The records are scant about 11th Avenue Grocery.
Opened in 1925 by William Woolsey on the northeast corner of 11th and Pittsburgh in the South Perry District, the neighborhood grocery store ran for nearly 50 years before shutting its doors in 1974. It was a store, but what it sold exactly is hard to say. Old photos of the exterior prove elusive, if any exist at all. Getting a peek inside, or at a receipt, is surely impossible.
For the past four decades, it’s been a private residence, an eyesore and off-limits to the public. Soon enough, not anymore.
“The plan’s basically a corner neighborhood cafe,” said Steve DeWalt, who’s leading the redevelopment of the building for Seattle-based InterUrban Development.
The boxy, near windowless structure isn’t much to look at now, but the initial plans show big windows, sidewalk seating and new landscaping. There’s no official tenant yet, but DeWalt said the building would be open by the summer, perhaps earlier.
“We’re looking for this to be a fun project that takes something that used to be a contributing part of the neighborhood and bring it back to use,” he said.
As DeWalt suggests, the building’s revival is not only a sign of Perry’s continued popularity, but also the viability of new city rules aimed at reviving old commercial buildings.
According to Nathan Gwinn, an assistant planner with the city, it’s the the second time a developer has sought to convert an old commercial building to its original use under the new rules adopted by the City Council in August.
The rules were designed to bring such buildings back to commercial life, buildings that were once commonplace in neighborhoods. Bakeries, corner grocery stores and butchers used to be woven into residential areas in order to be close to homes and within walking distance. As the car took over American habits, city planners began segregating residential districts from commercial districts.
Some of the historic buildings left behind were slowly and quietly converted to living space. In Spokane, there are 95 commercial buildings in residential zones, according to city data, and about half are still used for commercial purposes.
The new city rules aim to “activate” neighborhood commercial buildings, and they were first used less than a mile away from 11th Avenue Grocery, at the corner of East Newark and South Laura. An old barber shop there is on its way to housing a bakery called Culture Breads.
But InterUrban’s plans may see more immediate returns, considering it’s just two blocks from the heart of the Perry district and one of the area’s marquee businesses, Perry Street Brewing.
The development also marks the third notable project the Seattle-based company has taken on in Spokane over the past 15 months, following the purchase and redevelopment plans for the 1902 McKinley School just north of East Sprague Avenue and the more recent plans to convert downtown’s Sterling Savings Bank building into a food hall called Spokane Central Market.
InterUrban, which is run by Spokane-native Rob Brewster, purchased the 11th Avenue building last month for $83,000. About two weeks later, it filed plans with the city for an extensive renovation estimated to cost $220,000. The application says construction will start “ASAP.”
In fact, it’s already begun.
“We’ve stripped it all down,” said DeWalt. “Our goal with all of our projects is to get back to what’s authentic.”
DeWalt said the exterior will be very “approachable” with large windows and cafe seating surrounding the building. The inside has been gutted and will have “a little grit and pastiche” to evoke the 1920s, when the building was built.
A shed in the lot’s corner will be demolished, and no parking is required by the city.
“This historically had no parking,” DeWalt said, noting that the wide streets surrounding the building are largely free of parked cars most days. “We’re going to integrate this building into the Perry district while maintaining the area’s residential character.”
But the building itself won’t maintain the residential character it’s had since 1974, when a man named H.H. Feldhahn owned it. He bought the place in 1950, and ran it as a store while living out of it.
But 24 years later, Feldhahn finally locked the door to customers. Finally, but not forever.
“We think that these little projects can do something,” DeWalt said. “They can contribute to people leaving their house and walking somewhere, rather than driving somewhere. We think this will be a community space. Where people will gather.”