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Originally published Thursday, October 26, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Just Looking

West Seattle's junction with gumption, heart, cupcakes and art

West Seattle's "Junction," a crossroads where Southwest Alaska Street meets California Avenue Southwest, was once a place where two streetcar...

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West Seattle's "Junction," a crossroads where Southwest Alaska Street meets California Avenue Southwest, was once a place where two streetcar lines met. That was long ago, but even now it feels like the real thing — a convergence of old and new that manages to spruce up without sacrificing soul. The Junction is that rapidly disappearing entity in our urban landscape — a genuine neighborhood.

Independent bookstores and consignment shops easily link arms with sophisticated restaurants. A family deli shares the block with an oh-so-modern art gallery and playhouse theater. Ages aren't segregated here. Older folks eat breakfast alongside pierced girls in black. That's what I saw at Easy Street Records in the store's tiny but fabulously funky cafe: At the counter, a Goth chatted with a Suit while George and Carol Povick ordered their usual from Lydia G., the cafe manager (who regularly uses only the first initial of her last name).

Married 58 years, the Povicks downsized last year, moving from a home with lawn in South Seattle to their Junction apartment. "People thought we were crazy, but we love it here," Carol said. "Everyone is extremely friendly. They go out of their way to help you."

Grab a seat, honey

If you go


1. Easy Street Records: Open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Sundays. Cafe open 7 a.m.-3 p.m. daily. 4559 California Ave. S.W. (plus a Queen Anne location). 206-938-EASY or www.easystreetonline.com.

2. Cafe Vérité: Open 6 a.m.- 9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays; 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturdays; 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays. 4556 California Ave. S.W., Seattle; 206-932-2971 or www.veritecoffee.com and www.cupcakeroyale.com.

3. ArtsWest: The current play is "tick, tick ... BOOM"! from the author of "Rent," playing through Nov. 4. "Voices of Christmas," Nov. 30-Dec. 24. Call or visit online for times and ticket prices. 4711 California Ave. S.W.; 206-938-0339 or www.artswest.org.

4. Husky Deli: Open 9 a.m.- 9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sundays. 4721 California Ave. S.W.; 206-937-2810 or www.huskydeli.com.

At first glance, Easy Street looked a bit young and wild to them. "We didn't come in for a long time," she admitted. Now they're regulars, except on Wednesdays, Lydia's day off.

The brisk and busy Lydia has worked at the cafe for a dozen years. In the proud tradition of great service, she takes personal pride in making patrons comfortable. What's more, she clearly likes what she does and likes customers. When a man propped the front door open, Lydia breezed by the Povick's table, patted Carol on the shoulder and said, "Let me know if that's too cold for you, honey."

Asked about what's good on the menu, she said huevos rancheros with a homemade sauce is a top draw, plus anything made by their in-house baker. Also big: vegetarian fare, a nod to changing tastes.

Dining or not, customers can meander a store with floor-to-ceiling music, and for bargain hunters, there's a wide selection of used CDs for less than $10. Take a test run in one of the "listening stations," which offer a long list of music titles. Consider, as I did, taking home a Johnny Cash action figure with guitar, or a Kurt Cobain doll.

Comfort food

Across the street is a coffee shop, Cafe Vérité, one of three around Seattle. Sure, yes, there's good coffee and free wireless in a light-filled space but what makes you go "Woo-hoo!" is their specialty — a deli case full of cupcakes. Cupcakes! All kinds, but for fall, try the seasonal varieties — apple spice, pumpkin or carrot cake with the added detail of autumn-leaf shaped sprinkles. It's so "Hi-Mom-I'm-home," you might want to take an entire box of cupcakes with you.

Walk south and cross the street for another surprise: ArtsWest, which moved into the neighborhood in 1999, taking over a former five-and-dime store. ArtsWest executive director Alan Harrison said that it serves as a cultural anchor for the Junction, offering the community gallery space and live theater. People often wander in to visit the gallery, then come back for the contemporary plays, which are intended to produce animated conversation, the sharing of ideas. Now a holiday tradition, "Voices of Christmas" is an ArtsWest sellout every year.

Just a few doors down is the venerable Husky Deli, owned by the Miller family since the 1930s. Jack Miller, who now runs the store, said that his grandfather, Herman Miller, left Indiana for a farm in Eastern Washington, eventually coming to Seattle. Trying to make a go of it in the Depression, he created the Husky ice cream bar, so popular it saw the store, employees and the family through those lean years.

The store still offers ice cream but has expanded to a full-service deli, also selling exotics like blueberry Stilton cheese and fine wine. But most popular with the locals are generous deli sandwiches.

Be sure to go to the back of the store where a hallway displays family photographs. You'll see Herman Miller behind the soda-fountain counter, a family portrait of Jack and his eight siblings, plus the traveling Husky T-shirt. People take the shirts on their travels, shoot a photo, then send it back to the store. One is of world-renowned mountaineer Chris Boskoff, a Junction resident: She holds a Husky shirt with Mount Everest in the background. "She said she couldn't wear it on the climb," said Jack Miller, "because it was something like 13 degrees below zero."

At home

Word has it that Whole Foods and other big chain stores are coming to the Junction. And right now there's a noisy, smelly repaving project going on. With all of that, you just really hope it can absorb the next big thing and still be this terrific, walkable, friendly neighborhood, that it can be home for the elderly, kids, cupcakes, old delis and new art.

Remember the Povicks? The long-married couple at the Easy Street Cafe ordered eggs and toast while listening to incomprehensible music blaring from speakers. When I asked them about their neighborhood, they looked at each other and Carol said: "This is a good place, and we like these people."

Freelance writer Connie McDougall was born in British Columbia and has spent most of her life in Seattle, learning to fly out of Boeing Field, to dive in Puget Sound and write about almost anything except math. Contact her at conniemcdougall@yahoo.com.

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