by Sharon Maeda
It’s suddenly too close to home. Last week, Steve Shulman, a longtime neighborhood businessperson, activist and community booster, succumbed to complications from COVID-19.
Steve’s stature in the community is on full display in front of the Leschi Market which has been run by his family since the 1940’s. Fancy bouquets from florists and blooms cut out of home gardens alike are laid all along the walkway to the Market and spread over to the bench in nearby Leschi Park. Someone taped up a large poster for people to write their messages of condolence. Cyclists stopped long enough to read some. Sad-faced shoppers left with their Saturday morning purchases, some clutching their shopping bags and wiping away tears.
Former Seattle mayor, Norm Rice, was stunned by the news. He was a regular customer when he and his family lived in Mt. Baker for decades. Friday, he and his wife, Dr. Constance Rice, returned to the neighborhood to pay their respects. For decades, Rice knew Steve as a community touchstone as well as a neighborhood grocer.
While the one-block Leschi business strip is hardly a village, the Market exemplified Rice’s urban village concept. “It is more than a corner grocery store. It is a great place to find everything you need without going to a big box store.” As important, Rice said, “it’s a place of engagement, where people feel comfortable sharing stories, talking politics, a community of love that embraces everyone. Being there makes you feel good; the community camaraderie couldn’t get any better than that.”
Steve oozed customer service and had special chats with all the regulars. Anyone who shopped at the Leschi Market can share stories. Carolyn Rees remembers her late husband, Cal, having many conversations with Steve. “The annual conversation about how smoked the Thanksgiving turkey should be if you cook it on the grill was especially time consuming!” Rees said. From year to year, “Steve remembered all the ingredients in my stuffing recipe,” added Rice.
Anyone active in Democratic Party politics in the 37th District back in the 1970’s-1980’s will remember his passionate speeches at monthly meetings. He even ran for public office once. When Gwen Rench was chair of the 37th LD Democrats, she recalls, “Steve was always good about giving me feedback about the Chair’s Corner column in the newsletter and would have suggestions about topics.”
Curt Firestone wrote a tribute to Steve, remembering that the diversity of the 37th District includes the large local Jewish population. “Steve was instrumental in having District Democrats’ week-end meetings alternate between the Saturday and the Sunday Sabbath. Diversity means respecting all differences and cherishing all that is same.”
When asked if Steve ever gave him advice when he was mayor, Rice let out his famous laugh in an otherwise somber conversation. From his journey of president of the Mt. Baker Community Club, to city council, to mayor, Rice added, “Steve was always on top of things – at the crossroads of information like a town crier or messenger.”
Sharon Tomiko Santos, 37th District state representative, said she would probably describe Steve as the Yoda of the 37th. “He was wise; he was funny, even when he didn’t mean to be; and, most of all, he was deeply principled. I think he well represents the character we all aspire to have and all wish to see in our leaders.”
And, there are even more stories about Steve’s generosity to the community, giving discounts and donations to benefit events. And, not just the products, but Bob Rosenberger remembers Steve as a great host of wine tastings at community fundraisers.
Firestone added, “the last time I saw Steve was when I was both in Seattle and the Leschi neighborhood. We stopped in to say hello and to buy some wine for our hosts. Steve, being the generous soul that he was, gave us an extra bottle of one of his favorites.”
The house-made Italian sausage – with or without pork – with or without fennel, the kielbasa and chorizo, the Pinot Grigio and Cabernet, the deli sandwiches will all still be at the Market. Steve’s nephew, Yousef and the team will carry on, but the community will truly miss Steve Shulman, a treasure gone too soon.