By Andrea Brown Herald Writer
Every Sunday, Roxy Glick stands in Ballard’s Bergen Place Park, holding a green and white sign.
It’s her way of welcoming people to her neighborhood.
Show up at 2:30 p.m. and the curly-haired young woman in shorts and T-shirt will lead you around Ballard and tell you all about it.
The Ballard tour is offered by Seattle Free Walking Tours, a nonprofit started last year with an unusual twist: Pay what you want. No reservations needed.
The tours are led by locals who have creative control over the script.
“I came up with everything and did my research and route,” said Glick, 23.
Her one-hour tour covers the history and highlights of the Scandinavian town that was annexed to Seattle more than 100 years ago but maintains its quirky-trendy-fun identity.
It’s her turf. She knows who gives out free samples at the farmers market, where the ghost of Ballard lives and how to rent an eight-seater pub crawl bike.
The tour lets Glick share her hometown pride and make some pocket change. She has a degree from Berkeley in urban studies, works full time as a Web designer and plays viola in a folk music ensemble.
She has considered doing a tour in Fremont, where there’s a deli named after her: Roxy’s Diner, owned by her dad.
It takes a certain fortitude to be a tour guide. You have to charm groups of strangers. Some are going to love you right off the bat. Others take some doing.
“My approach has been, ‘Welcome to my neighborhood. Let me show you around.’” Glick said. “I don’t try to be performative. I like to keep it as if I’m talking to friends.”
The Ballard tour begins in the park dedicated by King Olaf of Norway in 1975 and winds through downtown streets, railroad tracks and the waterfront.
One stop is a parking lot by an industrial area that was once the site of the largest shingle mill in the world. Now it’s where the roller derby girls practice.
As Glick tells it, the town got its start when steamboat captain William Ballard was steaming around and liked the area and bought a bunch of land.
When the land development company he joined disbanded in 1887, he lost a coin toss and got 160 acres of this “seemingly worthless” land in Salmon Bay. He didn’t give up; he convinced a lumber magnate friend to set up a mill in 1888.
“And guess what? In 1889, Seattle burned down,” Glick said. “Ballard supplied most of the wood to rebuild Seattle.”
Her cheat sheet is a ring of note cards tucked in a pocket of the sweatshirt tied around her waist. She only pulled it out one time during a recent tour, and that was to check her numbers on an important topic.
“You might have noticed there are a lot of bars,” she said.
“In 1904, there were exactly 10 bars and 10 churches. In 1905 there were 16 and 16. In 1907, there were 22 and 22. Then in 2001, when they did the research, there were 17 of each. When I counted, there were about 30 and 30. Some are spiritual centers. It’s not just churches anymore.
“There’s this weird coincidence of Ballard partying hard and praying hard.”
Or, as a guy on the tour put it: “Maybe it’s that thing that you see God through your beer glass.”
Andrea Brown; 425-339-3443; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seattle Free Walking Tours
The payment-optional tour is supported by tips and donations.
“I usually tell them $15 as a suggested amount, but it’s whatever they feel like paying,” co-founder Jake Schlack said. “No one ever leaves upset.”
Tours are rain or shine, but not in severe weather.
Go to www.seattlefreewalkingtours.org, email email@example.com or call 360-201-5611.
Ballard: 2:30 p.m. Sundays only, one-hour tour. Meet at Bergen Place Park, at the corner of NW Market Street and Leary Avenue NW.
The Market Experience: 9:30 a.m. daily, one-hour tour includes samples, history, fish throwers and the Gum Wall. Meet at the corner of Western Avenue and Virginia Street.
Seattle 101: 11 a.m. daily, two-hour tour includes Pioneer Square, the Seattle waterfront and Pike Place Market. Meet at the corner of Western Avenue and Virginia Street.
Spotlight Seattle Center: 2 p.m. daily, one-hour tour includes area around (not inside) the Space Needle, the Pacific Science Center and other attractions. Meet at the Seattle Center Armory/Visitor Information, 305 Harrison St. on the second floor.