23rd Ave’s Mount Calvary Christian Center and its Pastor Reggie Witherspoon lead a sea of support Sunday afternoon shutting down the street in front of its newly opened neighbor — I-502 marijuana store Uncle Ike’s.
“We gotta have a strategy,” Pastor Witherspoon shouted through a bullhorn to the assembled group of Sunday worshippers and protesters who gathered in the street on 23rd Ave just north of the intersection. “We’re going to be working with the legislature. We’re going to be doing all the legal things we have to do. A rally alone may not be the answer. They got to change this law.”
Supporters at Sunday’s rally say they do not understand how the state and city allowed a marijuana store to open up next door to their church. Many in the crowd of around 200 or more also said they believed Uncle Ike’s management had not been clear with church representatives when discussing the construction going on at the commercial buildings at 23rd and Union.
The crowd was peaceful and, CHS was told, organizers communicated their plans to police so officers could be on hand to assist with any traffic issues or any disturbances.
Uncle Ike’s officially opened last Tuesday as only the second I-502 marijuana store in Seattle. Owner Ian Eisenberg’s application had not been selected in the state’s retail license lottery earlier this summer. Eisenberg tells CHS that he partnered with a winner and was allowed to transfer the license to his property at 23rd and Union. Almost two years ago, CHS wrote about the likelihood of 23rd and Union becoming a fertile ground for Seattle pot ventures as one of the few areas that would qualify for a license under state rules and city zoning.
But Seattle City Council member Bruce Harrell tells CHS he is beginning a review of how the shop was allowed to open at the intersection in such close proximity to the church. Harrell said there is nothing yet on the City Council’s calendar but that he is beginning the process this week. Harrell also said he hasn’t yet talked with Ike’s owner Eisenberg but that he intends to as he looks for “clarifications” about how the new business came to be.
It’s not clear if the 2013 City Council process for setting up Seattle’s marijuana retail zoning restrictions categorized churches such as Mount Calvary Christian Center like parks and schools which were required to have significant buffers to prevent I-502 stores from opening nearby.
Harrell, by the way, located his mayoral campaign office on the backside of the building also home to the formerly state-run liquor store across the street on the southeast corner of 23rd and Union. The liquor store also operates within close proximity to the church. Meanwhile, on the northwest corner, the gas station sports neon advertisements for big brand beer. Around the corner, The Neighbor Lady bar replaced longtime Central District legend Thompson’s Point of View.
Having mostly overcome its challenges with illegal drugs and street crime, change at 23rd and Union has shown some signs of accelerating after fits and false starts in the past. With one new apartment development underway and more in the works, the area around the shop is on the verge of even larger shifts even as seeming setbacks like the downsizing of the neighborhood’s post office continue to shake out.
Meanwhile, the protests at 23rd and Union won’t be the only mix of I-502 and religion for the area. CHS reported last week that the investor who holds the lottery-assigned license to open near 23rd and Union has purchased an old storefront and building just down the hill from Ike’s. That location is home to Masjid Taqwa and the mosque continues to hold services in the building, according to a phone message.
With chants of “Shut it down!” Witherspoon asked the crowd on Sunday afternoon to help him “link arms” and keep a presence in front of the store “until this is fixed.” Supporters said a rally will continue every day at noon and 5 PM until the shop is closed.
Sunday, the shop remained open. Once the rally subsided, it continued doing a steady business and the parking lot was busy with customers.