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Old becoming new again in Spokane's historic Hillyard neighborhood

Despite it's proud history, Hillyard has seen some tough times. Now, a wave of work is taking place to bring some shine back to the neighborhood.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Founded in 1892, Hillyard has a proud history, but it's also seen tough times and a rough reputation.

Now, there seems to be a wave of work happening to try to turn things around in the neighborhood. However, it's not without its concerns.

Walk into Mr. Ken's Barbershop on Market Street and you just might find Yoda and his person Brandon Mastne. They're a staple in downtown Hillyard at a place Mastne calls a good old-fashioned neighborhood barbershop.

"It's been a shop for over 100 years," Mastne said. "We have only had four owners. We're currently on our fourth owner."

With longtime customers, it's a beloved spot in the community. It's also getting a new neighbor, or rather neighbors.

Dave Musser and his wife Brianna are the owners of Bellwether Brewing and co-owners of the historic United Building.

Built in 1920, the building used to be the United Hillyard Bank and mostly served as an antique mall. Now, it's going through a revival with the Mussers.

"We wanted to do a second location, and this building came available, but it's way too big for just a tap room," Dave Musser said. "And so, we invited friends with us to do a collaborative space."

Those friends include Victor Lewin of Locos, an offshoot of the Perry District's grain shed and Derailer Coffee's Jeff Parker. It's a partnership dating back to the spring of 2020. Since then, there's been a lot of work done.

 "We've had to sprinkle the whole building, which made us have to tear up Market Street and like, connect to the main water there," Musser said.

And there's still plenty to do.

"We're still looking at putting in our dish pit, our sinks, finishing up the electrical," Lewin said.

But, they're getting closer to opening up the United Building to the public, and they're not the only ones. Just down the street, work's underway at the Old Masonic Temple to open up the Bison Bar. Other newly renovated places also include a former library branch, now home to the restaurant The Bad Seed, and Kismet.

For Green's Fresh Market Owner Jack Green, they're welcomed changes for a community that's seen both crime and poverty.

"We're seeing a lot of new faces in the neighborhood," Green said. "Years ago, it was a lot of bars, a lot of riffraff. That's changed."

 According to Green, what's happening right now in the Hillyard core reminds him of another Spokane neighborhood with its own checkered past.

"It's like the Perry District," Green said. "The Perry District used to be, you know, a blight. And now look at it. I mean, it's a happening place."  

The work being done with the United Building certainly made Mastne a fan.

"I love it," Mastne said. "I love the work. I love people coming in and giving a facelift to old buildings. I'm a huge fan of antiques and vintage stuff. I love old buildings. Tell me a house has an open floor plan and I'm not interested at all."

 Yet for all of the excitement next door, he has worries.

“My fear is that it's not the locals or people who appreciate the neighborhood coming in and revitalizing it," Mastne said. "My fear is that management companies are going to come in and revitalize it and raise the rents. There are a lot of small businesses in Hillyard. A lot of family run businesses. And if they come in and raise the rent, it could very well put a lot of those people out of business.”

Mastne says the current rent for the barbershop ranges from about $800 to $1,500 a month since they pay on a percentage. According to the most recent commercial real estate report from the National Association of Realtors. The current market rent per square foot for retail space in the Spokane-Spokane Valley metro areas is $15.

"And this shop is only 400 square feet," Mastne said. "So, if you do the math, that's a couple to a few thousand dollars a month.” 

Actually, based on the math, it'd be closer to $6,000 based on the market rent.

It's something Lewin, who's lived in Seattle and saw the changes made to Ballard, doesn't want to happen.

“I'd be heartbroken to see that happen in this neighborhood," Lewin said. "And I still think there's a lot of very hardworking people here that have those dreams of being able to do something like this.”

 But, as with anything in Hillyard, only time will tell.

"I think staying humble and keeping everything small and keeping everything local is the way that we need to look at going forward,” Lewin said.

Right now, the United Building is expected to open some time this spring.

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