On July 27, Tim Pipes greeted kilt-wearing, bagpipe-carrying members of the Seattle Firefighters Pipes and Drums musical group as they walked into his recently reopened Greenwood bar The Angry Beaver.
Almost five months earlier, Pipes’ bar had been heavily damaged by a natural gas explosion from across the street. At 1:40 p.m. March 9, firefighters were responding to a gas leak when the explosion erupted, damaging 53 businesses in the area. Eight firefighters and a battalion chief received minor injuries that night.
In a way, firefighters stopping at the bar for a drink and a few rounds of pool before the Greenwood Seafair parade brings the explosion and the months that followed full circle — even though The Angry Beaver and other businesses still have a ways to go before getting back to where they were pre-explosion.
Pipes has, at least, been able to reopen. Others haven’t been so fortunate.
Across the street, a fenced-off lot where three businesses used to stand — Neptune Coffee, Greenwood Quick Stop and Mr. Gyros — is nearly empty.
Mr. Gyros has bounced back, but not as a store front. Instead, the business has resurrected as a food truck parked near the old location, continuing to provide Greenwood residents their falafel and kabob fix.
Some of the 53 businesses affected by the explosion escaped with a few broken windows. Others — like the Angry Beaver and the nonprofit Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas, with its Greenwood Space Travel Supply Co. store front across the street from the explosion — had to clean up debris, redo their ceilings and replace windows, among other repairs.
G&O Family Cyclery, which had lived next door to Neptune Coffee, has moved to a temporary location down the street and is looking for a permanent location in the neighborhood. The walls of the old bike store and repair shop still stand, but it is boarded up. G&O co-owner David Giugliano told City Living Seattle he believes the old shop will be torn down.
In the five months from the blast, the two businesses and the nonprofit are still struggling to find out what their insurance will be covering.
But the community and the Phinney Neighborhood Association have provided them, and other businesses, with the means to open or become at least partially operational.
Initially the association, a nonprofit community group, set up a “donate now” button on its website’s homepage, phinneycenter.org, to collect funds to help the affected businesses.
Then people started asking the association to manage the money collected from fundraisers. The organization eventually created an advisory board and became the manager and central donation place for the Greenwood Relief Fund.
Donations poured in.
“Kids would come up with their piggy banks,” executive director Lee Harper said.
About $297,000 has been raised so far, most of it doled out to 30 businesses, 30 employees and 12 displaced residents.
Harper said the neighborhood association will continue to accept donations — likely until the end of the year, when it plans to close out the account.
Funds have been dispersed according to estimated loss totals falling above or below certain dollar figures. Those with damages under $10,000 all received the same amount of relief, and businesses with more than $100,000 in damages likewise all received the same allocation.
“We’re not social workers, we’re not caseworkers, we’re not judgers,” Harper said about how they determined allocations.
Harper said the neighborhood association has been in regular contact with the businesses to continue monitoring the situation and see which ones still need help.
The association has provided assistance beyond financial support as well. The Phinney Neighborhood Center was temporarily home to the Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas, a writing and tutoring center. It rented out a classroom in the restored elementary school location beginning about 10 days after the blast.
Teri Hein, the executive director of Fearless Ideas, said that thanks to the space in the Neighborhood Center, they were able to continue tutoring and most of their programs through the spring and summer.
Fearless Ideas moved back into its regular location at the end of July, but takes a three-week hiatus every summer and plans to be back in session at its regular location in September.
“There really is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Hein said.
Both The Angry Beaver and G&O Family Cyclery said the Phinney Neighborhood Association, as well as support of their customers and the greater community, that allowed them to remain open.
G&O opened in a temporary location a couple blocks down from its old shop about one month after the explosion, but the space is too small, Giugliano said. Just prior to the explosion the shop had actually expanded to a storage location as well. Customer bikes that were under repair were luckily housed there on March 9, he said.
But, because of the expansion, G&O’s financial reserves were already low when the blast occurred.
“There is no doubt in my mind that we wouldn’t be here right now, we wouldn’t be around next year [without the help we received],” Giugliano said.
Giugliano plans to keep his business in the neighborhood and is currently looking for permanent locations.
Both G&O and The Angry Beaver estimate the explosion caused at least $200,000 in damages to each of their businesses.
Even with community support, both businesses have been facing a frustratingly slow insurance process and have each only received a fraction of the amount they estimate is due.
Giugliano said he thinks G&O’s situation will be resolved in a positive way.
“What people did was they created a raft that we can float on until that happens,” Giugliano said.
Pipes echoed Giugliano saying without the Phinney Neighborhood Association he would be out of business.
While waiting for insurance money and working on reopening, The Angry Beaver and other neighborhood businesses were robbed one night in April. Pipes still isn’t sure what the thieves took.
“To get taken advantage of [after the explosion] is killer,” Pipes said.
But he said his anger and desire not to let looters keep him down pushed him to restore and improve the bar, rather than turn in his chips.
The Angry Beaver had a soft reopening on July 22 followed by its grand reopening on July 29.
The Phinney Neighborhood Association also plans to celebrate the businesses’ and community’s efforts to bounce back. A party will be held on Sept. 9, six months after the blast.
“That’s the upside of any tragedy like that is we come together,” Harper said.