Springtime in Seattle: annual fears about solicitors


Tulips (via Wikipedia)

Tulips (via Wikipedia)

Spring in Seattle brings out a lot of stuff. Tulips of all hues blossoming on streets of all kinds. More frequent sun breaks, allowing clear view of gorgeous mountains. Hopeful expectations about the Seattle Mariners, ultimately unfulfilled.

And fresh warnings about what in Seattle is called “solicitor activity,” or more ominously, “aggressive solicitors.”

Now, I’m not talking about lawyers. The sounded alarm is a fear that door-to-door solicitors are really looking for empty homes they can burglarize and make off with loot. It’s not at all clear to me this is a significant problem in Seattle, which overall is a pretty safe place. But in my nearly two years here since becoming New To Seattle, it sure gets the generally liberal population riled up. And for some reason, it’s when the weather starts to warm up (even though my door gets knocked on year-round).

In March, a subscriber-only email list in the Magnolia neighborhood, where I live, carried a flurry of reports about “suspicious solicitors,” as one entry was headed.

On the other side of Elliott Bay, “warnings have been issued about aggressive door-to-door ‘sales people’ in West Seattle, where there have reports of fights with homeowners and possible break-ins,” began a breathless report last month on KCPQ-TV, the local Fox affiliate that hardly anyone seems to watch. “Police said the so-called solicitors come to your doorstep with any number of reasons for being there, selling magazines for charity, or for their school, or a trip or an athletic team, even for a church. Maybe they really are selling magazines; maybe they’re not.”

West Seattle Blog, covering the part of town where Amanda Knox grew up, seems to be Internet Central when it comes to expressing outrage about solicitors. A recent post about an arrest in the Admiral area of someone going door to door professing to be raising money for a sports team quickly generated 56 comments. “Hang him,” advised one commenter. “Sounds like a very flaky and dangerous individual,” said another. Many recounted their own experiences with and offered advise, generally along the lines of keep the door shut and call the cops.

I saw one voice of reasoned understanding:

Look, people, we can’t lose our humanity or automatically assume the worst when confronted with strangers. Especially in a down economy, there will be legitimate people going door to door or in need of assistance. Haven’t any of you ever been in a situation where a kind stranger saved the day for you? I know I have, many times. Of course we need to be wary of aggressive people whose stories don’t add up, using our common sense and reporting to police if necessary, but please don’t assume anyone asking you anything in public is automatically up to no good.

Last year, I wrote here that I have never been in a town with more homes sporting “no solicitation” signs than Seattle. While I suppose there’s some kind of linkage with the aforementioned fear of solicitor-based crime, I still see the stay-away notices mainly as a manifestation of that oft-talked-about phenomenon called the Seattle Freeze.

Ah, spring in Seattle. The sounds of chirping birds and knocks at the front door.

Follow William P. Barrett’s work on Twitter by clicking here.

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One Response to Springtime in Seattle: annual fears about solicitors

  1. Kevin Kelley says:

    I’m still embarassed by the email exchange within our homeowners association listserv a couple of years back in my neighborhood. Seems a couple of college kids had the audacity to solicit magazine subscriptions door-to-door, WHILE BEING YOUNG, MALE, and AFRICAN AMERICAN (gasp!!!). The police were called, the alarm went out to batten down the hatches. The self-appointed Watch Captain raced (valiantly, I assume) to the last known location and found nothing. His conclusion, of course was that either 1) the evil-doers were barricaded inside a home or, 2) had escaped just seconds ahead of the posse.
    Of course, these are the same folks who preferred living in the shadow of a derelict, abandoned 40,000 square foot building over having a thriving Latin supermarket nearby.
    Maybe my neighbors can solicit donations to erect a statue in honor of the killer of Trayvon Martin.

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