By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
While the Westside Awards are presented by the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the words of gratitude from this year’s recipients make it clear that the awards are more about community than commerce – while embodying how the two are intertwined.
The winners were honored at the first in-person Westside Awards breakfast since 2019, held this morning at a new venue, the Brockey Center at South Seattle College (WSB sponsor) on Puget Ridge.
Speaking toward a sea of tables, WSCC executive director Whitney Moore noted the Chamber’s membership now stands at 231. She yielded the podium to emcee Brian Callanan, longtime local broadcast journalist who’s with the Chamber as director of the annual Loop the ‘Lupe event in West Seattle (June 4th this year).
The four winners, chosen by the WSCC from community nominations (here’s the full list of those), were announced last month – but this was everyone’s chance to see, hear, and applaud them.
Business of the Year – Circa
Introducing Circa proprietors Gretchen and Bill Evans, fellow restaurateur and Chamber board member Dan Austin noted how difficult it was to keep a restaurant afloat in the pandemic era, while marveling, “these guys never cut hours from their staff.” Bill Evans called the award “tremendous” and “mind-boggling.” He thanked their staff and customers – and his “wife and teammate.” He added that contributing to fundraisers is a great joy of the job – “If you are in a position to help other people, you do it.” That opportunity “is so rewarding,” he declared, then quoting The Beatles, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.” he quoted the Beatles. They put in seemingly endless hours “to make people happy” – customers, staff, their three sons, Gretchen Evans said 2021 was “where the rubber met the road .. ‘we’ve done 2020, are we going to make it through another year?” She cited three reasons they knew they would:
-Community support (high volume of takeout) – a “stunning awakening that the community could come together so much” to support a beloved business
-Staff – She praised their talent and dedication.
-“We had each other” – “running a business as husband and wife is so satisfying,” Gretchen said, bringing “some of the best days of our lives.” The award is “validation that we did what we could in an unprecedented situation.”
Westsider of the Year – Keith Hughes
Past Chamber board member Debbie Kerns talked about Hughes’ passionate volunteerism – he is chair of the West Seattle Grand Parade, commander of American Legion Post 160, and manager of the West Seattle Veteran Center (co-housed with the Post), which opened a shelter to serve people who needed someplace to go in cold weather, with beds for up to 24 people. She called him “a tireless volunteer.” Hughes got a standing ovation.
He called the past year “a learning experience” – third year for the shelter but “first year when it got really big” because of the COVID crisis and the worsening weather. It’s “not something that just happened – it was planned, but it wasn’t planned vry well … so I had to learn a lot of things.” Such as, asking for help – “kind of a tough job for me” as he is used to self-reliance. But – “I learned that when you ask for help, you get help in the West Seattle community.” He broke up a bit recounting how so many people responded when he put out a request for help via WSB – “not governments, not organizations, just people.” People dropping stuff off, or ordering things to be delivered, or showing up at all hours with food, or coffee. “I opened the shelter the last week of October ,,,” the city guidelines were to open shelters when temperatures dropped to 34 degrees overnight, but he decided to open when it was less than 40 degrees.” The shelter was open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from the end of October to end of March, aside from a handful of “warm” days. They’re still open in the mornings as a warming center. He hopes to open year-round but that takes people. “If you have a desire to see people not out on the street – ” you can help. He was heartened that the community “recognizes a need,” and that’s what the Westside Award means to him.
Emerging Business of the Year – Highland Park Corner Store
Introducing owner Meaghan Haas, Chamber board president Dawn Leverett observed that Highland Park Corner Store is a “community connector,” not just a business. HPCS has been in business since March 2021, a “community-centric business.” Haas had warm words about her staff and family supporting “this adventure.” adding, “We opened this because we believed this is what our neighborhood really, really needed.” She recounted opening in phases and is “looking forward to doing more great things.” She said she’s been “floored by the creativity and talent that exists here in West Seattle” and enjoys showcasing it – including local art and music.
Not-for Profit of the Year – Neighborhood House
Chamber board member Lauren Burgon shared some history of this 116-year-old nonprofit. NH’s Greg Kusumi accepted the award and noted that NH’s original mission continues – to help refugees and immigrants, “From prenatal care to senior services, we aim to serve the whole family,” he said. NH continued providing services even through the pandemic – including 14,000 vaccinations given at its locations around Puget Sound, 90,000 diapers via its West Seattle center in High Point. Next week they’re bringing back their popular sewing class. Kusumi also mentioned an upcoming fundraiser, “What Matters Most” on May 18th.
Also at this morning’s event:
One extra acknowledgment was for Sue Lindblom, proprietor of Illusions Hair Design (longtime WSB sponsor), which is closing at month’s end because Lindblom and her staff are retiring.
Lindblom has been a Chamber member since 1982. (We talked with her for this report when she announced the retirement plan in February.)
Also in attendance, two local elected officials, County Council Vice Chair Joe McDermott and State Sen. Joe Nguyen, in our photo with Lindsay Wolpa of the Northwest Seaport Alliance, from the Chamber’s government-affairs committee.
In closing, Moore noted that the Chamber turns 99 years old this Sunday, so a centennial celebration is in order next year.
For more near-term Chamber events, check wschamber.com.