Charles Hadrann misses old Seattle.
As a guy who was born and raised in the city, he’s certainly not alone in lamenting the change that has taken place in his hometown, especially the rapid growth of the past five to 10 years. But as a small business owner, he’s also not shy about letting his customers and passersby in the Fremont neighborhood know how he feels about it all.
“Seattle sucks now,” reads the new bumper sticker on the window of Wright Bros. Cycle Works, a bike repair shop that Hadrann started in 1974 and that he’s run out of the same old building on North 36th Street since 1984.
Hadrann didn’t make the sticker. It bears no indication of its creator. But he said two women came into the shop one day to ask if he wanted any of them.
“They were just in the neighborhood, passing them around,” Hadrann told GeekWire this week. “One bought a house in Renton. One bought a house in Tacoma. They said, ‘You want some?'”
Of course I do, he told them. Now the sticker — and a bold pronunciation about the city where he has lived for 66 years — jumps out next to others on the window advertising bike parts or proclaiming his business as a “Best Places Seattle” location.
The lowercase typeface is unmistakably the same as that used by Amazon, and the “seattle” in front of “sucks now” even has the tech giant’s signature smile logo beneath it.
“A lot of us who are from Seattle, we talk about how it’s just out of control. They have overdeveloped Seattle,” Hadrann said, when asked why he put up the sticker. And while he’s quick to blame city government — including everyone from the Council to the Mayor’s office to the department of Planning and Development — Amazon gets a fair share of Hadrann’s ire.
“Their business practice is predatory,” he said. “They put out how many thousands of bookstores? Doesn’t matter if it’s a shoe company, doesn’t matter whether it’s a chocolate factory. Thank God they can’t do repair service … so that’s what I do.”
Hadrann is thankful that he not only owns his business, but the building it occupies.
In a place where Suzie Burke is famous for owning much of the neighborhood, Hadrann calls his small slice a “linchpin,” surrounded in all directions by Burke properties.
Thirty-four years ago, Hadrann paid less than $100,000 for the two-story, 1907 building. A faded printout of a picture, taped behind one counter in the shop, shows the property as a McDonald’s Price Rite and Percy’s meat store back in 1937. Hadrann put a lot of hours and sweat equity into fixing it up himself.
Nowadays, it’s common for a realtor or developer to walk in asking if he’s ready to sell. They’re offering $5 million now, he said, and when asked why he hasn’t taken it, Hadrann joked that the number’s not big enough yet. He doesn’t dismiss the fact that he could benefit greatly from the economic climate created in Seattle by companies such as Amazon.
“I’d rather build up, have a front deck there, to watch the Solstice Parade, things like that,” Hadrann said in reference to the neighborhood’s famous summer party. “It’s about community. I don’t want to leave. But it’s hard to say … you go into these places and it’s like, ‘Where’s the soul of Seattle?'”
Part of being old Seattle is missing old stuff, whether it’s buildings or businesses. Plenty have come and gone over the years, and perhaps it just seems like more and more are going during the city’s tech-fueled spurt. And “Seattle sucks now” isn’t the first bumper sticker to offer a snarky reply to all that change.
Twenty years ago, stickers surfaced taking on Burke and the major changes in “quirky” Fremont, where Adobe Systems built a giant new office location and changed the character of the small, arty neighborhood. “Fremont Sucks Thanks to Suzie” read those stickers. Ten years ago, when the Seattle novelty supply store Archie McPhee was located in Ballard, stickers sold there proclaimed, “Ballard Welcomes Our New Condo Overlords” as the longtime Scandinavian fishing neighborhood gave way to more and more high rises.
“They tear down buildings that had character and they put up these boxes,” Hadrann said, offering a popular take on rising Seattle that can be heard in practically every neighborhood in the city these days. “You can put lipstick on a pig all you want, it’s still a pig. They paint ’em in different colors! It’s still a pig!”
Wright Bros. won’t be mistaken for anything covered in lipstick.
The shop is stuffed to the rafters with old bicycles, rims, tires, tubes, chains, pedals and more. There’s an ancient-looking wood-burning stove, and tools everywhere. An open box of Rainier beer sits on a chair next to a spot where Hadrann clearly makes his own espresso. “It’s utterly ridiculous how many coffeehouses we have!” he says. Postcards from friends and customers, sent from all over the world, fade on a wall near the front door. The place should charge extra for the character within.
Hadrann’s clientele consists mostly of commuters. People who need a new light for winter riding, or brake pads. He calls himself a “Campy guy” because he has serviced Italian Campagnolo bicycles since the day he started getting into bikes. That distinction attracts a few professional riders to the shop.
Over time, he’s cut back on employing anyone, and rarely takes in apprentices. The shop is technically a co-op, where people can use some of the space to do their own repairs — but that doesn’t really happen anymore.
Hadrann runs things with his wife, and a daughter who is in college occasionally helps out. Business isn’t brisk, but a board holding repair slips has work lined up for every day of the week. During our visit, a woman brought her bike in to get a tune-up. They chatted for 20 minutes or so about what needed to be done before she left her bike.
“It’s rather annoying, you get young people in here, they look at prices and then they go on their cell phone,” Hadrann said, referencing the competitive shopping people often do against Amazon prices. “There’s a rudeness there. If you want to look at prices, go outside.”
And so there’s Amazon again. Just like in the city where the company is seemingly everywhere, employing everyone, it’s a constant in conversations.
“I consider companies like Amazon kind of like economic locusts,” Hadrann said. “It’s what they are. They come in here … it used to be that you could live very well on $40,000 to $50,000 a year here. Live really well. Now they say you can’t live here without making $78,000 a year. What’s the money for? We could put as many zeroes behind a digit as we want. Are we any happier?”
Hadrann said he’s traveled the world and seen plenty of big cities, including Shanghai, which he said is the busiest. If he ever does leave Seattle, he said it’ll be for a small town. “I’m not gonna tell you where it is!”
In the meantime, what doesn’t suck about Seattle? After a long pause, he offered a familiar answer.
“That there’s still places — old Seattle — that haven’t been mowed over yet.”