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Seattle Sketcher

An illustrated journal of life in the Puget Sound region by Times artist Gabriel Campanario.

June 27, 2010 at 12:33 AM

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South Park: Businesses face future without bridge

Posted by Gabriel Campanario

southpark-billowensm.jpg

A colorful array of businesses line both sides of 14th Avenue South, the road leading up to the South Park Bridge, which is closing permanently on Wednesday for safety reasons. Here you can find a car repair business, a laundromat, a couple of Mexican restaurants and a pet-supply store, to name a few.

While some businesses have a local clientele, most rely on pedestrian and vehicle traffic that crosses the bridge to get here. When the drawbridge goes up for a last time --spans will be left in upright position to allow boat traffic-- the street will be closed off with barricades and business owners fear nobody will come here.

Bill Owens runs a mail and parcel service and canine supplies store. He said the bridge closure is going to be tragic. "I'm afraid it's going to cut my business by 90 percent."

He said he's been vocal in community meetings with local officials about possible solutions. For example, a shuttle to help people get around through a nearby bridge owned by Boeing, an aerial tram, gondolas or a bridge like the ones the Army sets up in war zones. "It's the price of a house. A single mortgage would pay for it."

Owens said he will stop the "Welcome to South Park" clock above the entrance to his store when the bridge closes.

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Maria Porco realized her dream of opening her own café last January. "I opened my coffee shop, Via Vadi Caffé, right here in South Seattle. It was just the most amazing day," she wrote on her blog.

I found Porco with the same jovial attitude when I stopped by the intimate cafe, but the mood darkened when I asked about the bridge literature on the counter. She couldn't help but shed a tear.

"The neighborhood was starting to get better. People were moving into the area," said Porco, a longtime South Park resident whose family has run a pizzeria next door since 1979. "We are staying positive. We believe things are going to work out."

Boeing employee Art Day has been doing his part to support the businesses near the bridge. "I brought three new people last week," said Day, who stopped for a muffin and coffee before going to work. After the bridge closes, he said, he'll continue to do the same, even if it takes him longer to get here.

spvideomar27m.jpg

Videomar's storefront displays a big sign in Spanish: "No cierren el puente," (Don't close the bridge). It also advertises video rentals, money wiring services and fresh fruit.

But there's more to José Vasquez business. He was testing ads on a monitor when I walked in and his business card says "Tech Consulting." I quickly realized this was not your average neighborhood video store.

"I'm looking for new business strategies," said Vasquez, who grew up on nearby Cloverdale Street and graduated last year from the University of Washingon with a double major in business administration and entrepeneurship. His family opened the original store in 1997.

"We are changing the business so we don't have to rely on the location," said Vasquez.

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The bustling lunch crowd was leaving as I sat down to talk to Julia Ramos, owner of the Jalisco restaurant in South Park. She fears nobody will come for lunch after the bridge closes. "Sometimes I can't sleep," she said as her 5-year-old daughter stopped by to peek at my drawing.

The restaurant, which she opened 18 years ago, is the livelihood for her family. Her husband, Ismael, is the cook and they have two other children, ages 13 and 17.

Ramos said this part of the city has been forgotten by the politicians responsible for the bridge. "If this was Bellevue, maybe they'd build it in two days," she said.

"This town will be buried."

spbridgeopen27m.jpg

About this series
The South Park Bridge is set to shut down Wednesday night, and a replacement could be years away. I spent three days sketching around the neighborhood and these are some of the scenes I captured:
-South Park neighborhood prepares to lose its bridge
-Time to get around the bridge
-A community mourns its bridge
-Bridge operator ready for last day on the job

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