Roslyn, Washington; the quaint little coal mining town that time remembered, thanks to the popular 1990’s TV show “Northern Exposure”. The show’s exterior scenes were shot in Roslyn, making it world famous and a travel destination for the show’s many fans. The film crew injected money and new life into the quiet community. And Northern Exposure was a great TV show. Something unique for a change, and in some ways it mirrored Roslyn, which is at least as quirky and interesting as Cicely, Alaska, the town it portrayed in the series. There’s a cast of real-life characters every bit as distinctive and interesting as those in the TV show. It is, in short, a fascinating old mountain village, and that will likely be its downfall.
A mere 80 miles to the east of Seattle on Interstate 90, Roslyn is too damn close to the Emerald City. Too close to the three-plus million people, many of whom are seeking to escape the effects of the tech boom that afflicts Seattle and Puget Sound. Boom times have a cost, and in this case that cost is quality of life, cost of living and the character of place. Big money is sweeping away the old Seattle and that sweep is creating a ripple effect that pushes outward, including to the east. So, it’s natural that people who seek to escape the horrendous traffic, crowds, high cost of living, hustle and bustle of a boom town will come here. It is, or was, just far enough away from Seattle to be a serene oasis. Quieter, dryer, less crowded. Who wouldn’t want to come here, at least to visit? Especially since it’s so close.
As living conditions become more stressful and unpleasant on the west side of the mountains, more and more people are moving east to Roslyn. Many of those people have considerable wealth and buy large mega-homes in and around the 7,000-acre Suncadia destination resort, which is adjacent to Roslyn. Did I mention Suncadia yet? It too has had a ripple effect on the community, the most notable of which is the rising cost of homes and rent in Roslyn.
The things that made Roslyn, Roslyn, are rapidly disappearing. Affordability, slow pace of life, light traffic, peace and quiet, chatting with neighbors at The Brick, ramshackle old trucks and cars parked along Pennsylvania Avenue, dogs in the taverns.
Cost of living has increased dramatically over the last decade. Formerly affordable old miners’ homes in Roslyn are expensive. Recently up for sale is a 2-bedroom, half-bath, 806 square foot home on a 7,000 square foot lot. It’s located along the busy highway into town and badly in need of extensive work (exterior and interior paint, trim, wallpaper, windows, yard, kitchen cabinets). The place looks like shit. It’s advertised for $150,000. And that’s the low end of the housing spectrum. Many homes are in the $300k range and rising. That probably looks good to someone moving here from Seattle, but the locals who live and work here can no longer afford to buy, and are paying more in rent.
These days, on the weekends, you’ll likely see a mix of giant glossy pickups, luxury cars and large motorcycles parked along Pennsylvania Avenue near The Brick Tavern (oldest continuously operating tavern in the state!). Maserati, Land Rover, Porsche, BMW, Lexus, Audi, Mercedes and Lamborghini along with expensive Harley Davidson motorcycles. The Brick is usually packed and the locals rarely go there anymore. Crowds flock and saunter on the downtown sidewalks. People take photos of each other in front of the famous Roslyn/Cicely camel painted on the sandstone wall of The Roslyn Cafe.
But I digress. What I want to point out to people who are thinking of moving here is this: if you think you’re escaping the rat race and moving to a place with a slow pace of life as well as peace and quiet, think again. The very traits that make this area a magnet for people are disappearing.
On any given summer morning, the weapons of mass construction rumble through Roslyn and surrounding roads and streets. Dump trucks, cement trucks, logging trucks, gravel trucks, trucks hauling flatbed trailers stacked with house trusses or drywall, trucks hauling water, trucks transporting backhoes and excavators, massive pickup trucks hauling contractors (often with malfunctioning mufflers) and trailers. The noisy procession is heaviest in early morning and later in the evening. And it is very noisy. Add to that the occasional sound of chainsaws, back-up alarms, and nail guns.
On weekends, the noise comes from an amazing variety of muffler-challenged vehicles, from old pickups, to new pickups, to hordes of Harley Davidson motorcycles. The latter sound like P-51 Mustangs swooping over the town in strafing runs. It’s quite the cacophony of noise and activity. For those of us who live here for the peace and quiet, it’s very disquieting. So if you decide to move here, and I don’t blame you if you do, consider yourself forewarned. That which you might be seeking is in a state of dynamic flux, and fading fast.