WEST SEATTLE BUSINESSES: See their biggest concerns and challenges, as local project works toward solutions

(WSB photos)

What are the challenges and concerns facing businesses in West Seattle, and what resources are available to deal with them?

That’s the subject of a project on which our area’s two biggest business-related organizations, the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce and West Seattle Junction Association, are teaming up. As part of it, a roundtable-discussion event was held last night in The Triangle.

Consultant Allison Carney talked about some of what she’s seen in the data gathered over 30 meetings with people involved with the local business community. Concerns include:

*Parking (self-explanatory)

*Availability of commercial space – with businesspeople worried about what happens if the building where they are a tenant is sold, what happens if their rent is raised beyond affordability – is there anywhere else in West Seattle where they can go?

*Transients in business areas – how that relates to feeling safe/unsafe

*The cost of doing business – including new city regulations about wages and leave

Speaking of the city, Carney said she heard overall concerns about relationships with it – West Seattle businesses feel neglected, and some see the city as an adversary, while there’s a general feeling of helplessness: Nothing you can do, your voice can’t be heard.

And there are concerns about whether the new residents in West Seattle care about WS. Are they patronizing local businesses or otherwise participating in the community? How to best reach out and get them involved?

Carney said that between the people she’s interviewed and those at the roundtable event, it’s clear that collaboration, using each other’s skills and knowledge, can overcome many of the challenges.

After small-group discussions, tables reported what they had talked about.

Keeping the business areas clean was a major topic. Better lighting, too. And several people suggested that local business proprietors get more involved in existing community groups – for example, taking crime/safety concerns to at least one of the two monthly community meetings at the Southwest Precinct (which are the WS Crime Prevention Council at 7 pm third Tuesdays and the WS Block Watch Captains Network at 6:30 pm fourth Tuesdays, both meetings always open to everyone).

Next step in the project will be an official report laying out concerns, challenges, and potential solutions – that’s due out by the end of November. After the jump, you’ll see highlights of the consultant’s notes from her conversations, as prepared for last night’s discussion – starting with “what’s special” about our area, and including some quotes on the topics mentioned above:

o What’s Special about West Seattle

§ Pretty much every person I spoke with felt that West Seattle was a special place. They felt this was like no place else, and that this was incredibly important. Many people felt a community here, and many cited the importance of small business in that community.

§ “I had a robbery a few weeks ago. The next four days I came into work, someone was waiting outside with coffee. Not friends, just customers. I got eight bouquets of flowers. Customer’s husbands came in to walk me home after work. I love it here. I can’t imagine doing this anywhere else.” -Retail business owner in Admiral

§ “We fell in love with this place. After looking all over the city, we decided that unless we could live and work in West Seattle, we weren’t going to move [to Seattle].” -Small business owner on Alki

§ “The small businesses really make this community special. It has a lot of character.” -Resident near the Junction

o Parking

§ Widespread. Overall, this was absolutely the most frequently listed challenge.

§ “We need to resist the city’s desire to get rid of cars. Between now and the next 10-15 years, it’s going to change. And on days like this, with this topography, how many people are going to ride bikes? This isn’t Amsterdam.” -Small business owner in the Junction

§ “We anticipate the parking problem will only get worse.”
-Retail business owner in Avalon

o Space/Infrastructure

§ Fears about future development

§ Internet along Avalon and Alki

§ “For a business like mine, with specifications for my space, [my building getting sold] would probably make me go out of business. These live/work units are too small and the market is too saturated with them.” -Business owner in Admiral

o Clean & Safe

§ Overall, feeling is WS is very safe with some exceptions. There is a fairly widespread problem with homelessness and vagrants, but that didn’t 100% translate to crime. However ,it is a growing concern that is affecting many businesses and they are worrying about it getting worse.

§ “Two years ago, it was 2-3 people camping out in the park. Now it’s 8-10.” -Business owner in Westwood

o Cost of Doing Business in Seattle

§ This was one of the largest concerns that people had. These concerns ranged from city regulations about employee leave or benefits, to minimum wage, to rents. These concerns are widespread.

§ “The minimum wage requirements for servers are absurd. It’s made it almost impossible to get a good kitchen crew. Some of our servers are making $60 an hour. [The City Council] has created a serious problem in the service industry and I would say 75% of restaurants are in that same boat.” -Restaurant owner on Alki

§ “Well, do we go back to dumpster diving for packing materials? Would we do that for our employees to have health insurance? I guess we would.” -Retail business owner in Avalon

o City of Seattle

§ Now we’re getting into problems that are more intangible than parking or costs. This problem with City of Seattle goes beyond just the rising prices, it really speaks to the distance the people feel to the city. People in West Seattle, and especially business owners, feel alienated by the city, and many even feel adversarial.

§ “I don’t feel like the city cares about small business. They care about Trader Joe’s. We’re just a blink.” -Small business owner in the Alaska Junction

§ “The business license fee that increased, they reached out to the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, but not the smaller chambers. And even though they know who we all are, and have our contact information, they didn’t let us know. Last December, we got a bill for $1000 (up from $110.) It was due in two weeks.” -Business owner in Morgan Junction

§ “I feel that the Seattle City Council sees business as an adversary and a checkbook.” -Business owner in Alki

o Feeling of Helplessness

§ Building off the previous challenge, the rising costs and the alienation of the city are leading to a general feel of exhaustion and helplessness when it comes their business. While many business are reporting decent profits, there is a tiredness that was pervasive in these conversations.

§ “We feel helpless at times. We hope it will get better, but it’s exhausting” -Small business owner in the Alaska Junction

§ “I don’t think I would start a business in West Seattle now.” -Small business owner in the Alaska Junction

§ “We’re about ready to pick up and move to Burien.” -Small business owner in Alki

§ “I am completely alone.” -Small business owner in the Junction

o Lack of Community

§ Along with this feeling of helplessness and rising costs, all of West Seattle is seeing tremendous growth. The junction neighborhood is actually the third fastest-growing neighborhood in Seattle. But there’s something that’s missing, and that’s community. The more established businesses, and the more outgoing people who are great networkers, feel more community than those to whom it doesn’t come as naturally.

§ “That’s my biggest fear, that people will move in and turn West Seattle into a bedroom community for downtown.” -Small business owner in the Junction

§ “People don’t really know how many businesses are here—they don’t know that they don’t need to leave West Seattle” -Small business owner in Admiral

§ “West Seattle is such a special neighborhood and there are so many active, successful small businesses. Old jewelry shops, historical places…If [we] do not preserve these small businesses, [we’re] going to lose one of the most special business districts in Seattle.” -Small business operator in the Junction

22 Replies to "WEST SEATTLE BUSINESSES: See their biggest concerns and challenges, as local project works toward solutions"

  • The Truth October 27, 2017 (11:33 am)

    I am so thankful to see this being addressed!  Way to go WSCC and WSJA for taking the lead.  I feel that the community has very little idea how hard it is to work with City Hall to actually explain to them the issues of small businesses.  The is not a SINGLE council member who has owned a business.  They are all social justice crusaders (which I am all for social justice) but it can’t be done on the backs of small businesses.  They don’t understand how their actions effect others.  It is time to see a few small businesses owners added to the council!  I am not saying all council seats but atlas two or three so that the voice of these people are heard too.  Seriously commenters, toss out some names.  Smart businesses owners who you know are caring and compassionate people.

     I’ll Start: Todd Carden, Ben Viscon, Dave Mounture, Jack Miller, Phil Tavel, Shannon Felix, Lynn Dennis, Lora Swift… 

  • Jill October 27, 2017 (12:15 pm)

    West Seattle small businesses are the heart and soul of the community but I fundamentally do not believe that parking will keep people away. (For the record, I still think there is plenty of parking in the business districts- I’ve  never had an issue finding a spot.) I am all for thinking as communities how we make places more palatable for bikers and pedestrians. If you aren’t typically one of those, it’s amazing how much you miss. I am way more likely to pop into a new-to-me business if I am walking or biking by.

    • newnative October 27, 2017 (2:24 pm)

      That highlight is blinding, can you remove it?  I don’t understand why you have it on your entire text. 

  • Jort October 27, 2017 (2:37 pm)

    Alternatively, I would posit to the group which one of these businesses would like to volunteer to be demolished to make space for 8 or 10 parked cars?

    Parking lots cost money. In Seattle – lots of money. If these business owners think that parking spaces are their number one priority, they should probably begin purchasing land and building more parking lots. 

    Of course, the place would start looking like thriving, vibrant Tukwila or Federal Way…

    • WSB October 27, 2017 (3:42 pm)

      Jort, the Junction business owners pay a rather large assessment for the “free” (nothing ever is really “free”) lots provided to shoppers. And most are tenants – so they don’t really get a say in the be-demolished-or-not. It’s not an either-or; the new buildings generally have underground parking.

    • WS Guy October 28, 2017 (2:53 am)

      Jort, is there anything good in West Seattle that you don’t want to destroy?  The business owners are saying the same things as my neighbors.  Maybe you should consider that all these people might not be wrong.

  • zark00 October 27, 2017 (2:38 pm)

    Totally disagree – parking is a huge issue.  Many families no longer visit the junction on weekend evenings at all these days – there simply is no point.  You just end up driving around looking for parking, then go somewhere you know you can park and eat. Admiral junction parking has been so bad for so long I know a lot of WSea people who actually go to movies downtown just to avoid trying to park and hit the Admiral Theater.  Biking/walking is not an alternative to driving when you have elderly family members or little kids.  Pretty sick of hearing how we need to do even MORE to accommodate the tiny fraction of people who ride bikes.

    • Jort October 27, 2017 (4:33 pm)

      Hi there zark00,

      Im confused. Can you help me understand how bikes have been taking parking away from the Junction and Admiral? Did they close all the parking lots and street parking and make them bike parking only? I’m confused as to why you would think that unavailable parking is due to the bikes — that don’t park in those parking spaces. What specifically has the Junction and Admiral done to prioritize bicycles over parking? I’m genuinely confused. 

      • Canton October 27, 2017 (7:32 pm)

        I’ll help with your confusion. Zark said NOTHING, about bikes taking parking. He said with kids and elderly, it is difficult to shop in junction. Not EVERYONE, has the ability or lifestyle, to stroll on in by those means. Do you, by chance, have a driver’s license, children, or elderly family?

        • Jort October 28, 2017 (8:42 pm)

          Oh, no, sorry Canton, Zark00 said, “Pretty sick of hearing how we need to do even MORE to accommodate the tiny fraction of people who ride bikes.” at the conclusion of a paragraph that almost exclusively discussed the issue of parking. 

          Why bring up the bikes at all? The concern was about parking, wasn’t it? How are bikes causing parking problems in the Junction and Admiral? I’m genuinely confused why Zark00 felt the need to talk about bikes during a lengthy comment about parking. Maybe you can explain for me???!!

          • Canton October 28, 2017 (9:36 pm)

            Sure Jort, more than happy to explain. In Zark’s first paragraph, they explained that people don’t frequent the junction, because of lack of parking. Then, says others go out of area to see movies, guessing parking issues. Then explains that because of their situation, walking and biking are not feasible, maybe kids and older family? Again, do you have driver’s license, kids, or elderly family?

      • Rick October 28, 2017 (5:46 am)

        Hey Jort, just look at the bike racks they put IN the street in former parking spaces. Does that help?

  • LAintheJunction October 27, 2017 (2:53 pm)

    We moved to WS in 1997 specifically because it had a small town feel while still being part of a big city. We bought a house in the Alaska Junction so we could walk to all of the amazing shops, services, and restaurants nearby. Many of those businesses have  changed hands in the last 20 years, but we still love the vibrant retail core and wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else.

    Parking continues to be a concern since the population is growing so much, especially with all the new developments that presume none of the residents have cars (but they all actually do), which leads to tight parking in the Junction. I do believe that a living wage and health insurance are a basic human right however, so I’m not impressed with the businesses that don’t feel the same way.  Regardless, we love this community and plan to keep supporting its small businesses for years to come.

  • MacJ October 27, 2017 (3:45 pm)

    “Nobody goes to the Junction any more, the parking is full.” – Yogi Berra

  • Anne October 27, 2017 (4:20 pm)

    Gee- lose that yellow highlighting – blinding. Parking is an issue- as not everyone is as ablebodied as those that can bike & walk.  

    For every person who says they’ve never had a problem finding a place to park- there’s someone who can say just the opposite.  I dont know where more parking spaces can be created- unless it’s in a parking garage- which I would have no problem paying to park in. 

    Please- just don’t take parking away. A BIG thank you to junction businesses for the parking lots we do have.

    Born & raised & have lived in WS for 6+ decades- I always try to shop locally first- in fact have just discovered a fun new store- Work Shop- at California & Charlestown – which I found while  just DRIVING by.

    That said- as I drive to get around- if I can’t find a place to park – so I can walk around the junction -I take my $ elsewhere- be it the mall or online. 

  • NW October 27, 2017 (6:15 pm)

    I would not like to see empty store fronts walking thru the junction, if I do spend money in the junction it is in just a few of the restaurants usually a purchase for a meal around $10 or under also used bookstore or the second hand shops. For me a middle aged single male there just is not anything  I need or is not otherwise my price margin. I tend to shop at costco walmart target and thrift shops to be honest. My two cents. Maybe this holiday I will try and shop at one or a few stores in the junction. 

    • Nw October 27, 2017 (6:54 pm)

      I am being priced out ,I most likely won’t be able to afford to live here in the decades to come,  of West Seattle – Seattle in general so it’s unfortunate but caring less I guess about sustaining it in anyway. 

  • fiz October 27, 2017 (7:35 pm)

    Interesting – while reading these comments I received a call from a lifelong WS resident looking for parking in our Junction driveway during  the festival on Sunday.  With a visiting disabled child they would not be able to attend without a close accommodation.   This is one example of what folks will do to continue to join activities and support Junction businesses.  

  • kg October 27, 2017 (8:01 pm)

    Great picture. I see a few familiar faces. Chaz by the door on the left, Greg from Mountain 2 Sound to the right of him, and quite a few others. Great to see the turn out for from local business owners for this event.

    Photographer needs a raise. =)

  • Km October 28, 2017 (9:13 am)

    I wish I felt safer walking in The Junction. The number of times I have nearly been struck by an auto is too much to count, per week. People taking free rights when they are banned, running red lights, taking risky u-turns to get the “perfect” parking spot, etc. I am far more afraid of what a car can do as opposed to unsavory and unsafe behavior from other individuals on foot.

  • Question Mark October 28, 2017 (10:55 am)

    “Some of our servers are making $60 an hour.”

    What an absurd, cherry-picked statement. And what’s to complain about anyway if the business is contributing less than 25% of that amount directly … ?? …

Sorry, comment time is over.