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Historical Society commemorates first businesses here
Town Center had Art’s grocery, Ben Franklin dime store
By Nancy Gould-Hilliard
Special to the Reporter
The construction didn’t stop for a second during last Wednesday’s commemoration of history in downtown Mercer Island. Adjacent jack hammers and clanging trucks drummed out the small voice of Phil Flash, co-chair of the Mercer Island Historical Society, who led the sidewalk celebration of the Island’s 60-year past.
Flash unveiled a metal plaque on the corner of what now is Sterling Savings Bank to about 50 on-lookers. Here, decades earlier, Island Square had been the hub of “inland-Island” commerce, where Art’s Food Center, the Gar Alm Drug Store, the Ben Franklin Dime Store, and the offices of doctor and dentist Howard Eddy and Herb Davidson are clustered.
The crowd added their memories and hooted at the vintage shopping cart that “didn’t move so smoothly through Art’s carpeted floors,” many agreed.
Virginia Moss Anderson, an Island resident of 80 years in East Seattle, recalled buying notions and Buster Brown shoes at the variety store. “The streets weren’t asphalt yet, and the neighborhood was rural with trees and ferns. . . I also remember Willie Green, who managed Art’s and did so much for us all.”
“I’m reminded of how much things don’t change,” said Fred Jarrett, state legislator and 50-year Island resident. “This building first was a ‘five-and-dime’ and now it’s a bank! Hopefully the plaque will remind us we weren’t the first to be here.”
Steve Cohn, who, in partnership with Michael Christ, owns Island Square properties - home of the bank, eateries, boutiques and Island Square Apartments - laughed at his own skepticism of the Island’s potential for commerce.
“I told my dad I didn’t think there’d be much of a future on Mercer Island,” said Cohn. Today, all 235 of Island Square’s luxury view units are rented for between $2,500-4,000 a month. Another batch of courtyard units now are available for $995-1,465 per month. Business is brisk.
Other long-timers Sam Lake and Ed Maloof remembered real estate from the ‘40s. “After my discharge from the service in 1945, I bought Aunt Molly’s place in East Seattle for $2,750,” said Maloof. “And the building that’s now used as a garage in the back used to be the post office.”
Lake, in the insurance business before retirement, nodded his head, as his wife, Shirley, has sold homes on the Island for decades, providing firsthand knowledge of price escalation throughout the couple’s 60 years on the island.
City Manager Rich Conrad and City Councilman Jim Pearman encouraged the public to view this downtown neighborhood’s historical past in photos and artifacts currently on display at City Hall.
“Many of you were intimately involved in these changes over the past 50 years, and will be again as our town continues to change,” said Conrad.
“I so appreciate our elders, who keep us reminded of who we are and where we’ve come from,” added Pearman, who considers himself a newer resident of only 40 years.
Susan Blake, former City Council member and school board member, MIHS alumnae and “newest kid to join the MI Historical Society,” supports such activities as this, the 11th commemorative plaque to be placed on historical sites, and other efforts to preserve the Island’s historical record.
Island Square hosted following toasts, chocolate and lunch, a perfect gesture to bind the past, present and future.