by Varisha Khan
Walking through the intersection of S Orcas St. and Rainier Ave. S. on a drizzly, fall evening, the only sights of people to be found, besides vehicle traffic, are a woman with a carry-out plastic bag waiting at the south-bound bus stop and a couple walking hand-in-hand out of the Adu Cafe.
Plastic banners hang as business signs on brown, brick, yellow, pink and green storefronts along Rainier Ave., heading north through Hillman City.
Barely a mile away in Columbia City, two women walk out of Starbucks, drinks and iPhones in hand. A seven-story building with angular windows and a PCC underneath can be seen from a distance.
Hillman City provides breaks from that neighboring gentrification. At 12 Scoops, one is greeted by a candy-like aroma and a smile by Sofia Amador, an ice cream server at the two-month-old ice cream shop on S. Orcas St.
The shop is the only ice cream parlor in the Hillman City neighborhood. Started by Wally Morris, who is of Jamaican origin, 12 Scoops brings a refreshing taste of Jamaican culture.
“I’m an ice cream fanatic and just wanted to share that passion with the public,” said Morris, who co-owns the shop with a business partner in Colorado. “The space was here, and we felt there was a demand.”
The shop offers 144 flavors in total, and serves only 12 of those flavors at a time, rotating through them month to month, hence the name 12 Scoops. The colorful assortment for October featured a black coconut flavor called Tombstone, tropical flavors and some, like grape nut, that can be found in the co-owner’s native home of Jamaica, according to 12 Scoops server Bronwen Street.
The new shop comes in a time of change in the Hillman and Columbia City areas. Though Hillman City is re-developing at a slower rate and smaller scale than its neighbor, the area has recently acquired a new coffee shop, brewery, pet food shop, crossfit gym, bars and restaurants. Most of the additions are owned by members of the Hillman community.
“Gentrification is constantly happening. It’s the new, expensive high rises with shops under them. The typical models you’re seeing more of in Columbia City,” said Tarik Abdullah, who teaches a culinary class for kids at the Hillman City Collaboratory across the street.
The ice cream shop, however, is a far cry from a shop under an expensive high rise.
To Abdullah, preserving the people and culture of Hillman City is important, even if it means businesses owned by people of color come and go with rent cycles every five years.
“I’m happy no matter what country you’re from,” said Abdullah. “There are buildings that are empty. Get something in there. Even if it’s for five years, that’s still something.”
Morris also owns the building 12 Scoops is housed in. To him, development means taking care of his neighbors.
The Jamaican native helped renovate the Adu Cafe, an Ethiopian restaurant in his building, free of charge. Abdullah recalled when Morris cleaned up one of the building’s walls and painted it yellow for aesthetic.
“My neighbors say you’ve got the nice shop. I say your shop can look nice too, and I can help you,” said Morris.
Besides concocting new ice cream flavors, Morris owns multiple businesses in different fields across the U.S. and in Jamaica. He also owns Advanced Manufacturing which manufactures camping trailers, and he takes pride in his experience in interior renovation.
Growing up, Morris helped with his father’s cabinet shop business, and has memories of building furniture for people in his community.
“In Jamaican culture, it is common to have five or six jobs. It’s important to me to fall back on the skills I have,” said Morris.
Morris designed and built 12 Scoops himself as well, and curb appeal is important to him. From the red and white candy-striped theme; to the whimsical, red, double-headed ceiling fan; to the bulletin board of children’s artwork; 12 Scoops has a playful appeal that stands out on the Orcas and Rainier intersection.
Morris acknowledges that the area is changing rapidly in terms of development and demographics, and that’s reflected in his tenants.
“Even in the past three years, the change is significant. Even just by observing, who’s walking and driving, three years ago, there were mostly African Americans. Now even my tenants are mostly Caucasian,” said Morris.
For Morris, maintaining the neighborhood’s businesses and making the area appealing is possible. For now, he will keep serving the neighborhood ice cream, and helping those around him.
“Everybody’s struggling,” said Morris. “I like to help my neighbors. For me, it’s about the expression and excitement, whether it’s by ice cream or by ambiance.”