Local Spice Shop Erects Wall
Downtown Business gets Creative in Pursuit of a Cleaner Stoop
By Jasmine Kozak Gilroy
Anne Buck, owner of Buck’s Fifth Avenue, was tired of being met each morning by folks sleeping in her doorway, and tired of cleaning up after them, so she built a wall around her doorway with a lock to keep people out. Soon after, the city responded with a public statement and a Notice of Violation requiring her to either take down the wall or get a permit to build something that fits the City’s guidelines.
According to the statement, Buck’s wall has been deemed in violation because Buck did not go through the permitting and inspection process, the door on the wall does not feature the proper panic hardware needed to exit swiftly in case of emergency, and because the shop resides in a historic building and Buck did not submit the plans to the design review process prior to construction. In their own words, “The issue is not that Ms. Buck took action to stop the negative activity happening in her alcove. The Bottom line for the City is that unpermitted, uninspected, unreviewed construction happened on a historic downtown building that raises historic preservation and life safety concerns for us.”
The notice gave Buck two weeks to comply and was sent out the week of March 10. As of the publication of this article the wall still stands.
The wall is made up of criss crossed beams and a standard door that Buck can lock from the outside, allowing her to secure the nook that rests between her front door and the public sidewalks. Perched at the top of the wall surrounding the front door is a sign declaring it “Buck’s Tower”, supposedly a riff off of Donald Trump’s many Trump Towers.
Buck has been working out of the same historic building since she opened her first store selling garden decor in 1993. The business evolved into a variety store, then a tea shop, which proved lucrative enough to allow her to buy out the whole building.
In the past, Anne Buck has been outspoken about the need for public restrooms that are open 24 hours a day. In September of 2015, Buck started a Go Fund Me page, Public Bathrooms for Olympia, and began collecting donations in her store front. The description for the fundraiser reads, “The City of Olympia has decided to turn a blind eye to this obvious problem because it is costly, inconveniencing visitors and placing the unfortunate burden of their bathroom needs on the local merchants. And many merchants are not open 24 hours. This isn’t right, or fair. It isn’t just pet waste you see in the alleys and sidewalks…”
Buck also started a short lived project involving a notebook that hung outside her store inviting folks to record their stories and complaints about living on the streets of Olympia. One of the outtakes, which she was eager to share in her numerous interviews with local press, read, “Once you reach street level, you feel like you’re never going to reach back to the surface again”.
Despite her own attempts to open a public dialogue about homelessness and its consequences, Buck has grown fed up with the daily inconvenience she faces cleaning up after people taking refuge in the alcove outside of her business. In an interview with Kiro News she stated, “We just put it in because I am tired of people sleeping here”.
Burial Grounds, a popular Olympia coffee shop housed in Buck’s building, tore out a ‘parklet’ for similar reasons, two months before Buck built her wall. On January 31, Burial Grounds rang in the new year by having the park, which had caused them grief over the previous months, removed by city officials. The saga of the parklet was thoroughly documented on the coffee shop’s blog, on which they reported that they had to deal with, “Condoms, needles, needle caps, personal lubricant, lost drugs, empty food containers, full food containers, containers full of garbage, containers full of rocks strewn about, thousands of cigarette butts, HUMAN FECES AND URINE, food that has been stuffed into planters with plants in them (as well as garbage, cigarette butts, bottles, and clothing), tons of clothing in various stages of despair and, last but not least, paper, books, and a lot of our very own bought and suspended coffee cups.”
The parklet was a pilot project funded by the City of Olympia in which local business were made the stewards of small seating areas situated in revitalized parking space outside their store fronts. The parklet project was just one in a series of City financed initiatives aimed at placemaking, most of which have been largely unsuccessful and have gone by unnoticed.
Burial Ground’s owner’s complaints are, for the most part, in line with Anne Buck’s, citing the inconvenience of cleaning up after folks and the damage it does to their image of cleanliness, driving customers away. As one of the posts discussing the parklet reccounts, “Far too often have a had conversations with families, individuals and groups about their apprehension when coming downtown because it ‘isn’t safe’ or is full of ‘too many addicts and homeless people begging for handouts or demanding help’.” Both also cite the lack of resources available to business owners to cope with the consequences of houselessness, the Burial Ground’s blog stating, “We are also left with some very complicated issues. One being, the utter lack of consistently available resources for the homeless and street community, another being the same lack of consistently available support and resources for downtown businesses to help combat issues that may arise from the former.”
Buck plans on fighting the City and has hired a lawyer to manage the proceedings, determined to keep the wall up and her alcove urine free, saying, “It’s my right, and it’s my building.”