Seattle Times staff reporter
And then the pandemic hit, closing the doors of the storied music venue and many others. For the first time in her life, Anne found herself on unemployment and in need of the help she would never admit to needing.
It came in the form of groceries — lots of them — and through the generosity of the very people she used to keep an eye on: Showbox patrons, who bought music-themed masks and prints as part of a fundraiser; and local restaurants, grocery chains and farms who donated food.
The grocery donations — restaurant-sized cans of tomatoes, beans, pasta, peanut butter, cheese, eggs and fresh produce — were organized by Shannon Welles, The Showbox assistant general manager who has been at the venue for 19 years.
Her staff of about 200 was laid off on March 12, 2020, when Gov. Jay Inslee called for the closure of live-music venues, among other places. Third Eye Blind was supposed to play that night. Not long after the Showbox closed, G. Love and Special Sauce did an online fundraiser for the venue’s employees.
And a few months later, an artist named Robb Hamilton designed a “Save the Showbox” poster, a familiar call in the two years since the building’s owner announced plans to demolish the venue, located on First Avenue across from Pike Place Market. The Showbox received landmark status, and the city is negotiating controls and incentives with the building’s owner, Welles said. Its fate will be decided at a hearing later this year.
Funds raised by sales of the poster were combined with the G. Love donations to make an initial grocery buy for 60 employees who signed up for them.
“I just knew that food would stretch a lot farther than if I just gave everyone 50 bucks,” she said.
Welles purchased food from local distributors and farms so the money would stay in the local economy. That food was supplemented with donations from Franz Bakery, Topo Chico and Red Bull, who each donated goods.
Then in September, Robin and Dusty Dunkle, who met on the floor of the Showbox and later married, offered to design “Friends of the Showbox” masks showing old tickets from Showbox shows. (“They wanted to give something back,” Welles said.)
The Dunkles are selling them on their website, HowardandMarge.com. Those funds paid for a second grocery buy, which went out just as the snow started falling last month.
Nine people volunteered to pack everything — including breaking giant bags of beans into smaller portions — and deliver it to people who did not have cars or could not make it downtown because of the weather.
“It was a marathon day,” Welles said. “And so rewarding. I know that people need help. It’s hard to live in Seattle on a couple of hundred bucks a week.
“And not everyone will ask for help,” she continued. “This is a way to make an impact for people who are struggling. And it’s so great to get fresh, nutritious food.”
Not long after the food was distributed, Welles saw employees sharing recipes online and talking to each other about cooking.
“They feel really loved,” Welles said. “And they’re blown away that people in the community want to help.”
Anne, who lives in West Seattle, went to the Showbox in person — wearing a mask — to pick up her groceries.
“I was like, ‘Oh, I’m home!'” she remembered. “There’s no comparison to the people at the Showbox. We’re like family. That’s why most of us have done pretty well, considering.”
Considering that she lost three jobs in one day: security at both the Showbox and the Museum of Pop Culture, and her work as a photographer.
She has struggled mightily with the state unemployment system.
“I didn’t think it was going to last this long,” she said. “And I don’t think people understand how hard the music and the live-events industry have been hit.
“We can’t work from home.”
She was overwhelmed with the amount and the quality of food she received. There was so much, she said, that she shared some with her neighbors.
And then she made cards for the donors: Photos she took of fans on the floor of the Showbox, bathed in light, their arms in the air.
“It is just so nice that the community rallied around us.”
The masks are still for sale, and Welles will use the money to help her employees get by, until they can all be together at the door, on the floor, behind the bar and in front of the stage.
“These are our careers,” she said. “We’re not going to go out and get another job.
“It’s the never knowing,” she said. “When you’re going back, if your unemployment is going to run out. It’s like treading water.”
“But I feel like the end is in sight. And I’m looking forward to live music.”