Easy Street’s dream to re-open the Corner Pocket is apparently over
The plan by Easy Street Records to convert the former Corner Pocket Bar, located just below the nationally known record shop, into a part time music space and full time bar has been derailed, at least as far as the current leaseholder and apparently the landlords are concerned. The bar, under new and different management, could be open before the end of the year.
The Corner Pocket closed in January 2016 following a drug bust. The lease holder, Jan Maine had her liquor license suspended in the process and the space was vacated and locked.
According to Easy Street Records owner Matt Vaughan, “It had been discussed over the years with the building owners, the Yen family, that if the Corner Pocket was ever to be made available, Easy Street was the first choice as a successor.
Easy Street would take popular in-store music shows, normally one hour mini-concerts on any given day during the week that would take over the cafe at the store, and move them downstairs. They would remodel the space, offer late night food, and expand its food service hours to offer full dinner service upstairs too. The great majority of the time, the bar downstairs would be just that, a bar. The potential to continue the nationally famous in-store appearances by both emerging and established music stars, in an intimate performance space seemed like a natural extension of what Vaughan had done for more than two decades.
But in February he got a terse letter from WM Management’s Property Manager Mike Trifilio.
It stated “Matt, Under no circumstances would we consider you as a candidate for the lease of the bar space. I hope this is clear enough. Sincerely, Mike”. Trifilio is known in the neighborhood as “Jersey Mike”
Vaughan was shocked by the letter and reached out to the Yen family. For years, the family had discussed and supported the notion of Easy Street eventually taking Corner Pocket over if that was to ever present itself.
Vaughan said, “The Yen’s profusely apologized for the letter and their property manager, stating that they were embarrassed and upset with its divisive tone. They went on to say that no decisions could be made on the Corner Pocket until June 2017 and they would have updates then, once the DEA and Liquor Board suspension/ investigations were complete.”
Now Jan Maine has shared her position via her attorney Thomas Mackin. “Ms. Maine (Corner Pocket) entered into a deal to sell the Corner Pocket business to Tom Jenkins and Matt Vaughan (Easy Street). The deal was signed and notarized, then sent to the property manager with a request for approval of the lease assignment. No response was received from the property manager concerning the proposed assignment but rent checks from the buyers were refused and the deal fell through.”
Vaughan knows Trifilio and the building owners The Yen family, and has been on good terms with them for most of his stay there, going on almost 30 years. Dr Yen gave Vaughan his first break, when he was 19 years old. “Dr Yen believed in me and cut me a deal if I fixed the space up. The space had suffered a handful of floods and needed some love. It may seem hard to consider these days, but back in 1989, the Junction was pretty sleepy and many of the storefronts were vacant. The Easy Street location had sat for almost a year before I rented it. I’ll forever be grateful to Dr Yen for taking a chance on me and then again when he let me take over the old Joe’s Grill space in 1997, which is now our café. We had a good partnership.”
Dr. Yen’s four children now oversee the Crescent-Hamm Building property as well as the multiple apartment buildings they have throughout Seattle but work with Trifilio and WM Property Management, a two person company located on 60th Ave SW in West Seattle.
Then everything changed on May 6, 2013. The metal awning, with signature neon signage for Easy Street was torn down, without notice, drawing the ire of the public who voiced their opinion on social media and to Easy Street employees. Many people relied on the shelter, safety, and exterior lighting it provided as they waited for a bus. “Metro had to divert traffic that night on the fly. Beyond that, it was a beautiful mid century representation of a once bygone era," said Vaughan.
Vaughan reflected, “The awning was torn down in the middle of the night, without a permit and without warning. It was a dangerous undertaking. I was unaware that it was coming down that night, none of the tenants were made aware of it. With the awning, all of Easy Street’s classic neon storefront signage ($20k worth) was demolished. We were not offered any kind of compensation and to add insult to injury, we were told we could not have any signage on our storefront from that point on. Not only that, the storefront was left in disrepair with exposed wires, the loss of our exterior lighting, a chipped and scarred façade, and broken windows. Of course I wasn’t happy about that, I’m still not. Even so, my issue was with the property manager, not the Yen’s. I’m unaware how involved the Yen Family was in all this. There’s a responsibility you have to accept when you are on a corner like this, I don’t take that for granted.”
It sat that way for over a year until finally the Office of Economic Development stepped in and awarded the Crescent-Hamm Building a $50k grant to improve the building's storefront. Surprisingly, the owners or at least their representative Mike Trifilio would not accept the grant according to Erin Harris Clark who attempted to present the award letter to him.
“Many people were getting concerned that maybe the building was being demolished and this was just the beginning of the end," said Vaughan.
Some cursory repairs were eventually made, “but it wasn’t enough,” said Vaughan. The level of disrespect grew worse said Vaughan, “An example would be we were told that we couldn’t repaint our storefront, they would later have their plumber come in to paint the storefront without any warning and to make matters worse, they chose a color that we never approved, they tried to match our old color, yuk.”
“I think it was through all this that eventually the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, the West Seattle Junction Merchants Association, and King County Executive Office started asking questions about the building and tried to get some dialogue going with the Yen family.”
The Southwest Seattle Historical Society joined four other local organizations to launch the two-year West Seattle Junction Historical Survey, which, when completed and released on March 2, 2016, at a press conference, totaled 104 pages, including (1) a professional landmark-eligibility survey of the 58 Junction buildings that are at least 40 years old, (2) interviews of nine Junction building owners, and (3) a public survey conducted in 2015 involving more than 260 members of the public. The survey identified two Junction buildings — the Crescent-Hamm Building and the Campbell Building — as the most likely to be eligible for landmark status. The historical society board then voted unanimously to immediately launch a campaign to seek landmark status for both buildings.
The Yen family through owners Greg Yen and Tracy Hsia tried to fight the landmark consideration at the nomination hearing. They said they were "blindsided" by the nomination and felt left out by the "eminent domain-ish way this was done," despite their attorney being involved in discussions with SWSHS for nearly a year. The building was nominated to be a historical landmark by unanimous vote of the Landmarks Preservation Board on Jan. 7, 2017, and it was designated a landmark by unanimous vote of the landmarks board on Feb. 15, 2017.
“Once the suspension of the liquor license was complete Jan Maine and myself settled on a purchase and sale agreement and by August we had it, signed by both parties, notarized, and agreed to by both attorneys,” said Vaughan.
Vaughan received the Corner Pocket lease and the keys. With only a year left, he needed a lease extension from the Yen family before he could could get started on tenant improvements.
According to Vaughan, Trifilio refused. It is not known what the Yen family’s position is. Attempts to reach them have been unsuccessful.
“They haven’t deposited the rent checks,” said Vaughan, “but checks go to the Property Manager not the Yen’s address.”
Vaughan was aware that Jan had promised a stake in the bar to Tommy Jenkins (longtime bar manager and career bartender) if she was ever to retire. “Once Jan and I began negotiations, she made it clear that it was her desire to keep Tommy involved somehow, he had been an innocent bystander in the closing of the Corner Pocket and she felt terrible that he had lost his job over it. Tommy had shown great loyalty to the Corner Pocket for over 20+ years and was never implicated in any way during the DEA and SPD investigation. Originally Tommy was being considered a partner, but Jan told me that the landlord made it clear that they wouldn’t want any previous Corner Pocket employee to be considered, so Tommy was removed from the partnership agreement.”
Jenkins said he believes the reason Easy Street is not being allowed to open the Corner Pocket space is because they are being blamed for the building being designated a landmark, which in turn significantly diminished the real estate value of the Hamm Building. The Building can be sold but it’s exterior structure cannot be changed. “It was pretty much common knowledge that Jersey MIke wasn’t going to do any favors for Easy Street after the designation happened. Easy Street got blamed for just being on the corner, for just being Easy Street. Easy Street is what makes the Hamm Building famous and I don’t think the landlords want to recognize that," said Jenkins.
Vaughan said, “I don’t know why we’d be blamed for that. If anything, I would think they’d be proud they have this historical building. From what I understand, there are tremendous tax breaks you get by having a historical building.”
Vaughan said reports began to reach him that the Yen family and Maine were considering another offer. Former bartender Tommy Jenkins was told that the people who previously had run the Admiral Pub were trying to get it.
Without confirmation, the rumors grew. But one thing is certain, Easy Street could not proceed until Vaughan knew his actual position. Since he first negotiated with the legal lease holder, Jan Maine he is considering legal action, but he said he would prefer to deal with the Yen family. “I don’t like the idea of going to court with my landlords…even if you win, you lose. Furthermore, the Yens have been good to me, gave us our start, and they had given me indication in the past that they would support our progress and expansion into the Corner Pocket. I’m hoping that it’s simply that the property manager is acting on his own and the Yens have been unaware or too busy to make a decision on this.”
According to sources close to the matter, a new agreement has in fact been reached with another party, in spite of the previous agreement between Vaughan and Maine.
The new buyers are former employees of the Admiral Pub from around a decade ago who own two other establishments and will likely open the bar again before the end of the year. The agreement included the former inventory, liquor, billiard tables, the name even signage plus other equipment but the amount paid was substantially less than the amount that was offered by Vaughan.
Hence the dream of creating a space that would echo the ethos and traditions of Easy Street Records is now apparently over.
“My plan was always to keep it as a bar/lounge. There was never a plan to make it a full-scale music venue, that has been pure gossip. There is a need and desire for entertainment and live shows in West Seattle, but with the Junction being in a residential district, it can make that very challenging due to noise ordinances. Most of our in-stores tend to start at 7pm or earlier, never causing any noise violation or disruption to the nearby tenants or residences. Now our events would be even further removed from the upstairs apartments on the 3rd floor. If anything, most of the tenants in the Hamm Building tend to be some of Easy Street’s best customers.” Vaughan informed the Yens and Trifilio that there was no plan to create a full time music venue, even though that had been speculated. “Music themed, yes. I don’t really know why we wouldn’t, it’s who we are.”
King County Executive and West Seattle resident Dow Constantine offered this comment on the matter, "I would say... with the building having so much commercial, historical, artistic, and cultural value, there is ample opportunity here for the building owners and the community to benefit. As a local kid and as Executive I am eager to help that happen."
“I’d be willing to let the space go and extinguish the agreement, but something would have to be worked out, and only if it is a compatible business, would benefit the Hamm Building and the Junction, and one that will not interfere with our operations upstairs. If it’s not going to be us, at least give us a friendly neighbor and cool business”.
Attempts to contact the Yen family and Mike Trifilio by Westside Seattle have thus far been unsuccessful.
Note: This story has been updated to reflect date and other corrections
Sorry this happened.
We were all so excited to have EasyStreet downstairs as well for music venues and this is really disturbing. I think it's irresponsible to renigue on agreements both verbal & written and I know a lot of people are going to be disappointed this has taken such a negative turn.
I am extremely disappointed in this news. The Admiral Pub was not the best pace to go. The food was not great ad the people it attracted were not great.
Note: These were employees of the Admiral Pub nearly a decade ago and now operate other businesses of this type in the area. We would be happy to interview them when they are prepared to speak on the matter.
Corner pocket does a great job promoting community and music. I always have a good time there and I'm sorry they couldn't expand. If they open another crappy bar downstairs, we will not patronize them. We will wait for the next business.
Matt, you should find another great space in West Seattle for Easy Street and disassociate yourself with the idiots running that building. The Yen family may have helped you out at one time, but they obviously don’t care anymore.
You and your store are a great asset to West Seattle and you deserve better than this!
If Easy Street isn't going to get this place at least reopen The Corner Pocket and live and let live.
The Corner Pocket was a West Seattle institution offering affordable billiards. The Junction has not been the same without it. I look forward to the reopening of the Corner Pocket and seeing Tommy as bartender there. There are more than enough music venues in West Seattle. Corner Pocket was the only place in town with reasonable rates and regulation pool tables.
I met "Jersey Mike" once, and this is not shocking at all. That guy sucked.
What good news.