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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