All it takes is development. In today’s mixed-use, local-business, neighborhood-pride philosophy of construction, the building comes first, and the tone of the block follows.
There are so many new buildings going up around Capitol Hill that it’s hard to keep track, and it seems that whole urban villages sprout out of nowhere. If the story behind one such development – the 19th Avenue East and East Mercer Street mixed-use building– is any indication, there’s more intention than miracle in the concept.
The 19th & Mercer building is a Blanton Turner property, coming from the same organization responsible for the Packard Building on 12th Avenue, among others. However, this new location stands out from their rest.
Capitol Hill’s 19th Avenue and much of the surrounding blocks are residential, mixing long-standing houses, older apartment buildings, and new constructions along the way. It’s a quiet neighborhood that has more in common with the likes of Madrona than the closer stretches of Capitol Hill proper.
15th Avenue, if the area east of Broadway was a tiny town, would become the main thoroughfare. All other roads would go to houses or schools.
The businesses living on the ground floor of the 19th & Mercer building seem aware of that. And yes, they’re totally in on the same plan. The way that Robin Wehl Martin, proprietor and head baker at Hello Robin, tells it, the lineup on the block was a mix of neighborly assistance and ambitious business savvy.
“It was all Molly,” Wehl Martin said, “She talked to the developer and said, ‘look, if you put a chiropractor’s office and a dry cleaners in here, it’s not gonna work.’”
A fresh minty legend
As the freshly minted legend goes, ice cream heroine Molly Moon and her husband, Zack, gathered a mix of up-and-comers and Capitol Hill mainstays to grab every retail space at 19th & Mercer.
Tallulah’s, the newest restaurant from Linda Derschang, took the East Mercer Street corner while Hello Robin moved in next-door, one step closer to East Republican Street, joined by a walk-up Molly Moon’s Ice Cream window ready for the spring and summer months. Between them, an honest-to-goodness general store, Cone and Steiner, also just opened its doors.
It’s a mixture of fiction and nostalgia that makes this new business block feel real. WehlMartin makes homemade cookies and then bakes them while she talks with people of all ages. Cone shares her hallway with Steiner and Wehl Martin, where everyone uses each other’s materials.
“I ran out of butter and grabbed some from the Cone and Steiner earlier this week. Before that, Tallulah’s had an egg emergency and I lent them a sack. That’s the kind of relationship we have around here,” Wehl Martin said, prepping habanero orange cookies on a Sunday afternoon. But it isn’t for the literal cup full of sugar. This kind of neighborly attitude was something many people grew up knowing about, but seldom seeing.
None of this would stand up if it all came at a luxury cost, but browsing the goods at Hello Robin and Cone and Steiner isn’t a cause for sticker shock. For a half- and full-dozen cookies, the former will charge a penny and change. Cone and Steiner have organic goods that are more than those found in a corner shop. However, it is still cheaper than the traditional convenience store model which charges 50 percent for the same mass-market products available only three blocks away at QFC.
All of it is huge-N and big-S nice stuff. Hello Robin’s coconut curry cookies are a treat for grownups. It also includes a refined whole wheat cookie with sea salt and a habanero-orange cookie, which is meant to introduce children to the age-old pairing of chocolate chili. Cone and Steiner have a large selection of mustards on tap and fill up growlers. It’s all delivered in such a clean, friendly package that it feels like it should mean something.
“I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 15 years,” Wehl Martin said, shedding some light on the motive behind the block’s design, “I have three kids now. I couldn’t help but make [Hello Robin] family-friendly.”
Family-friendly and Capitol Hill don’t walk on the same side of the street as often as they could and, perhaps, should. The new stuff at 19th & Mercer makes a case for not moving away from the neighborhood when it’s time to settle down. This suggests that many people will spend their youth in Pike/Pine or Broadway, move on to Broadway when they are older, go down to Broadway at some point, then wander up 12th or 15th streets, where they can raise children.