Some Greenwood businesses were able to reopen after the natural gas explosion, while others still remain boarded up. Photo by Jason Hallgren
Some Greenwood businesses were able to reopen after the natural gas explosion, while others still remain boarded up. Photo by Jason Hallgren
<
1
2
>

Longtime Greenwood resident Dave Baack was surprised when he saw the long lines winding out of the Naked City Brewery (8564 Greenwood Ave. N.) when he stopped in for a beer after a long day of installing outdoor signage on a windy day. 

Baack smiled when realized that patrons were waiting in line to donate to the relief fund to assist the business and residents impacted by the natural gas explosion that rocked Greenwood on March 9. 

“Love this neighborhood. I moved away but could not stay away,” Baack said. “The community’s response to the gas explosion just reaffirms why Greenwood is so much more than unattached residents and random businesses. We are the true definition of community.” 

The explosion in the early morning hours of a Wednesday leveled one building, severely damaged a second building across the alley and broke windows more than three blocks away. The blast caused an estimated $3 million in damage. Eight firefighters and a battalion chief were taken to Harborview Medical Center with minor cuts and abrasions.

The outpouring of support for displaced residents and businesses affected by the blast continues to roll in a month after the explosion that decimated Neptune Coffee (8415 Greenwood Ave. N.), Mr. Gyros (8411 Greenwood Ave. N.) and the Greenwood Quick Stop (8409 Greenwood Ave. N.) on the west side of Greenwood Avenue, just south of North 85th Street. The explosion has impacted 53 separate businesses on all four corners of the busy intersection. 

The Phinney Neighborhood Association (PNA, 6532 Phinney Ave. N.) is coordinating the ongoing fundraising effort.

Donations to the Greenwood Relief Fund were just shy of $250,000 from more than 1,600 individual donors as of the end of March, according to PNA executive director Lee Harper. The community organization has also been asked to oversee the $50,000 raised through a GoFundMe effort.

“Over 30 businesses and groups have stepped up to plan benefits and hold fundraisers. We have received offers of help from multiple groups and from 305 individuals,” Harper said. “We have been inspired by the way the community has come together over his tragedy.”

 

Neighbors first

PNA distributed the first funds to residents whose homes were destroyed by the explosion. Thirteen of those residents lived in apartments above Gorditos (213 N. 85th St.), across an alley from the blast site. The displaced residents were unable to get back inside their homes for weeks, according to Jeff Cornejo, director of development for the neighborhood association. 

“Access to the building has been restricted,” Cornejo said. “My best guess is that they will never be allowed to move back into their homes.”

Cornejo said the next set of funds will be allocated to employees who will be out of work until local business can reopen and to business owners to cover the expense of lost business and damages not covered by insurance. 

The neighborhood association has posted links on its website (phinneycenter.org/greenwoodrelief) to social agencies, rent and utilities assistance and to food banks.

The glass doors of the Taproot Theatre (204 N. 85th St.), across the street from Gorditos, survived the blast; however, metal frames on multiple sets of double doors were bent so badly that some cannot be opened, while others must be secured with heavy chains because they cannot be shut, according to Scott Nolte, producing artistic director for the community playhouse. 

Nolte said his insurance agent recommended that the theater not put in a claim for the doors so soon after the space was gutted by the work of an arsonist in 2009.

The explosion also altered plans for the three separate fundraisers that had been scheduled to benefit the community theater on the night after the blast. Nolte directed his staff to repurpose all three events to benefit victims of the explosion.

“There was no way, in good conscience, we could ask our supporters to donate to our theater when our friends and neighbors were in so much pain,” he said.


Outpouring of support

Malka Aust, who owns the building directly across the street from the explosion, praised PNA for organizing the massive cleanup effort in the days following the disaster and for coordinating donations to the victims who were most severely affected.

The landlord was told to expect 25 to 50 volunteers to sweep the broken glass, chucks of plaster and tree limbs scattered on the sidewalks and across Greenwood Avenue. But she arrived to discover more than 125 volunteers the next morning, armed with their own buckets, brooms and gloves. 

Local artists used spray paint to turn the plywood that went in to replace the broken glass into an impromptu outdoor art gallery.

The building owner said the blast shattered the original single-pane windows of the second-floor offices of Upper Crust Catering (8420 Greenwood Ave. N.) and above the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Co. (8414 Greenwood Ave. N.). Regulations will force Aust to replace the vintage glass and wood frames with energy-efficient windows.

“I realize that this is a minor inconvenience, compared to what everybody is going through,” Aust said. “But it makes me mad to lose some of the charm that is part of our community.

The ongoing fundraising efforts through 30 local businesses include everything from donation jars near cash registers to raffles and the sale of “Show Greenwood Some Love” T-shirts. A group of fifth-graders has offered to donate proceeds from the sales of “Encyclopedia Greenwoodia,” a book of poems and stories about the neighborhood. 

Funds are also being collected through a portion of the sales at bars and restaurants in communities as far away the University District. 

Tax deductible donations can still be made by mailing checks to PNA, c/o the Greenwood Relief Fund, 6532 Phinney Ave. N, Seattle, WA 98103.

Chris Maykut, the owner of the Chaco Canyon Organic Café (8404 Greenwood Ave. N.) had his business shut down for two days by the blast. Maykut, who wrote an impassioned article about his community that appeared in The Seattle Times, has become the unofficial spokesperson for Greenwood business owners. He said the silver lining to the tragedy has been the ability to witness his beloved neighborhood come together to aid each other and help rebuild lives.

“The explosion did more than destroy businesses: It tore apart the lives of small business owners and their employees, who were not prepared to deal with the financial or emotional impact from the blast,” he explained. “It is in times like this that people show their true colors. It has been incredibly gratifying to play a small part of this groundswell of support from literally hundreds of individuals who have been generous with their time and their checkbooks.”

 

‘Like a war zone’

Besides the plywood that replaced his storefront windows, Maykut said the only visible damage to his establishment are patches of bare wall where plaster was knocked off the walls and ceiling.

“This place looked like a war zone,” he remembered. “There was broken glass everywhere, and all of the chairs and tables had been blown across the room and against the counter.”

The owner said he would probably not replace the piece of plaster that was knocked off the wall near the bathrooms.

“Might just leave it like it is and put up a plaque to memorialize the event,” he said.

To comment on this story, write to CityLivingEditor@nwlink.com.