September 2nd, 2010 by Clark Humphrey

As retail trade remains contracted around the nation, Capitol Hill’s Pike-Pine Corridor has bloomed. With the Elliott Bay Book Co. as its new anchor, and a growing array of restaurants and bars covering a wide range of styles and price points, Pike-Pine is the Hill’s, and the city’s, most happening spot.

So how’s that affecting the Hill’s traditional main drag, Broadway?

It’s hanging on. From a cursory glance, it might be doing better than a lot of American neighborhood business strips.

Yes, several Broadway merchants failed to eke out this economic storm. A moment of silence now for Bailey/Coy Books, Harem, Broadway News, Blooms on Broadway, Bella Pizza, and their fellow victims of tough times. (Hollywood Video is a separate case, a whole chain that went away pretty much at once.)

Then there’s the little matter of the big hole in the ground at Broadway and John. Toward the end of this decade it’ll be a spiffy light rail station. But for now it’s two long blocks of dirt and noise behind artist-embellished wooden fences.

But Broadway is refusing to close down for the duration, either of the recession or of the rail construction.

I’m writing this on an extremely busy Sunday afternoon at Espresso Vivace, one of the outfits forced out by the rail project. It’s relocated to the Brix, one of Broadway’s six new mixed-use developments. All were launched during the peak of the now long-burst real estate bubble. The last two, Joule and the Broadway Building, are in the process of opening.

Yeah, that means a bunch of new storefronts are coming on the rental market, adding to what was already an oversupply.

But from the looks of things on this Sunday, they stand a healthy chance of making it work.

Vivace’s big new flagship store at the Brix is packed at this writing. The line for service stretches almost to the door.

Nearby, the Dilettante, Byzantion, Deluxe, and Roy St. Coffee (one of those thinly disguised Starbucks) have their own milling crowds. So do the Broadway Grill and Pho Cyclo.

Three blocks south of Vivace, the Broadway Sunday Farmers Market is closing up shop for the day. The dozens of indie merchants there seemed to have had a good day, even if the weather was unseasonally uninviting.

Still further south, Cal Anderson Park is all busy with dozens of young men and women. They’re posing for one another’s digital cameras and prancing about. They’re dressed in elaborate costumes. Some wear wigs of green, blue, or silver.

It’s the monthly meetup of Gasukan, a local “costume role play” group. Its members come dressed as specific characters from anime, manga, and video games. It’s a shining example of the “everyday cosplay” idea I wrote about in this space back in April.

All this indoor/outdoor activity on an August weekend afternoon certainly doesn’t prove all is fine n’ dandy on Broadway. If it was, perhaps the old Bailey/Coy and Dilettante spaces would be refilled by now.

But at least some of the Joule complex’s storefronts have occupants announced, including an Umpqua Bank branch and a Qdoba Mexican Grill.

The latter is opening approximately where Taco Bell used to be. I can’t say whether or not this is a step up. But at least it’s a step forward, a sign of confidence in the neighborhood by a growing national franchise.

Meanwhile, one venerable Broadway business is about to change.

Ken and Christine Bauer are retiring from Charlie’s on Broadway. They started the venerable diner and bar, with the late Charles Quinn, in 1976. Its art nouveau nostalgia decor, trendy at the time, now seems like a friendly beloved relic.

The Bauers have put Charlie’s up for sale as a going concern. Let’s hope whoever takes it over knows how to pump up its business, without meddling too much with its essential nature.

(Cross posted with the Capitol Hill Times.)

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