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Business in former CHOP says 4 months later, area still not back to normal

The Richmark Label building during the days of the CHOP. (Nicole Jennings/KIRO Radio)

Nearly four months after the occupation known as the CHOP, a Capitol Hill business owner says his neighborhood has calmed down — but things still aren’t back to normal.

Richmark Label owner Bill Donner, whose business has stood on Pine Street across from Cal Anderson Park since the 1970s, said protests and violence have quieted down … but so has business.

“All in all, it has been calmer, no disruption for us, doors are open, but not much activity on the Hill still,” he said. “Most places are boarded up, some have opened a little bit … it’s got sort of a ghost town feel up here now.”

Donner said he does not know whether it’s COVID-19, the rainy weather, the after-effects of the CHOP, or all three keeping people out of the once-bustling Pike/Pine area. He noted that the boards are staying up over the glass because despite the recent stretch of calm, businesses do not think they’re out of the woods yet.

Business owner in CHOP says city gave away neighborhood

“They’re open for business, but they’re not taking the boarding off their windows,” he said. “Nobody is assuming, from what I can tell, that this thing is all over.”

Donner said there have been a few small fires set by protesters along Pine the last several weeks, but with the cooler temperatures and shorter days, that has largely subsided. People are camping in Cal Anderson Park again, but there has not been any violence like the shootings that occurred over the summer.

Still, Donner does not believe the city has taken enough action to listen to the protesters’ complaints or help the businesses, both during the three-week occupation and afterwards.

“The mayor, council, the city abandoned the neighborhood … we were just angry, they just left us alone,” he said.

During the CHOP weeks, Donner said that he and his employees had a regular struggle getting past the barricades into their building.

“The protesters were nice — the people from out of the area were doing most of the damage. But it was difficult to get to work,” he said. “And then occasionally, truck drivers felt threatened when they made deliveries. We had to handle our own garbage for a short period of time because the collection truck did not make it in.”

The feeling of abandonment by the city is why Donner added his name to a class-action lawsuit with 20 other plaintiffs against Seattle over the CHOP.

Among other things, he is asking for compensation for damage to his business’ once-iconic outer walls, which are now full of graffiti.

“We painted it many years ago with street art, we let artists do it, and it was a pretty popular place. People came and had their pictures taken out front of it — we liked it a lot, it was nice in the neighborhood,” he said. “Now, the exterior has absolutely been destroyed … and we would like to repaint it, but we’re not going to repaint it until the suit is settled and until we know that the neighborhood has stabilized.”

Donner said other buildings in the neighborhood also still are covered with graffiti.

He wants to see the city get protesters and police together to come up with real solutions for reforms. He understands where the protesters were coming from, and believes the city has not truly listened to their message.

“Most of the people I’ve talked to involved in the suit are supportive of the police — and we’re supportive of the protesters also, they’ve got some valid complaints,” he said. “We would really like to see some changes made that the protesters can agree with that might prevent more police violence.”

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