Story and photos by Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
If all goes well, a corner store will open next month at Delridge and Findlay.
Look closely at the upper right corner of the mural on its north side, and you will see its name: Martin’s Way.
As in, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And that is your first hint that this is not just intended to be a store.
From the outside, it doesn’t look like one, and that’s exactly what proprietor Vik Puri intends.
We sat down with him this week to talk about Martin’s Way, its beginnings, and eventual hopes.
This is a labor of love for Vik and his partner Nikhi. As he tells it, that’s about all they have to put into it right now. It’s been in the works a long time, with a shortage of capital. But on the other hand, there are partnerships at its foundation – including the nonprofit that operates a day care immediately behind the building, a source of neighborhood mystery and intrigue as it was built a few years back.
Its site is in the area known as the “Brandon Node,” meant to be a commercial center for Delridge.
Through the windows of Martin’s Way, you can see some of the other businesses already there – like Pho Aroma and Olympia Pizza on the kitty-corner – and across the street, the Super 24. There are more changes ahead, with the DESC homeless-housing complex planned one lot north, and the old Boren school a block south set to reopen with a new elementary program in the fall.
Education is part of Vik’s eventual plan, too. But first, to the beginning:
He has a resumé of entrepreneurial and corporate success, and valleys as well as peaks, since coming to the U.S. a quarter-century ago. Even now, you might consider it a simultaneous peak and valley – he is looking for other work, while working to get Martin’s Way open, and carrying out another project, a home remodel elsewhere in eastern West Seattle.
Initially, they will carry up to 40 types of spices – including a recipe from Nikhi’s family, for the Indian spice blend garam masala – some legumes/grains, and Grand Central Bakery bread. The spices include a variety of sugars (we noticed one flavored with habanero!) and salts:
Then, there’s the lentils and rice:
At the handcrafted counter in the back of the high-ceilinged space, coffee (Stumptown) and tea are planned.
They’re looking for a pre-owned espresso machine, and Vik sings the praises of Nikhi’s chai and cardamom tea.
Fresh produce is in the future plan. And fresh-made samosas, and maybe even more of a deli featuring Indian food.
But the location and the building are meant to send as much of a message as whatever and whomever you find inside. While Delridge may be a neighborhood in transition, it is “rich in spirit,” Vik says. And it deserves a beautiful building, he believes, as a statement against “the decline of our neighborhoods” as much as anything else, and a symbol of love for a neighborhood that’s not as “rough” as it once was, but has a ways to go: “People respond to love.”
And Martin’s Way, according to Vik, is a “response” to Delridge. Its motto, “A Good Life for All,” is also on the mural on the building’s north side:
He says its inspiration is the one inside Giannoni’s Pizzeria in Westwood Village. Exterior touches include even an enclosed rain gutter through which Vik says the downpour of water can be watched – a thing of beauty rather than inconvenience:
The decor inside is centered on this cart which Vik and Nikhi bought from someone in Monroe, though they are told it was a former fixture at the Space Needle:
Perhaps it will be used outdoors in warmer months, they say. Once upon a time, Vik’s hope for the site was in fact something as simple as a produce-vending cart, but he says city bureaucracy thwarted that.
The beauty of the store belies the thrift of the project – less than $100,000 cost, Vik says, pointing to steel light fixtures – he was adamantly against fluorescents – that were $6 each. All on principle, as was the decision of what kind of store they would be; he said he had been told it would be a perfect location to sell “burgers or beer” – the latter drew his reaction, “We’ve got enough beer here.”
What the area does not have enough of, Vik says, is education. He speaks of children back in India who are taught the precise skills sought by American tech firms (and others), giving overseas outsourcers an advantage on people seeking work here in the U.S. He hopes to see Martin’s Way be a hub for math and English teaching someday, and tutoring by volunteers, as there’s room in the back, beyond the retail space up front.
Feed the mind, feed the soul, and feed the body – the dream at Martin’s Way, inspired also, Vik notes, by Gandhi and Mandela, as well as Dr. King.
By the way, you won’t find Vik and Nikhi’s business on the Web – yet, anyway – or on Facebook. Vik says they hope to spread the word through “old-fashioned social media” – face to face, neighbor to neighbor. You might call that “Martin’s Way,” too.