Greenwood will celebrate its neighbors and businesses at the Greenwood Rising Phoenix Party from 6-9 p.m. Friday in the empty lot that used to house three businesses before they were destroyed by the March 9 natural gas explosion.
That explosion destroyed Greenwood Quick Stop, Mr. Gyros and Neptune Coffee, and heavily damaged several others, while blowing out windows for several blocks, damaging a total of 53 businesses. Nine firefighters who had responded to the initial call of a gas leak were injured, but none seriously. (The explosion happened in the early morning hours, before employees or customers were inside the businesses or bus riders at the heavily-used bus stop just a few feet away.)
The Phoenix Party, held on the six-month anniversary of the explosion, will celebrate those first responders, as well as the hundreds of people who turned out to help clean up in the days after and who donated to the Greenwood Relief Fund.
“This was a traumatic event for our neighborhood,” said Bryan Miller, co-owner of Naked City Brewery, which is 1-1/2 blocks from the explosion site and was lucky to suffer no damage other than one fluorescent light that fell from the brewery’s ceiling. “I think we all realized, or were reminded, that we have neighbors who care about their neighbors. It was a really tough moment for our neighborhood and also a really special moment.”
Miller is a member of the Phinney Neighborhood Association’s Business Advisory Group, which organized the Phoenix Party. He said the goal of the event is to encourage people to eat and shop at local businesses, especially the ones affected by the blast, including The Angry Beaver directly across the street, which was heavily damaged and took months to reopen.
“This is really just a moment for us to come together and thank everybody for taking care of their neighbors,” Miller said. “And to encourage people to drink at The Angry Beaver and eat gyros and take care of businesses who need our help to rebound and keep going.”
While there is no formal program for speeches during the Phoenix Party, Mayor Ed Murray will attend and say a few words at 6:45 p.m. Mr. Gyros will have its food truck there, and there will be live music by Billy Brandt with The Thing & the Stuff Band, plus DJ Nicfit, family activities with Seattle ReCreative, and live art with Crowd Control.
Six months later, most businesses have repaired the damage, and the businesses most heavily damaged have reopened, except for the three that were destroyed. The Greenwood Relief Fund has raised more than $320,000. An advisory board distributed funds to affected businesses, employees and residents who lost their apartments.
This is the second time the community has referred to itself as a Phoenix rising from the ashes. The first was after the October 2009 arson that destroyed four businesses on 85th Street, and heavily damaged adjacent Taproot Theatre, as well as several other businesses that suffered smoke and water damage. That arson was just one in a string of 14 arsons committed by a homeless man, Kevin Todd Swalwell, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Ten of those arsons were in Greenwood.
After the big arson, local artists painted a huge mural of neighborhood icons and a phoenix that covered the chain link fence where the building used to be. A large portion of that mural, including the phoenix, is now installed in Naked City’s beer garden.
“It’s really become a potent symbol for Greenwood,” Miller said. “We’ve needed our phoenix. I think it’s great that we have this symbol that we can rally around and use when we need it, and unfortunately we’ve needed it a few times.”