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Cool Avenue

Tacoma's 6th Avenue features art, food, community and fun

Sixth Avenue is an icon of Tacoma. Photo credit J.M. Simpson

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A walk down Sixth Avenue - or 6th Ave - is to stroll headlong into some cool Tacoma history.

"One of the best things about Sixth Ave is that there's a small town feeling here," said Brittany Stefansson as she waited on customers at Shakabrah Java.  

"Ninety percent of our customers are regulars who've been coming in here for years."

Before the construction of State Route 16 in the 1960s, Sixth Avenue was the long arm of Tacoma's business community reaching out to the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

Shakabrah Java is a place for community, books and great, great food. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

The historic business district of Sixth Avenue remains one of the most active business districts in T-town, home to unique shops, restaurants and nightclubs.

As I walked down Sixth Avenue, I noted tasteful artwork on garbage cans and on the walls of some businesses.

This plaque outside A Rhapsody in Bloom captures the quirkiness of Sixth Avenue. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

And speaking of unique, one that comes to mind is The Nearsighted Narwhal.  The shop offers an eclectic selection of local DIY books, T-shirts and knick-knacks.

"We get all sorts of demographics in here," commented Ossain Cardenas with a big smile. "There are extraordinary people in this community."

Elijah Moore works on his drawing while enjoying the atmosphere of the Valhalla Coffee Co. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

The further I moved west, newer strip mall style shopping centers began to greet my eye.

While not a fan of buildings lacking character placed in the middle of parking lots, I noted the vibe on Sixth Avenue remained good.

"Sixth Ave is coming together," commented Denise Smith, owner of A Rhapsody in Bloom.  

This place is a step back into time and the vinyl greats of music. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

What caught my eye about Smith's business was the weathered brass plague to the left of the front door that read, "On This Site in 1897 Nothing Happened."

Quirky, yes.  But cool.

"There's a movement going on, and that's a good thing," Smith added.

AJ Anderson, owner of the Valhalla Coffee Company, echoed the sentiment.

A hallmark of jazz, blues and rock on Sixth Avenue, Jazzbones hosts live band karaoke Mondays. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

"There is a great business community here; it's a good community," he told me as I enjoyed a superb 16-ounce mocha.

"I like to come here to draw; you'll notice there are a lot of cool people around here," commented Elijah Moore as he practiced drawing as Anderson waited on customers.

Speaking of cool, one of the coolest places holding down real estate on an asphalt piece of Sixth Avenue is Rocket Records.

Legendary Doughnuts offers an eclectic and exciting array of doughnuts. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

"I like it here on this street," commented owner Steve Gaydich, as his dog, Bruno, stood back wagging his tail and smiling.

"I just wish more folks came in here; we've got thousands of records."

I noted the signed Paul McCartney poster on the wall and smiled.  What could be better than looking at the poster and listening to "I Want To Hold Your Hand"?

The Nearsighted Narwhal offers local offbeat books, T-shirts and knick-knacks. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

The 6th Avenue Business District has an art committee that actively promotes the creation and installation of public art.  Works include murals, artist decorated garbage cans, and sculpture.

Art shows and community events featuring art, food, cars and live music are mainstays a various times of the year.

For more information about Sixth Avenue, visit

Delicious hamburgers, a major food group, define the Goofy Goose. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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