Despite adversity, White Center is a beacon of civic pride

It is a place that has embraced the nickname “Rat City”.

Maybe it’s ironic, or proud to be a little rough around the edges. But these days, Rat City – or White Center, as it’s better known – faces tough challenges.

Half a block of its business district along Southwest 16th Avenue remains closed after a series of fires in the spring and summer. Walk along the main street and you can still smell the smoke.

There are perpetual complaints about graffiti and vandalism and all the things that make people here want more police and faster response times.

But White Center has a lot of attributes that make it one of the area’s most enviable communities. Pure and simple, White Center has wit.

There are times when communities in distress turn to the government for help. The White Center looks inside. It stands as a model of resilience and positive collective action for other neighborhoods facing similar barriers, although probably not as high.

Immediately after the fires, block parties and community fundraisers helped ease the financial pain. Store owners have assessed the damage and many have opened new locations – in White Center. The place is too special to leave, they say.

“We are unincorporated King County. We don’t get heard much unless we’re in the news, ”said Donna Chan, owner of Macadons candy shop. She was in the new last May after someone repeatedly smashed their windows and those of other businesses in the area. “We’re trying to come together as a community and find out what we can do. “

A GoFundMe campaign to raise money for Chan and other business owners exceeded his goal of $ 5,000.

White Center sits just south of the Seattle city limit, about two and a quarter square miles. Bordered by Southwest Roxbury Street to the north and the town of Burien at 116th Street Southwest to the south, its 16,000 residents are under the jurisdiction of King County. About 17% of families earn $ 26,500 per year or less, a poverty rate six points higher than Seattle.

Under the direction of the legislature, King County is supposed to help urban areas like White Center merge with neighboring towns. It means either Seattle or Burien, but it hasn’t happened yet. White Center remains distinct and different.

Much of the community’s strengths lie in its small businesses. Places like Rat City Bikes, Rat City Tat2, Proletariat Pizza, Moonshot Coffee, Southgate Roller Rink, and Crawfish House.

At a community meeting earlier this week, someone noted that the White Center crime rate was in the top 7% of all US cities. It’s average for homicides, but arson, vandalism and theft are problems.

This was the reason for the anxious rally at Mac’s Triangle Pub, which neighbors and business owners arranged to hear from an assistant from the King County Sheriff’s Office assigned to the White Center, as well as a fire investigator. criminals. A recent outbreak of fires has been the main concern.

On September 13, the locker room tavern burned down, along with Huong Xua Deli, recently recognized by the Seattle Times as the area’s best bahn mi spot. This was the second fire for the locker room, which was affected in April.

In July, a fire destroyed the neighborhood’s first LGBTQ + bar, The Lumber Yard, as well as Rat City Tat2.

Other businesses damaged – either by flames, smoke, or response water – included a lounge, a boxing hall, a bar called Dottie’s Double Wide, and a Mexican grocery store called La Típica Oaxaqueña.

Just after the July fire, the Southgate Roller Rink, just down the street, announced on its Instagram pages he would donate 100% of the income from his Pride skating night to the bar. A relief fund for The Lumber Yard raised over $ 100,000. The Center Blanc community organized a neighborhood party in August and raised more than $ 20,600 for the benefit of damaged or destroyed businesses.

The Lumber Yard fire is being investigated as an arson and possible hate crime. Most of the other fires in the neighborhood were from stray cigarettes or homeless people trying to stay warm, according to Steve Crown, fire investigator at the King County Sheriff’s Office.

Many companies with plywood shutters have put up signs – several in Spanish – directing customers to new locations, some just down the block.

Lee Torres owns the Westside Boxing Hall, which was destroyed in the July fire. He has found a new location for the White Center and hopes to reopen in a few weeks. He helped organize the summer block party and the same group is trying to organize a community fundraising event for Halloween.

There’s nowhere he’d rather be.

“It’s too bad my business has run out and everything is a total loss. But I’m so grateful to see the community come together and can’t wait to see what we can create,” he said.

In front of the burned-out storefronts, Aaron Goss owns Rat City Bikes. With insurance companies calculating costs and permit applications taking time, he doesn’t expect there to be a lot of construction on the block for at least a year, maybe more. He said the neighborhood has had its fair share of problems, but it’s still a cool place. There is good food, interesting people, lots of bars. And there is loyalty.

“It’s depressing to see all the empty businesses. It’s just a few bad apples that spoils everyone, ”he said. “But White Center will come back. It is a great place. Everyone loves it, you know?

If Rat City had an icon, it would be the Rat City Roller Derby logo – a young woman with a black eye and an attitude. Other urban areas should take note: there is nothing wrong with having a black eye if you have the confidence and courage to keep fighting.