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Volunteer Park Cafe has new owner with plans to showcase wine and preserve tradition of the Capitol Hill corner store

The old market days at 17th and Galer (Image: VPC)

Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park Cafe will soon begin a new life as a showcase for a Washington winemaker and is making a shift closer to its corner store roots.

“It’s just something we did have that slowly eroded away,” James DeSarno says of Seattle’s once ubiquitous corner stores like Groucho’s that used to serve the neighborhood around 17th and Galer. “The ones that are left are special.”

In 2012, the city was on the path to commercial zoning changes in lowrise and midrise neighborhoods that would have allowed what many hoped would be a new proliferation of cornershops but the city council ultimately backed off the plan in the face of anti-growth opposition.

DeSarno, principal at D3 Architects and co-owner of the Freehand Cellars winery, has now purchased the cafe smack in the middle of northern Capitol Hill’s single family-dominated residential zone in a $1.4 million deal that has been in the works for months after a previous plan to purchase the property fell through.

DeSarno says his plan for the new life for the shop at the corner of 17th and Galer is to try to keep a good deal of the same relationship with the neighborhood in place with cafe and coffee offerings but with a renewed focus on wine featuring his Yakima Valley winery’s creations. The architect-owned Freehand has been making wine since 2018.

“Freehand is already doing delivery and a wine club. A Seattle spot felt like a natural,” DeSarno said.


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CHS reported here on founder Ericka Burke’s announcement earlier this month that her 14-year-old cafe was closing for good.

DeSarno says he had hopes for a quick re-opening but has been searching for new partners to help run the cafe side of the business.

Along with more wine, DeSarno said VPC will also feature more beer options as well as filling some basic neighborhood grocery needs.

“The vision is to try to retain as much as what was here before as we can,” DeSarno said. “It’s a real gem of a neighborhood.”

As an architect, DeSarno says the project of taking care of an rehabilitating the 117-year-old house was also a big part of his decision. He’s planning a deep cleaning and a refresh, he says, that will keep the same look and feel while making improvements. With COVID-19 restrictions and the importance of outdoor space, DeSarno said he is also making plans for neighborhood-friendly changes including some cover and a heated pace to the cafe’s back patio.

 

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A post shared by Freehand Cellars (@freehandcellars)

“I really like the challenge of the project and I’ve always loved VPC,” DeSarno said. Cafes and markets are places for neighbors to connect, he says. “I’m really an advocate of neighborhood commercial,” DeSarno said. “It keeps you from getting in the car where you’re not seeing that connection.”

Even though those kind of spaces are increasingly rare in Seattle, the next life for Volunteer Park Cafe will help keep the tradition alive at 17th and Galer.

Volunteer Park Cafe is currently closed at 1501 17th Ave E but is hoped to reopen soon. Watch @freehandcellars for updates.


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Jes
Jes
1 month ago

Didn’t the neighbors block usage of the patio?

Concerned Neighbor
Concerned Neighbor
1 month ago
Reply to  Jes

Yes. As a neighbor, I am deeply concerned to see this.

Typ
Typ
1 month ago

Oh no, dining on a patio!?

Nooe
Nooe
1 month ago
Reply to  Typ

The non conformant zoning becomes an issue when you live next door to the outdoor smoking area 24/7.

Mimi
Mimi
1 month ago
Reply to  Jes

Maybe it’s time to resurrect the old articles and comment threads?

Annie
1 month ago

As a longtime Hill resident, I wonder, will it resume the lost role of being where Stevens kids congregate after school and get chased out by the owner? So many traditions have been lost.

Concerned for Concerned Neighbor
Concerned for Concerned Neighbor
1 month ago

Life can be pretty hard when you live in a multimillion dollar house with 4 bedrooms, front yard, back yard, garage, and basement. People sitting outside and enjoying a nice patio while supporting a local business? Not in my neighborhood.

Will Powers
Will Powers
1 month ago

Hard is, making the nut to pay for such a place. You’ll get there!..

RWK
RWK
1 month ago

I can understand why the neighbors would be opposed to the outdoor space. No one wants to live next door to a potentially-noisy party every evening, especially in an otherwise quiet residential area.

Nooe
Nooe
1 month ago

As an architect I’m sure he knows all about zoning. Did it ever actually get changed to be a cafe ? I guess worst case you could make it back into a house and probably still do ok with $1.4m…

Gordon
Gordon
1 month ago

Love it! Very exciting.

Tom
Tom
1 month ago

Roy Street and BlueStone have already turned into wine places.

98102 dude est 2000
98102 dude est 2000
1 month ago

into it – this shop is a gem, patio or no. appreciate the culture it brings.