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:
*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
§ 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
§ 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