Why would someone want to burn down a beloved immigrant-owned business?
Early Monday morning, an arsonist struck the Med Mix restaurant on 23rd and Union, causing an estimated $90,000 in damage and forcing the restaurant to close for at least a month.
I’m upset that this happened in my neighborhood.
I was happy when Med Mix opened, bringing food I am familiar with to my neighborhood. Having a Moroccan-owned business just a couple blocks out my front door was the cherry on top.
But while the fire at Med Mix was tragic, it should not be swept aside by just calling it childish or simply criminal.
Twenty-third and Union is a complicated spot, like many others around Seattle. And this fire raises many questions beyond just “who did it?”
The person who set the fire left graffiti on a wall adjacent to Med Mix, referencing Trayvon Martin and ‘60’s civil rights leader Edwin Pratt, who was, until recently, featured in a mural on that same wall. The mural had been there since the ’90s, with more students and artists adding diverse celebratory histories to it over the past few years.
When the building, which housed neighborhood mainstay Thompson’s Point of View from 1986 to 2011, was bought in a speedy affair a couple years ago,
one of the first things the new owner did was paint over the mural. Correction: The mural was painted over in May 2011, before the building sale took place.
Next was to cover the brick building with aluminum sheeting.
The same real estate investor, Ian Eisenberg, also owns the building that houses Med Mix.
The Med Mix business is owned by Otmane Bezzaz, a Moroccan immigrant who employs a diverse group of people, some of which have been working with him for twenty-some years at the Pioneer Square branch.
Otmane has been featured in a lot of coverage of the arson, reiterating his commitment to rebuild his business on the corner, but staying cautious not to speculate as to motivation for the crime.
But the mural cover-up and the land ownership issues raise many questions, some of which are immediate, while others are more broad — perhaps even existential.
What does it mean for land in the Central District to be owned by people who have no ties to the history of the area and who are mainly interested in profit?
What if that path to profit means transforming the CD into something many of those who currently live here do not want?
What does it mean to erase a history in a place while individuals and families are being pushed further south in order to afford the cost of living?
What does it mean for the black, African American, and immigrant small business owners at this intersection to have no other choice but to lease from landlords who can hike up the rent at any time and leave them hanging?
This wasn’t just the random work of a pyromaniac.
It happened at a time when properties on three of the four corners of 23rd and Union are in the process of rezoning, sale, and/or development. And the fourth has already been sold, rezoned, and is awaiting EPA approval for development of multi-use building.
Those changes threaten the livelihood of not only Med Mix, but the church, the gas station, Earl’s Cuts and Styles, the liquor store, the First Cup coffee stand, Mena’s hair supply store, the 99 cent store, Louisiana Grill, and the Laundromat. Not to mention Cappy’s Boxing Gym, Cortona Café, and the other businesses around the area. All are businesses owned by African American, black, or immigrant individuals who have been in the neighborhood for years.
When I moved to Seattle, I chose to live here, in part because of the small immigrant, African, and African American businesses that surrounded me.
Once they’re gone, I still might stay. But I wonder, when will the day come when it is my turn to be erased?