For a long time, the suit of armor that greets you upon entering the Canterbury had a sign hung around its neck that said "Seat Thyself." The Canterbury—going on four decades old—is the world's best ye-olde-English-pub-themed dive bar, complete with dark wood beams, a fireplace, pool tables, shuffleboard, cheap liquor, and fried foods (as well as delicious soups made by the amazing Janice of Calamity Jane’s in Georgetown). As Charles Mudede has pointed out, the Canterbury is perfectly situated, almost equidistant from Group Health hospital and the Volunteer Park cemetery; this is how we should spend the long, cold days between infancy and death—sitting by a fire, drinking.
We love the Canterbury.
Capitol Hill Housing owns the building housing the Canterbury and the Fredonia apartments. (In case you're unfamiliar with CHH, here's some information on its mission: "Founded in 1976 as an outgrowth of community action, CHH currently owns and operates 44 buildings, providing safe and affordable housing to low- and moderate-income individuals and families in Capitol Hill and nine other Seattle area neighborhoods... We are committed to creating equitable and sustainable communities in central Seattle... We envision a diverse community that includes housing for individuals and families across a broad range of incomes.")
The Canterbury's lease is up at the end of the year, and CHH is not renewing the lease. CHH does not comment on lease issues with tenants.
Asked why the Canterbury's lease is not being renewed, Canterbury owner Stefanie Roberge admitted that the business has been late with its rent for the last five months and that there is a "cash-flow problem." She said, "They [CHH] wanted me to sign something that they were not responsible for me breaking my arm, and I wouldn’t say that they weren’t responsible for that, so they refused to sign off on the line of credit that we had had previously from our bank. They refused to sign off on it." Asked about the broken arm, Roberge said that "They [CHH] let the sidewalk get to the point where there was a hole about three inches deep. I twisted my ankle and fell and broke my arm and got a concussion," about three years ago. She said that CHH has a $50,000 lien on her home from when she bought the business 13 years ago, and that when she refused to sign something indicating she would not hold CHH responsible for her medical bills from the broken arm, CHH "exacerbated" the business' cash-flow problem by "not allowing us to get that line of credit again." (UPDATE: CHH has no comment.)
Roberge said she was about to write a check for this month's rent today. "It’s just so convoluted," she said. "What I really want to do is retire at the end of the year and sell the business to somebody—I want to sell the Canterbury to somebody else who wants to open a restaurant. But they [CHH] won’t let me do that." Why? "Because they hate us."
While CHH will not comment on pending lease issues with tenants, Capitol Hill Housing Foundation executive director Michael Seiwerath will say that despite rumors to the contrary, CHH is not moving its offices into the Canterbury space—CHH's offices will be relocating into the new 12th Avenue Arts building upon its completion.
Regarding the Canterbury space, Seiwerath also said, "There's a possibility that it will remain a restaurant or bar space." The process for finding a replacement tenant will unfold later this year.
You can share your feelings on the topic at tonight's Capitol Hill Housing monthly board meeting at 6:00 p.m. at Seattle University, in room 500E on the fifth floor in Casey Commons. Public comment (on any topic) is limited to 6:05 to 6:20; the rest of the meeting (except one discussion of the price of a property) is open to the public, but the Canterbury/Fredonia lease situation is not on the agenda. A website apparently organized by Canterbury fans, Save Our Canterbury, is asking people to call CHH and lobby to have the lease renewed, but it appears that ship has fully sailed.
CHH indicated that there will be future forums for community discussion on the issue—we'll keep you posted. UPDATE: I may have inadvertently mischaracterized CHH's stance here; Seiwerath says, "It was not my intent to indicate that there will be future forum for community discussion. We are not planning any."
Convoluted, indeed. And too bad all around.