There’s a price to transit progress. In Fife, that might mean the end of Pick-Quick

A 16-year-old has gathered more than 5,000 signatures in an effort to rescue a beloved Fife hamburger stand from the path of Sound Transit’s light rail line.

“I always came here with my dad, and I was upset to find out,” Hazel Gaspaire said of Pick-Quick Drive In. “I wanted to start a petition, but I never expected it to go as far as it has. I’m excited it’s gotten as popular as it has.”

In 2016, voters approved a $54 billion Sound Transit plan that, among other things, would extend the light rail route from Angle Lake in Federal Way to Tacoma.

The path of the expansion is yet to be determined, Sound Transit spokesperson Scott Thompson said, but one of the two recommended routes through Fife would uproot dozens of business along Pacific Highway, including the 70-year Pick-Quick.

The burger joint has been named the best in the state by USA Today. The small restaurant divides a half-acre lot among a walk-up counter, parking and a lawn full of picnic benches, tulips, daffodils and begonias and a maple tree.

Sound Transit acknowledged the petition but said it’s too early to impact the final decision.

“We are aware of it, but we are still looking at both routes, and we are looking for more public feedback and (will) relay that to the board for them to make a decision,” Thompson said.

Options of the Fife segment include running the line along Interstate 5 or down state Route 99, also known as Pacific Highway. Those options were recommended by a Sound Transit stakeholder group.

Pick-Quick and dozens of businesses would be impacted by the Pacific Highway choice, but elected officials across the Puget Sound prefer that option, including the City of Fife.

Fife’s City Council unanimously voiced approval of the Pacific Highway, or 3B route. Mayor Kim Roscoe said the council prefers the plan because it keeps I-5 visibility for businesses north of the freeway.

The route that follows I-5 would make it more difficult to connect Fife’s north and south, Roscoe added.

“Whether our new connections are new motorized or non-motorized overpasses, a Sound Transit alignment along I-5 would complicate the connections,” she told The News Tribune in an email.

The Pacific Highway route would allow for the possibility of a pedestrian-and-bike corridor under the rail, which would increase access, Roscoe said.

The board will choose between the route segments after environmental impact studies are completed. Board members weigh cost, feasibility and public feedback in the decision.

Construction in Fife likely would start in 2025 for a completion date in 2030, Thompson said.

Wither Pick-Quick?

Gaspaire started working at Pick-Quick this summer and clocked in one day to the news the restaurant might have to move to make room for transit progress.

“I didn’t expect them wanting to take down Pick-Quick. It seems like it’s well known, and it’s shocking they would want to take it down because people and families have come here forever,” she said.

Customers would say they were going to start a petition, but Gaspaire took charge. The teen created an online petition and added a clipboard at the counter. Customers can sign their name and email address to support the business.

With the two petitions, Gaspaire has collected more than 5,370 signatures.

One of Pick-Quick’s owners, Dan Nelson, refers to himself as a “hamburger hillbilly.” Nelson, his brother-in-law and his father-in-law bought the restaurant from family friends 39 years ago. They expanded to Auburn and South Seattle, but it’s hard to think about the flagship store going under, he said.

“It’s super disappointing,” Nelson said. “You never thought that if you did go, this would be the way.”

Pick-Quick is the food people bring sick relatives in the hospital or to the airport for students flying back home, he said.

Nelson said if light rail runs the restaurant out, it’s unlikely it would move elsewhere. The location is too special.

“If we started over, we are going to have to rebuild. You could never do it again,” Nelson said. “Parking is the best. There’s a 15-minute wait when it’s nice, but that’s the magic of that place. The building is small, but it’s perfect. It wouldn’t be the same.”

He has a feeling light rail plans are inevitable but cannot believe the amount of support the community has shown in rallying behind Pick-Quick.

“We’re good at providing quality food and not great at social media, but it was rewarding to see that,” Nelson said.

If the Pacific Highway plan is chosen, Sound Transit is expected to acquire the businesses in 2022.

Gaspaire remembers bonding with her grandma, papa, aunt, mom and sister at the picnic benches. Her grandmother lives in Yakima, and they would head to Pick-Quick to catch up when she was in town, the teen said.

“I feel like people will miss the family part the most,” she said. “I feel if Pick-Quick is done, there won’t be that. That’s the most important part: the family.”

Josephine Peterson covers Pierce County and Puyallup for The News Tribune and The Puyallup Herald. She previously worked at The News Journal in Delaware as the crime reporter and interned at The Washington Post.