Just north of University Village on NE 55th Street, a charming cluster of small businesses overlooks Calvary Catholic Cemetery. Tanya Carver had dreamed of opening a vintage and handmade clothing boutique for years before finding this idyllic corner of the city, known as the Bryant neighborhood, which she knew immediately was the perfect home for her business.
While the city has shifted dramatically around it, this corner appears frozen in time. From this little row of shops and restaurants, looking out on the cemetery’s expanse of rolling green lawns, century-old pines and weeping willows, one feels a peaceful sense that the place will be there forever. The building that houses Tanya’s shop, In the Ivy and Thread, is more than 100 years old, and she says the longevity of the row of old storefronts is romantic to her.
Since she moved here in 2010, she had been most attracted to Seattle neighborhoods like this—quiet, close-knit communities where families host potlucks and run businesses that reflect the owners’ individual tastes and characters. We spoke at length about our mutual appreciation for businesses that feel like an extension of their owners’ personalities, and the wonderful feeling of being in a business run as a work of art. Tanya chose her store’s name because ivy reminds her of family and community, the way it envelops and beautifies its surroundings wherever it takes root.
“I wanted to convey that this is a neighborhood store, full of oddities and whimsy, but mostly full of practical, everyday things,” she added.
The Bryant neighborhood, named after Massachusetts poet William Cullen Bryant, was colonized when a rail line was built along the western shore of Lake Washington, and its population increased after the construction of the University of Washington. Today, its attractions include Bryant Park, Bryant Elementary school, the North East Branch of the library, and Eckstein Middle School. Every fall the elementary hosts the “Bryant Blast,” where the whole neighborhood gathers to do cake walks, play games, and bounce on giant inflatable castles. On Fourth of July, the neighborhood fire department leads a parade. Kids decorate their red wagons and march down the street with costumed pets led by adults dressed as historical figures and “Lady Liberty,” one member of the community chosen to represent everyone’s favorite giant torch-bearing green woman.
Being at In the Ivy and Thread feels like venturing into the attic of a stylish, well-travelled aunt who has been curating her wardrobe for decades, wants to share with you all of her favorite things and the stories about them, and has a particular passion for felt.
“The first felt decorations I found were actually different styles of adorable dog ornaments that I purchased to give my dog walking company’s clients,” says Carver, who is also the owner of a Ballard-based dog walking and pet sitting company called Walk With Tanya. “I quickly went back to the store and acquired all sorts of things I’ve given my friends and family over the years. My favorite one that I own is a little yellow giraffe that lives in my car. Every time I see one I smile, and I think that’s an important thing to surround yourself with—little things that make you smile.”
In Carver’s shop, mobiles of felt honey bees circling their hives hang next to handmade vintage-inspired dresses and colorful knitted wool sweaters reminiscent of those found in roadside shops in Iceland. The selection of jewelry is sparse and elegant, with a subtle industrial touch. You’ll find home décor essentials like house plants next to more exotic decorations, such as vintage Underwood typewriters, one of which Tanya acquired from a family whose grandmother bought it new in 1914.
Perhaps the most unusual item in the store is an antique pump organ given to Tanya by a woman in a retirement home, which had been passed down in her family from mother to daughter since 1910. “The woman who had it was a professional pianist and showed me how to play it, giving me a personal concert for 20 minutes,” Tanya says, “The interaction was wildly romantic.” The organ has been a hit with customers. The son of one of her regulars loves to play the organ while Tanya chats with his mom. While the store has only been open for a couple of months, it has already attracted neighborhood families who have become Tanya’s friends. She loves watching the reactions of neighborhood kids to the assortment of vintage toys that decorate the shop.
Tanya’s landlord, Michael Jordan (no, not that Michael Jordan, though who’s to say the basketball star wouldn’t enjoy a visit to her store—some of the sweaters run large) bought the building in 1978 for only 1,3500 dollars. “It’s a good, solid build,” says Michael, whose responses to my questions come in charmingly few words. “People either love it, or they’re looking for something new.” The building also houses his office, and a little French restaurant called Pair, which as you might expect from the name offers an extensive wine list to go with its “European-inspired” menu.
For first-time Bryant visitors, Jordan suggests Pair, and also his favorite diner, which has been serving solid diner food and cocktails since the 1950s. “I like it because it’s dark, nothing much has changed, the food is good, and the drinks are well-poured,” he says. [Editor’s note: We couldn’t verify the existence of the diner in question based on the name provided, but the Bryant Cafe has been in the neighborhood for a long time.]
Jordan says that in general, Bryant has been the same since he first saw it. There’s a little new construction here and there, and of course, houses that could have been bought for $20,000 in 1978 are close to a million dollars now. But the character of the neighborhood is the same, and if you’ve lived in Seattle all your life like me, or just want to see how the city once was, it’s a beautiful and comforting part of town. Don’t leave without visiting In the Ivy and Thread—while the store has only been open a couple of months, its spirit of unabashed self-expression and natural tendency to foster community is as old and as crucial to the character of the city as the whistling of trains on the waterfront late at night.