On Friday, we brought you an update on The Junction’s next mixed-use project, the one we discovered in city files three months ago – 4747 California SW, with an “all-West Seattle team” planning the development, including property owner Jack Miller, best known as Husky Deli‘s proprietor. As you saw in our Friday report, the packet for the upcoming Design Review meeting confirms Husky Deli will move into the new building when it’s done. And today, Jack Miller sent us this first-person explanation of his plan:
The Heart and Soul of Husky Deli and the West Seattle Junction
By Jack Miller
It’s been more than three months since the news broke about our plan to build a new building so that we can move Husky Deli four doors south in the West Seattle Junction. Since then, I’ve been truly honored to hear so many positive reactions. It’s also been a good chance to hear the questions people have about the project. I hope this little article will provide some answers and perspective for anyone who is interested.
Our goal, of course, is to keep Husky Deli going in the Junction and to give the next generations of our family a chance to shape it in their own image and make it a success.
Many people know that Husky has been around since 1932, when my grandfather, Herman Miller, bought a tiny grocery store called Edgewood Farms that operated in what is now the card section of Northwest Art & Frame. Right away, he put in an ice-cream machine in the front window, and then a soda fountain. Fresh-sliced meats and cheeses soon followed, and by the end of World War II, my dad, John, and my uncles had turned it into a full-fledged deli.
My dad moved Husky two doors north to our present location in 1969, three years after I started working here. In 1975, when he had a heart attack, I left college to fill in, and I’ve been here ever since. Just like society, Husky has evolved, and now we focus on ready-made convenience foods while still keeping the traditional deli, ice cream and specialty items. My kids have lived through all this and are grown up now, Kate (and husband Tom), John, and Tony – run a lot of the business day to day. Just like me, they love Husky, they love the Junction, and they’re the future.
But the future isn’t the exact footprint where we are now. Anyone who comes into Husky knows that we still look a lot like 1969 and that the structure needs some basic work, from the cramped restrooms to the up-and-down flooring to everything in between. My brother, Joe, who owns the building, has no plan to develop it anytime soon, and with the new Seattle minimum wage and other increasing costs, and being a small business we will be unable to shut down our business for an extended period of time to remodel. At the same time, we all agree that we need the ability to serve the ever-growing West Seattle population by updating and streamlining the Husky.
To make that happen, we are looking to move four doors south to where Sleepers furniture store and Bikram Yoga (which some of you remember was Junction Feed & Seed) are located. Those two buildings have a lot of the same big challenges that the current Husky building has. The buildings are in bad shape from top to bottom, and they are not landmark historical buildings worth saving.
So our plan is to start anew. The only way we see for us to put together enough capital for my children to create the Husky of the future and to stay in the Junction is to tear down these two buildings and construct a taller one on that combined site, with apartments on the top to help pay for the new Husky down below.
On first thought, this plan might not sound like something that would reflect the Junction’s low-scale character. We all have seen other tall buildings recently go in and start to create the feeling of a narrow corridor. That’s not what I want to create, and I don’t think it’s what most people want in the Junction. We think it’s important to keep, as much as possible, the feeling of our small-town, downtown West Seattle. So we want to create something different that really focuses on the Husky’s shop space instead of the upper levels.
The apartments above the store are set back to minimize the visual impact along California Avenue, and retain the historical retail storefront height. The project will contain a commercial kitchen and ice cream plant so we can continue to prepare our own food and make ice cream on site. (And yes, we will make sure that the beautiful Eric Grohe mural on the south side of the yoga building gets either reproduced or replaced with and updated mural on our new structure.)
We have been talking with the Junction Neighborhood Organization (JuNO) about our plan, and they want us to put together a building that sets a good example for future new buildings on that side of the Junction. That makes perfect sense to me. We are planning something with good neighborhood qualities and hopefully anything built after us will follow suit.
My biggest concern is that Husky will continue on in our family and serve the overall family of West Seattle – that we can maintain the traditions started by my grandfather 86 years ago, that we can update everything but still keep it cool, and that my kids can have the chance to feel like it’s theirs, too, so that they will put their heart and soul into it.
The Junction is all about heart and soul. It’s about actively local ownership, where you can meet the people who own and run the stores, where there’s an active business association that puts on really good activities, and easy transit (even light rail, which will come sooner than we think). It’s also about the common feeling that it’s our main neighborhood business district – the hub of our small town in the big city.
Throughout West Seattle, a lot of older folks who have lived here forever have sold their homes for huge amounts of money to younger families who moved in from all over the country. They were not originally West Seattle kids, but they really want to embrace West Seattle, and the character of the Junction, and want to be a part of it.
All of that sort of seeped into me as I grew up. My dad wanted us at Husky all the time. Even if we were running around in the backroom, he wanted us close-by. We helped make ice cream in the middle of the night. He had us running back and forth with ice-cream scoopers getting people cones because he wanted us active in it all.
We are blessed in the fact that we have been here long enough that we are a big part of the community.
When we move a few doors down the street, it might be a new building, but it’s going to be the same people. It’s become a huge comfort zone for me, being in West Seattle with all these people that we know. I know my kids agree, and I trust that West Seattle will feel the same way.
Thanks for reading this. If you have any questions or comments about our project, I would love to hear from you. Drop in the store and say hi anytime.
Again, as we reported Friday, the first Southwest Design Review Board meeting for the 4747 California SW project is now set for July 19th. The draft packet for that meeting, as linked in our Friday update, can be seen here (PDF).