. "I thought I was just going to talk to some neighbors about noise," Habte says. "[Instead], every single person is telling us they hear gunshots [and see] large groups and drug deals [near Hidmo]." Habte says the Central District had gunfire, drugs, and crowds long before Hidmo, and thinks it's unfair that neighborhood problems are blamed on her business.
Hidmo has had a few problems. In June, bottles and glasses were thrown during a fight in the restaurant, which ended when one man was wounded by gunfire. According to the Washington State Liquor Control Board, since the Habtes took over, Hidmo has also received two written warnings for allowing minors into the bar, and another verbal warning after a liquor enforcement officer intervened in an argument outside the business. And, according to Noah Davis—one of several neighbors who have been in talks with Hidmo—the restaurant's late-night dances and brightly painted bar sometimes draw unruly crowds to the establishment.
"Loud music outside, drug dealing, reports of prostitution, gunfire, shootings, that's the issue for us," Davis says. "It's hard to sleep when people are [outside your house] yelling profanity and fighting." Although Davis only moved to Squire Park less than a year ago, he's not completely naive about life in the Central District. "Gang and gun violence, we're going to have that," he says. "It's an element of our neighborhood." What's more, Davis—who is white—says neighbors' issues aren't the result of gentrification. "Rather than it being any type of racial issue, it's a quality-of-life issue. It's an expectation for safety. You don't want to live in a community where there's gunfire and you're trying to raise babies."
For now, Davis says he and 20 other neighbors have been trying to find ways to help Hidmo. On January 6, the Habtes took part in a neighborhood cleanup, and neighbors helped install new, brighter lights on Hidmo's exterior and trimmed back bushes in the hopes of making some of the problems go away. Davis says he'd like to see Hidmo hire off-duty police officers on their busy nights, but at $32.50 an hour, Habte says she just can't afford it. "We have very little control over the neighborhood, [but] we've worked really hard to have a safe environment [at Hidmo]," Habte says.