We were men on a mission.
In the company of photographer Colin Mulvany, I ventured to darkest Hillyard with one goal in mind: Ask people there to tell me something good about the much-maligned district.
It had been suggested that The Spokesman-Review in general and my column in particular seldom had a good word to say about the northeast Spokane neighborhood. I’m not sure I buy that. But fair’s fair.
Walking up Market Street, we spotted a sign for a cafe. That seemed promising. But when we got there, we discovered it apparently had gone out of business. Strike one.
A few doors away, though, Mr. Ken’s Barber Shop was alive and well. Proprietor Ken Lundy theorized that Hillyard’s hardscrabble reputation lingered from its days as a two-fisted railroad center fueled by a thriving cluster of bars. People who haven’t been to Hillyard in years are the ones who knock it, he said. “Outsiders.”
Out on the sidewalk across the street, we called the next witness.
When mail carrier Michael Meredith put in for a Hillyard delivery route 13 years ago, a few of his colleagues arched their eyebrows. He has not, however, regretted his decision.
“There are a lot of good people here,” said Meredith, a South Hill resident. “A lot of decent people.”
Like Karen Tuininga, owner of a collectibles/kitsch/jewelry shop she calls Karenoia. It’s an oddly inviting explosion of intriguing clutter.
“This is a tight-knit, proud neighborhood,” she said. “I love it.”
Tuininga lives adjacent to her store on Market Street. Hillyard has been her home for 20 years.
She suggested Greater Spokane’s occasional tendency to look askance at the district might be partly the result of uptight conformists recoiling from anything remotely funky or bohemian.
Besides, she said, all of the best jokes about Hillyard have already been told – by Hillyard residents.
At O’Brien Used Furniture, owners Rob and Lisa O’Brien were frank about why they located their business in Hillyard.
“This is the only place we could afford,” said Rob.
A Shadle-area resident, he’s guardedly optimistic about Market Street’s future. But he’s not kidding himself. He knows the neighborhood isn’t on everyone’s mental map.
At Hot Rod Tattoo, Alex Hernandez said he thinks Hillyard gets badmouthed because it’s a blue-collar place.
You know, like much of the rest of Spokane.
We stepped into the Pilot Book Store at 3108 E. Olympic Ave. I asked owner Thomas Connelly to tell me something good about Hillyard.
“It’s got history,” he said.
It’s also got one of the colder used books stores in America.
“Heat is for sissies,” said Connelly.
With spirit like that, something tells me Hillyard’s not through making its mark.
Today’s Slice question: Which would you prefer to be called? A) Hillyardite. B) Hillyarder. C) Hillyardian. D) Other?