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What is the ‘Spirit of the Hill’ in 2020? Sugarpill’s Schwartz and Poppy’s Traunfeld reflect on small businesses ‘holding space’ on Capitol Hill

Times change in any neighborhood. The group serving as Capitol Hill’s chamber of commerce will honor two members of the neighborhood’s business community Tuesday. The Spirit of the Hill awards are about as close to a tradition as the neighborhood’s shops, bars, and restaurants come. Better honor these two quickly. One has already moved away for a new life in Palm Springs. The other?

“I’ve got to decide this year if I’m going to continue,” Karyn Schwartz says of the current lease status of her E Pine Sugarpill apothecary. “I have yet to make a dollar.”

The Spirit of the Hill awards, given out now by the Greater Seattle Business Association’s newly formed Capitol Hill Business Alliance, honor the work owners and, sometimes, public officials have done “on behalf of Capitol Hill’s small business community.”

Schwartz will be the first to say they don’t hand the award out based on sales and revenue.

“I’d love to think an honor like this is about people holding space for community. It’s the whole reason I have the store,” she said.

“I’m lucky to still be there.”

Jerry Traunfeld is also feeling blessed. Last year, he stepped away from the restaurant business, selling his north Broadway creation, Poppy, after 11 years of thalis, garden fresh herbs, and eggplant fries and making a new start in Palm Springs.

“If you water things, you can grow anything you want,” Traunfeld says of the new climate’s effects on his gardening.

Traunfeld, too, will be recognized by the GSBA Tuesday night with a Spirit of the Hill legacy award meant to recognize his long, successful presence on Capitol Hill.

The one-time Herbfarm chef and James Beard Award winner says northern Broadway was a different place when he decided to open his restaurant and plant a new herb garden in the neighborhood.

“It was a time of huge change when I first opened the restaurant,” Traunfeld said. “I had 35 employees and they all lived in walking distance.”

“It was still a really easy place to be able to afford. By the time we closed, that was definitely not the case.”

(Image: Poppy)

For Traunfeld’s fellow honoree Schwartz, those kinds of changes are at the core of why she might have to go — and also why she stays.

“I don’t see anything from the city so far that’s going to work,” she says of any City Hall efforts to help boost small businesses. “There’s nowhere to park, employees can’t live where they work. Every level, we get fucked.”

But she says Sugarpill and its selections of medicinal herbs, spices, and gifts are, for her, part of the neighborhood’s “safety nets, and knowing each other’s faces.”

Sugarpill, for Schwartz, is less a place of commerce and more about people looking for healthful remedies and real human connection.

“I’m willing to show up day after day. I’m happy to be recognized for that because that’s why I’m there,” she says.

That grind of the daily responsibilities of creating something even a little bit larger than yourself is also familiar to Traunfeld. He has finally stepped out of a working kitchen for the first time in nearly 30 years. He has moved his cookbooks south.

“It’s great to have created a space that a lot of people will have memories of,” Traunfeld says of his Capitol Hill legacy. “There is still no other restaurant that does thalis like we did. Traunfeld said he is also proud of “the connection to the garden” his restaurant created and that is emulated by venues with small herb patches of their own.

“When I opened the restaurant, I wasn’t thinking about what it would mean to the neighborhood,” Traunfeld says. “It was a neighborhood I always loved.”

Now that he has moved on, the veteran chef and restaurateur isn’t one for doling out advice to the next generations.

“When people branch out and do their own thing, they want to do their own thing,” Traunfeld offers. He’s now working at building his new life in California with husband and longtime Poppy cohort Stephen Hudson.

As for Schwartz’s future, she says it’s hard to say what comes next for Sugarpill — and for her. “I don’t have an answer. I don’t own anything. I’m still paying it off!”

“I’ve made a choice to do something meaningful,” Schwartz said. “But I’m an inch a way from something happening to me.”

The Capitol Hill Business Alliance Spirit of the Hill Awards will be presented Tuesday, February 4th at 5:30 PM at the Steve Jensen Art Gallery, 1424 10th Ave. You can learn more and RSVP here.

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5 thoughts on “What is the ‘Spirit of the Hill’ in 2020? Sugarpill’s Schwartz and Poppy’s Traunfeld reflect on small businesses ‘holding space’ on Capitol Hill

  1. Well deserved for both of them! Jerry has always been a thoughtful member of the community and Poppy was a strong anchor to the north end of Broadway. I was sad to have it wind down, but happy for Jerry and Stephen in their new home. Karyn has always been a voice for the neighborhood and a tremendous community member, perched in front of that gorgeous apothecary case in SugarPill. Looking forward to celebrating both of them tonight!

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