Historical context: Uncle Ike’s neighborhood and its discontents


Photo by KING5 news, from their story.

CASP welcomes this perspective on the Uncle Ike’s location controversy from psychologist Curtis Creek, who remembers from whence it came — ed.

by Curtis Creek, special contributor

Tuesday, September 30th saw the long awaited opening of Seattle’s second Cannabis retailer, Uncle Ike’s. Located at the corner of 23rd and Union, the shop successfully ran the gauntlet of State requirements and was granted official approval to open for business. On Sunday, October 5th, the Mt. Calvary Baptist Church organized a large protest that drew over a hundred people against the Business, located next door.  And they have pledged to keep protesting. That has surprised some, and angered others.  Other stores statewide opened with no protests whatsoever. And if there was an attempt at a protest somewhere, it went unnoticed. Churches are not included under the 1000 foot rule that keeps pot shops away from schools, parks and other public areas, since Churches are private. While some may be angered that churches were not included in the 1000ft rule, there’s much more to it than that.  A bit of Seattle drug history might help to clarify.

That corner in the 1980’s was the epicenter of the crack cocaine/gang problems in Seattle.  Mt Calvary Baptist was founded right there at the height of the “epidemic” in 1987 by Pastor Reggie Witherspoon, and that church and pastor battled that problem through its heyday. Abandoned crack houses and heroin crash pads were more common than family dwellings at one point right around their corner. Pastor Witherspoon was very active in the early days of the Church with anti-gang outreach, and youth services to try to counteract the problems in that neighborhood. I was a therapist around time doing work with some of the same youth just a couple of blocks away at 23rd and John St. His efforts were welcomed by the enduring elements of community left there at that time. His work doing gang outreach led to training other churches and service agencies around the area, and speaking engagements earned pastor Witherspoon a strong following and notoriety.

There was also more than a little bit of grandstanding over the years by the Pastor, since their very visible battles with the drug and gang problem brought them a lot of community support, swelled their numbers and brought in tons of donations. Coupled with the fact that the Baptist church has mostly taken a hard line against drugs, and the Church has long been the epicenter of public life in the African American Community makes this a volatile situation.

The Pastor’s outrage is reasonable on one level, the problems of hard drugs and gangs in the neighborhood are ongoing. It has only been through a huge community effort led in part by Pastor Witherspoon that the conditions there have improved over the years. People and businesses have returned to the area, and new construction is underway.

It is likely another Church and pastor might have ignored this encroachment, but not this Pastor or this Church. In addition to some level of justifiable outrage, Pastor Witherspoon likely remembers the notoriety he received and how it helped his attendance and his church’s finances. Anybody familiar with the history of that corner might have predicted this, but outside the neighborhood, who could be expected to know?  I agree that the owners of Ike’s might have shown a bit more sensitivity, but they are running a legal business, and likely had no expectation of this reaction. When you open a business like a gas station, or grocery in an area that has multiple businesses, you don’t generally ask the permission of the neighbors.  That corner is a high traffic, mixed residential commercial zone, with a liquor store, The Neighbor Lady Tavern, and a gas station that sells beer and wine. I believe the owners of Ike’s  were blindsided by the reaction.


This is a problem that may defy an easy solution. No compromise seems available that can satisfy both sides. I don’t expect the owners of Uncle Ike’s to abandon their investments and licenses. The owner of Ike’s went to extraordinary lengths to secure that business, having been a loser in the original lottery and having had to search out and partner with a winner who didn’t have the address or the funds. Pastor Witherspoon? He’s made his first move very publicly and loudly, as is his style. He is not going to back down, not now, not after the cameras showed up and people like me began to opine.