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Family-run businesses hurt by Aurora Avenue prostitution

(AP)

For businesses in the north end of Seattle, the Aurora Avenue prostitution has gotten out of hand — and this fact was made loud and clear during a community meeting between business owners, residents, and police Tuesday evening.

Candice Roberston, manger of Comfort Inn & Suites at 137th Street and Aurora, told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson that the rampant prostitution has given her hotel a bad name. Even at 8 a.m., one can see four or five prostitutes loitering on the corner in front of Comfort Inn.

“Every day I go in and it’s a battle of which girl is standing on the corner,” Robertson said.

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One morning, she noticed a “staff meeting” taking place between a pimp and several prostitutes in front of the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store across the street.

“It used to be just at night they’d come out, but now they’re out constantly,” Robertson said.

Her hotel – which, she said, despite the name Comfort Inn is “not a corporate facility,” but a “family-run business” — strives to be known as an affordable getaway for families on vacation, but the sight of prostitutes on the sidewalk is not exactly what Mom and Dad want their kids to see when arriving at the hotel.

“There are many times when [the prostitutes] have been dropped off in our driveway, and they’ll stand on either side of our sign,” Robertson said. “There are people with a minivan full of kids coming in for vacation, and they can’t stay downtown Seattle because they can’t afford $500 a night. They stay with us because it’s a little more affordable — they pull in our driveway and they’re greeted by prostitutes.”

Thanks to the Aurora Avenue prostitution, Comfort Inn’s numbers are starting “to tank.” Many online reviews of the hotel have been “horrible,” Robertson said, not because of cleanliness or service, but simply because of the sketchiness of the neighborhood.

Robertson is worried because Choice Hotels, Comfort Inn’s umbrella company, is concerned about the image their inn is earning.

“It’s been a deterrent for a lot of our customers and it’s really unfortunate because I grew up in this area and I’ve never seen it as bad as it is,” Robertson said.

She tells customers to email their complaints to the Seattle City Council, the people she feels are behind the problems.

Besides city government, Robertson believes that some of the motels in the area are helping the problem by allowing obvious pimps, prostitutes, and clients to check in. Many of the motels south of 125th have hourly rates, she noted.

Roberston works hard to make sure that Comfort Inn & Suites is not one of these. Robertson makes copies of customers’ driver’s licenses if the person’s address is within 50 miles of Seattle, since in that case, “nine times out of ten they’re up to no good.”

Still, the problem won’t be solved without the help of law enforcement, Robertson said. But, “The Seattle Police Department is stretched so thin when it comes to that, and they prioritize their crimes.”

She is determined to help the police in any way that she can to clean up the neighborhood and create a healthier business environment.

“I told them, if you need to refill your coffee, if you need to take a breather for a second … come see us and we’ll work with you,” she said. “What do we need to do to create a task force, essentially, to work with them and help create a solution to this problem?”

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