The Scoop on Walter’s: This is how it ends
by Peggy Sturdivant
When I wrote Part One of The Scoop on Walter’s in August I didn’t know what Part Two would be, only that the story was still unfolding. There have been twists and turns in the plot since then, each one rendering my drafts obsolete. From wondering, will this be end of Walter Pawelko’s 28-year run as business owner on 32nd NW, to being able to tell you, this is how it ends.
The doors will close on Walter’s Café at the end of November, with the last day of business the day after Thanksgiving and a party on the Saturday.
. Instead of mourning its loss, Pawelko hopes that its regulars will celebrate the community that formed, the bands they heard, the artists, the friends met, the children that grew up and came back with their own children. Instead of crying into their bubblegum ice cream, Top Pot donut, latte, beer, wine or lemonade, Pawelko hopes they will shout out their favorite memories, put them in writing.
To recap, Walter’s Café on 32nd NW had tentatively been allowed to occupy the space through November 30, 2018, after an original vacate day of August 31st issued by building owner Gibraltar Investment Property Solutions caused community uproar. Anguish, actually.
Walter had been paying the $1,000 rent increase for over a year, and had been in negotiations for a lease before a diagnosis of Stage IV Prostate Cancer. When he recovered the lease terms had changed. Then came the fateful day when he threw out a leasing agent showing his space to prospective tenants. A few days later came the Notice to Vacate, which the community read as an eviction. Social media lit up and there were customers who personally told me they had barely been able to sleep or eat in the days following. Longtime employee Kim Paxton couldn’t respond to children who asked if they would be open for their tradition of first-day-of-school ice cream cones.
Gibraltar has been trying to walk back the perception of an eviction ever since. “We are not evicting you and we want to be sure that anyone new coming in gets a fair shot at joining the community without unfair bias,” wrote Julie Carvalho, Lead Commercial Property Manager in an email to Pawelko on July 31, 2018. Then, in stipulating that Walter’s Café could stay through November 30, 2018, Carvalho asked for Pawelko’s promise of a story line about his departure that would create goodwill for the next tenant. “Your announcement to your patrons/neighborhood that you will be here through November and then _______(riding your motorcycle down the coast/pursuing your shark diving dreams/retiring/spending time with your amazing grandchildren/fill in the blank).”
So Gibraltar was asking Pawelko to appear to be voluntarily leaving to create future goodwill for their new tenant. No mention of compensating Pawelko for his tenant improvements while they advertised his space just as he had grown it, to be a community gathering place with espresso drinks and music, a patio and an ice cream counter.
At first Pawelko tried to appeal to Gibraltrar for compensation, “The goodwill you speak of,” he responded to Carvalho, “I value at $250,000. Sincerely, Walter.”
Two months later Pawelko is making late summer lemonade out of the lemons he was dealt by the building owners. He has come to realize that when a small business does not own its own building there is virtually no way to come out ahead. He’s been running the numbers and realized that even is his rent was what it was for the original, single storefront back in 1990, (about $175), that he would not get ahead. The mark-up on the product isn’t great enough, and the community aspect isn’t quantifiable. He put all of his profits into growing the business; that will have to be compensation enough. It was a labor of love.
It’s the love that he wants to end on. Matches made at the café. The young people who returned to work five summers in a row, like Kathryn O’Brien, following in her brother’s footsteps. There’s every party that longtime employee (and café’s biggest heart) Kim Paxton ever planned, every hotdog grilled and cinnamon roll cut into quarters.
Pawelko has heard the new tenant plans to open a restaurant. It eases his mind that no one thinks they can simply take over what he has built and do it better.
Vanishing Seattle and many organizations and individuals in the community have been on the roller coaster since the building’s sale along with Walter’s Café, on the scariest part since the vacate notice. A campaign to make Gibraltar aware of the value of Walter’s Cafe was discussed, in hopes helping Walter and Kim, and keeping a place where children can go on their own, families meet for years on end. However there’s no going back to the days of the Ottersens, or even last year.
So this is how it ends, with Walter Pawelko coming to terms with leaving; realizing he could not be a tenant of Gibraltar. That it’s time to walk away with the sense of having created something that was great. There won’t be a featured artist at Walter’s Café in November but there will be a party on Saturday, Nov. 24, a chance to celebrate the connections, to find the positive in change.
Pawelko can only hope the community that he and Kim Paxton built finds a way to stay connected. “There will never be another mom-and-pop opening like this,” he said.
But know this, Walter Pawelko will not be riding his motorcycle down the coast or pursuing any shark diving dreams. In Seattle’s real estate boom, the sharks are not in the water.
So glad I moved out of Seattle. All the places that made it cool and different from other cities are getting the boot and turning it into a blandscape. Good luck to the people of Walter's, and thank you for years of community.
Born in Ballard, Left Seattle years ago. Seattle is so Over.
It is the duty of the neighborhood to starve out any replacement businesses in that location until Gibraltar Investment Property Solutions sells it.