Rantz: Homeless bazaar selling ‘stolen’ clothes, booze takes over prime Seattle location
COVID mandates resulted in nearly 150 Seattle businesses permanently closing. But as the Seattle economy finally reopens, residents and tourists have a new retail outlet to buy clothing and alcohol.
It’s a few blocks away from Pike Place Market, occupying prime real estate near Sub Pop Records and trendy restaurants Serious Pie and Shaker + Spear.
But there’s a problem: It’s an illegal bazaar appealing mostly to homeless people. It sells what appears to be stolen goods. And the city hasn’t done anything about it yet.
Shop the homeless bazaar for all your needs (that seem stolen)
The bazaar occupies the sidewalk along 3rd Avenue and Virginia Street in downtown Seattle near a busy bus stop.
You can buy jeans and shirts, some hanging from the fences that line a construction project. The clothing has tags on them. You can also purchase hats, gloves, and scarves. Looking for luggage? The bazaar has got you covered. They even sell laundry detergent.
An array of alcohol lines the sidewalk that is as well-stocked as most liquor stores.
The offerings include several different whiskies, including Maker’s Mark 46 Bourbon Whisky. A bottle of High West Whiskey goes for “around $20,” according to the bazaar proprietor. That’s quite a steal (literally) since a bottle normally goes for $70. It has better prices than Walmart.
Why hasn’t the city moved on the illegal bazaar?
It is illegal to set up an unlicensed retail establishment on a city sidewalk, even in Seattle, especially when selling what is likely stolen clothing and alcohol.
A listener to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH rides the bus nearby for work and says she’s seen the illegal shop for weeks. In the photos she provided, you can see homeless people serving as customers. She suspects the items are stolen.
So far, the city of Seattle hasn’t cleared the homeless bazaar, even though the Mayor’s Office was made aware of the sidewalk nuisance. It was still there on Saturday. Across the street, homeless addicts line the sidewalk harassing passersby.
The Mayor’s Office ignored questions on whether or not they supported efforts to remove the bazaar from the sidewalk. It’s the response of an office that has given up on returning Seattle to a respectable city.
Seattle Police made contact
Police took notice of the homeless bazaar on July 5.
“This area is notorious for its high occurrence of narcotics and disorder crime, including shoplifting and retail theft conspiracy to fuel the local street narcotics trade,” an officer wrote in an incident report.
An officer contacted and identified the would-be small business owner, but the incident report doesn’t name him.
The officer says he “noticed a bottle of whiskey ‘High West’ retailing for around $70. When asked how much he sells a bottle for [suspect] stated, ‘around 20 bucks.'”
“All the bottles of liquor appeared to be sealed. None of the bottles had anti-theft devices. This seemed odd as [suspect] was claiming to sell liquor he purchased at a dramatic loss,” the officer wrote. “I asked again how [suspect] received the liquor. [Suspect] stated that when the Belltown night club Amber went out of business, he spoke with the owner and bought the liquor in bulk at a steep discount of roughly $300 for dozens of bottles of liquor.”
The officer explained to the suspect that selling liquor on the sidewalk is illegal. But there was no evidence to prove the alcohol was stolen, so the high-priced liquor was not confiscated. He recommended misdemeanor charges, but the case was not sent to the Seattle City Attorney’s Office until after the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH inquired about why the bazaar was allowed to operate.
A spokesperson with the Seattle Police Department explained that the case was delayed due to a backlog. The SPD sends roughly 100 cases to the municipal court each day. But, the spokesperson explained, “due to COVID and layoffs due to budget cuts, we have a backlog of approximately 2,000 cases waiting to be verified.”
Homeless markets aren’t new for Seattle
This isn’t a new phenomenon for Seattle. Parks overrun with homeless people have turned into open-air markets for months.
The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH previously covered the Ballard Commons, which homeless people turned into an illegal market that trafficked stolen goods like bicycles and drugs. Denny Park was known for selling narcotics.
Last November, KOMO TV’s Jonathan Choe also chronicled the “underground economy” that grew during the pandemic as the city of Seattle refused to intervene in growing encampments. With cops hamstrung by an antagonistic city council and the smallest deployable staff since the 1980s due to a mass exodus, officers haven’t been able to do much.
When the Seattle City Council and Mayor’s Office gave the green light to the homeless to do mostly as they pleased, vowing not to sweep encampments or enforce most laws, these markets started to flourish.
You would think as life returns to normal, the city would be interested in cleaning up the downtown core. But as the economy reopens, perhaps this homeless bazaar plays a crucial role in attracting tourists back to the area. Sure, they’ll have to shop around the homeless people mulling around. But isn’t a 71% markdown on quality whisky worth the eyesore?
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