On the sidewalk near the Aurora Bridge, two blue loveseats face each other. Rita Zawaideh, shaded by a patio umbrella, sits in one.
Laid out on tables around her, small appliances, jewelry and champagne glasses gleam in the sun. The garage doors are open, revealing dressers, clothes and shelves of Pyrex dishes and roasting pans for sale.
Zawaideh chats with a friend as people peruse the items she's collected for refugee families who've come to the U.S. with little or nothing.
In March, she started selling the surplus donations on sunny Saturdays to raise rent money for the Arab American Community Coalition, a nonprofit she founded a decade ago.
In May, someone filed a complaint with the city's Department of Planning and Land Use (DPD), alleging that Zawaideh is operating an illegal business in a residential zone. (Per state law, DPD is honoring the complainant's request for anonymity.)
A DPD inspector originally warned Zawaideh that she had until July 30 to cease or move her operation. Last week, DPD extended that a month, to Aug. 31.
If she continues operating after that, DPD can issue a violation notice that will give her another two weeks to comply, DPD spokesperson Bryan Stevens said.
Now, an Aurora-area sidewalk has become the scene of an unlikely showdown. The city wants to curb the garage sales. But Zawaideh insists she's well within her rights.
Speaking on behalf of the DPD, Stevens said Zawaideh's sales are too frequent. A homeowner who has a garage sale a couple weekends a year is one thing, but every week is more like a commercial business, he said.
But just how many garage sales are too many, city officials can't say.
"We don't have a hard and fast rule regarding yard sales in terms of how many you can have a year," Stevens said.
Other jurisdictions limit the number of yard sales to four a year, but city law "doesn't say that specifically," he said.
If Zawaideh fails to comply within two weeks of receiving a violation, DPD can fine her $150 for the first two weeks she continues the sale and $500 a day every day after that.
Zawaideh can appeal, but DPD can't make an exception, even if it is for a good cause, Stevens said.
The city doesn't plan to drop the issue, he said. And Zawaideh has no plans to stop her sales. She said they aren't perpetual or even scheduled.
"Consistent would be a daily sale. There's no hours posted. It depends on what day we decide to do it," she said.
Moreover, her location on Bridge Way North, an arterial that connects the Aurora Bridge with Stone Way North, is a busy thoroughfare, not a residential street, she said.
The address of her building, a multifamily structure that Zawaideh owns and uses for her city-licensed Middle East tour business, is on Whitman
Avenue North in a residential zone. But the garage itself opens to Bridge Way North and is a block west of Aurora Avenue's commercial zone.
If the Arab American Community Coalition had to rent a space to continue the sale, it would take money that could go to refugees, she said.
Community leader Zawaideh formed the Arab American Community Coalition a decade ago. It operates a hotline (206.634.9001) to help Arab Americans deal with the harassment and threats they faced after 9/11, and raises money for things like the tuition of Palestinian college students and the resettlement of Iraqi refugees.
Zawaideh, who has received several community awards for her work with refugees, is revered in social service circles.
"[Rita] gives it her all. It's amazing," said Tyler Gence.
Gence said Zawaideh provided a household's worth of goods for Mohamad Allawi, an Iraqi doctor he helped bring to the United States in 2007.
The former Army medical planner said he hired Allawi to work at an aid station in an Iraqi city where he was stationed in 2004. In 2006, after Gence came home, he said the officer who took over the aid station contacted him and said Allawi had asked for help getting to America.
Two of Allawi's colleagues had been killed in Iraq for helping Americans, and Gence said he felt helping Allawi was the least he could do in return.
Zawaideh provided money for many expenses involved in getting the family here. Once they were, Gence said he rented a U-Haul truck, went to Zawaideh's garage and picked up an entire household of furnishings for Allawi, his wife and small son.
"She's been very helpful to me and others who I know wouldn't otherwise have an advocate," Gence said.
Anonymous critic As neighbors passed her on the sidewalk, Zawaideh wondered aloud who complained and why, out of all the yard and "vintage sales" people hold every weekend in Seattle, hers was singled out.
The person could have just come and talked to her, she said. They could have worked something out.
While the sun is still shining, Zawaideh is going to keep selling: "You can't back down just because the city tells you to."