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A Chronicle Of Seattle's Changing Central District, Built Around A Grocery Store

Inye Wokoma
Courtesy of "Shelf Life"
Michael Moss manages the Red Apple Market in Seattle's Central District -- and is a participant in the "Shelf Life" oral history project.

The Red Apple Market is a social hub of Seattle’s Central District.

When filmmaker Jill Freidberg heard the grocery store was going to be demolished this year, she saw it as a call to start telling the stories of her gentrifying neighborhood.

“When it was announced that the store would be closing, we felt like, ‘Well, [it's] now or never,'" she said.

Freidberg got a grant, and a few months ago she opened an office with audio recording equipment next door to the Red Apple Market. Three times a week, she opens the doors and invites people to drop in and talk about their lives — on tape. 

She says this oral history project, called "Shelf Life," aims to preserve the past. But it's also about capturing the present upheaval of this historically black neighborhood.

“For me, preservation implies that something will disappear or has already disappeared," she said. "I’m interested in how these stories can be used now to shift conversations about change, about housing, about community.”

One person who knows all about that change is longtime Central District resident Vicky Garner. In a "Shelf Life" recording, she describes trying to make a connection with some of her new neighbors.

"I don’t care who it is, I speak to them and greet them," Garner said. "Sometimes people just walk on by. And it, yeah, doesn’t feel real good.”

Every corner of Seattle is undergoing some kind of transformation, amid soaring rents, a construction boom, and a swelling population.

But Freidberg said that transformation means something different to residents of this historically black neighborhood, born of discriminatory "redlining" policies that forced African-American families into this corner of Seattle.

"The history of the Central District is unique in this city," she said. "It's a history of obstacles and people responding to those obstacles with innovation and creativity and community building." 

The Red Apple Market is set to be demolished this summer, and the "Shelf Life" storytelling studio along with it. A new development is coming in their place.

But Freidberg said she hopes to find a way to keep "Shelf Life" going long after that expiration date. 

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.