Saturday, March 10, 2007

Garfield Street of Today

Apparently the region of Parkland surrounding the PLU campus has been going through a pretty incredible renaissance all its own, thanks in part to the current Garfield Commons project. I had a meeting over yonder in the outer limits of Tacoma and decided to take a little tour around my alma mater, and holy cow; I'm officially jealous -- can I go back to school?

When I drove onto campus in late August of 1994 for my freshman year of college at Pacific Lutheran University, the Garfield Street business district was pretty barren. There had been a recent fire in the brick building mainstay of the street, affecting the apartments above and the businesses below. Which of course affected what was left when we arrived. But I just remember thinking -- and remember, this is coming from a farm girl -- that there just wasn't much there.

I'm happy to say that was the year the Garfield Street Business Association formed, and kicked things into gear with better organization among the businesses, even occasional events. It has slowly morphed into the street I wished it was when I was there. (Seriously, can I go back to school? I'd do so much differently -- like study more, and sleep more.)

I personally link the changes to Northern Pacific Coffee Company moving onto the block. The then-20-something owner knew his target audience, and over the years grew and changed to fit those needs. Starting with good coffee and hooking us youngun's with 2-for-1 deals, we kept coming back. (My husband blames original owner Steve for beginning his coffee addiction.) In response, NPCC kept expanding. First into the shop next door. Eventually taking over the back office as well. Now instead of a couch and a couple tables, there are plenty of tables and chairs, walls of books, a stage for open mic nights and small performances, wine and beer, plenty of food. It's a place that appeals to many generations and many faces. While ownership has changed hands, many of the touches are still there -- and I had to wonder today, while waiting for my triple vanilla Americano (no longer a mint or almond mocha), that I think some of the chalked handwriting on the blackboard menus may have been there for many, many years.

Many places have come and gone: An awesome, authentic New York-style pizza place; Mr. T's, a southern-style BBQ place that was so good, but apparently gigantic sausage sandwiches didn't quite mesh with the predominantly lutefisk crowd; an Italian deli; and even one of the original Taco del Mar shops (which became a Planet Burrito when the original owners parted ways) -- I think that spot is now the fabulous Reyna's, a great spot for good, inexpensive Mexican cuisine. From the Bayou came, gave our taste buds the ride of a lifetime, and stayed. And now I see that Farrelli's Pizza (whose drool-inducing concoctions can now be found at Union and 6th Ave. in Tacoma proper) will be opening at the corner of Garfield and Pacific Avenue in the near-ish future ... where the Piggly Wiggly was before my day, the crazy-somewhat-scary grocery store was during my day, and where the can't-even-remember-the-name thrift store limped along for years following.

It's bizarre to see all the action on that corner of civilization.

Between the improving business district, the new dorm, sorry -- residence hall, on lower campus and the many new buildings and offerings -- I kind of wish I could go back to school. Perhaps my kids will someday let me live vicariously. Or I'll just have to get to that end of town more often.

Good job Garfield. You're really purring, now.


Elle said...

I will say that although Farelli's started in Olympia they will never give The Rock a run for their money. We still drive the 15 minutes to and from downtown just to get the delicious yumminess. No more just walking up the hill for us. And the Bayou... only the second best restaurant in the Tacoma area. Nothing has yet to beat Gateway to India.


I strolled up and down Garfield Street during my sojourn through the Pacific Northwest last summer (you might remember part of that). I wandered around and, aside from the coffee shop, the other businesses seemed lifeless. Granted, I was there in the middle of the summer, but there were at least two weeklong workshops taking place on campus with quite a few people in attendance... nobody seemed interested in walking up the block.

If the street is drawing in people, one would hope they are drawing in people from the neighborhood, because the appeal of students won't sustain a small business through the lean summer months.

As for PLU itself, I just read that the UC is getting a facelift, including the top floor where you and I wasted away way too many nights doing various media-related projects. I recently glanced at the KCNS portion of the PLU website and if the pictures are any indication the studio hasn't changed in 10 years (and it was a decade out of date when I first arrived 14 years ago).

tacomachickadee said...

So THAT's why Farelli's seems so familiar ... I'd been trying to figure it out, but it's been a couple ears since I've been a downtown Oly regular ...

tacomachickadee said...

And I think the Commons ... now under construction ... will be a big part of helping funnel neighborhood and passing folks down Garfield Street during the leaner summer months. Something more visible and enticing from the street. Plus, I've seen way more diversity of generations at NPCC lately. I'm optimistic! (As usual ...)

Callie said...

Ninja attack!

Run away!

(my ninjosity is only extending to blogs, though I'm in training (ish) for Sound to Narrows)

James said...

Yeah, I would do so many things differently, too. Or would I? It was a simpler time, I was just too at-that-age to know any better. Were I to go back now, would I again in 10 years' time lament how I'd do it differently to go back (future) then?

Rachel and I visited the campus probably nearly a year ago, parking at the development office across Pacific, walking down Garfield, walking around the campus, walking back up Garfield and then gone. I was surprised at what was now there, but I'd have to agree with the feeling of lifelessness. It was a far cry from what was there when we were there, but frankly, I'm not sure enough stuff burnt down.

And then I returned home and was online and learned of all the recent violence in the area and was really mad that I walked with my two year old all over that area.