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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Amid changes to the neighborhood, Bloomsday’s takeover of West Central remains an annual tradition

Megan Maystrovich, 12, naps in a hammock as runners move along Summit Avenue during Bloomsday, Sunday, May 6, 2018, in Spokane, Wash. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Denise Eickstadt Greer grew up in West Central and married a neighborhood boy.

She and her husband live in Nine Mile Falls now. But every year, they attend a Bloomsday party at the Broadway Avenue house where Denise and her three siblings spent their childhood.

“It’s kind of like we always come home,” she said.

Her mom, Jane, still lives in the craftsman house. On Sunday afternoon, the yard overflowed with four generations of the Eickstadt family, assembled to cheer on Bloomsday participants and enjoy a potluck barbecue.

Bloomsday takes parts of West Central captive, blocking off streets and restricting access for most of the day. But many in the inner city neighborhood embrace the foot race and the accompanying fanfare.

To get ready for 40,000-plus people pouring through their streets, West Central spruces up ahead of time with free trash and yard debris disposal.

On race day, grills appear on lawns. Fences are decorated with past Bloomsday shirts. Families gather. Stories are told. Beer is consumed.

Spectators clap and cheer for the elite competitors, the wheelchair racers, the runners, the walkers and the babies pushed in strollers.

“When Bloomsday is on, you’re stuck here,” explained Kay Howard, a 57-year West Central resident, who is active in the neighborhood council. “You might as well party with them.”

David Francis strolled down to Broadway on Sunday with his walker, finding a shady spot to watch the race. He’s been a Bloomsday spectator since he moved to an apartment in West Central six years ago.

“I have a caregiver who is supposed to be in the race today,” Francis said. “I like to watch, especially the people dressed up fancy. Oh, look at that guy,” he said, as a man sprinted past in a blur of tie-dye.

The spectacle is part of the fun, said Patty Felch-Christensen, who watched the race from her mom’s front yard.

“You see all the different hair styles, and some of the costumes just crack us up,” she said. Sunday’s oddities included a 1 1/2 foot tall, pink and purple mohawk.

Near the 7-mile mark, West Central resident Malia Throop offered one of her backyard chickens, Pearl, for Bloomsday participants to pet.

Three girls in matching pink tutus made a detour to see Pearl, cooing over the docile hen. “She’s so cute,” one girl said.

Throop doesn’t run Bloomsday; she competes in ultra-marathons. But she said she enjoys supporting Bloomsday as a spectator.

“When you’re running, there’s nothing better than having people come out and cheering you on,” Throop said.

At Theresa Brown’s house, a stuffed, 6-foot-tall Pink Panther appears on the porch each Bloomsday. When people ask her where she lives on the route, she says, “the Pink Panther house.”

“It’s tradition,” Brown said of the mascot.

During her 24 years in West Central, Brown said the neighborhood has seen its ups and downs. West Central is one of Spokane’s lowest income areas. In 2016, the median household income was $31,102 for the neighborhood, compared to $45,676 for all of Spokane.

Brown thinks West Central is on an upswing now, and she credits Greenstone Corp.’s Kendall Yards, a mixed-use development along the Spokane River, for bringing new families and businesses to the area.

Her family enjoys Kendall Yards’ restaurants and shops. “It’s fun to walk down there,” she said.

Denise Eickstadt Greer and her husband, Sam, also enjoy signs of vitality in the neighborhood where they grew up. Both of their families moved to West Central in the 1950s. The couple lived several blocks apart, and they’ve known each other since age 7.

As Sam Greer leaned against the fence, smoking a cigar and drinking Coors with his brothers-in-law and nephews, Denise rattled off the names of people they still know in the area.

“I think it’s about family,” said Sam Greer, explaining West Central’s pull for them.

That’s true, said Jessica Eickstadt, who is married to Denise and Sam’s nephew, Tim. Some years, the gathering draws 45 people. This year, about 20 people came.

“It’s tradition, and we do it every year,” Jessica Eickstadt said. “There is so much history and so many stories.”

In the early afternoon, Philip Gardner walked up Broadway clutching a gray Bloomsday T-shirt. He and his family moved to West Central about a year ago, and he ran in his first Bloomsday this year.

Gardner enjoyed the race and the crowd’s energy. “You’re surrounded by people of different cultures and worlds,” he said.

But the closed streets required planning ahead. Gardner’s brother left the house about 7 a.m. Sunday, so he could make it to a 2 p.m. work shift in north Spokane. “We had to make adjustments,” Gardner said.