Summerfest strives to inspire Rainier Beach residents to embrace their community

RAINIER BEACH - One hundred years after Rainier Valley was annexed as part of Seattle, the community is celebrating its unique diversity and reminding itself of what Rainier Beach has to offer with the the Rainier Beach Merchants Summerfest on Saturday, Aug. 25. The event began with Rainier Beach resident and business owner Jean Veldyke's idea to renew the neighborhood's intrigue and appeal to Rainier Beach residents.

"This festival came about as a result of concerns for the community not really showing up and supporting itself," said Veldyk. "We didn't have too much trouble finding people to work as leaders for this project because everybody is pretty cognizant that Rainier Beach needs to pick up itself up by its bootstraps and be more visible and coordinated."

As part of establishing more visibility, Veldyk chaired the Summerfest effort in hopes of removing the negative perceptions Seattleites attach to Rainier Valley.

"We are a very healthy, alive and well knowledgeable community with a great variety in the merchant base that should be intriguing to the neighborhood at large," said Veldyk. "Yes we have had some explosive situations, but so have other parts of the city. Our neighborhood has terrific citizens from all parts of the earth, and we present a marvelous area for good family living."

In Summerfest's efforts to establish a greater sense of community, volunteers met with merchants and helped them beautify their businesses, as well as get them involved in community conversations.

"We have this wonderful challenge of bringing in the focus of a huge small-merchant base that is highly sprinkled with immigrants speaking many languages," said Veldyk.

Although it took from January to July to contact every Rainier Beach merchant, with the help of volunteer interpreters, Veldyke and her team reached more than 100 local businesses.


Campaign volunteer and a fourth generation resident of Rainier Beach, Brian Lettich said he doesn't know of any other place in Seattle with more diversity. And Summerfest offers a place to celebrate that diversity and the greater sense of community between all groups, he noted.

"Rainier Beach is getting a sense of community rather than being kind of disjointed. There are many communities going in different directions," said Lettich. "This is a chance that's actually bringing all of the groups together in one community and maybe making it work from there in terms of making Rainier Beach a better place to work, live, and play."

Lettich said when he was growing up his parents shopped and dined in Rainier Beach, but now that support for local businesses has dropped.

"We're trying to create an awareness on the part of everybody of how local merchants need to be supported, and when that happens, existing businesses will thrive," said Veldyk. "This is a great opportunity for people to come down for a one day celebration, meet each other and carry on from there with a strong partnership in the area."

As vice chair Barbara Chamberlain said excitedly, "It's a chance to see what you haven't seen. It will give people the opportunity to stop and go into places they never would. You drive by these places all the time, but this is an invitation to come in and see what they've got."

And Rainer Beach hasn't seen a festival like this yet either. Although the event joined forces with the annual Back2School Bash, which hosts several childrens activities and free giveaways, Summerfest adds a new dimension to the day's events.

Aside from the opportunity to venture into unique local shops that will have bargains, there will be an art bazaar, a treasure chest rummage sale and musical entertainment all day.

Because the festival stretches across 15 blocks, there will be free buses to shuttle people between the different parts of the festival. After shopping neighbors can return to the center of the festival - Rainier Beach High School - to play games, get freebies while they last or simply listen to the music.

Jessica Van Gilder may be reached via[[In-content Ad]]