One could argue the thing that really makes a city a unique city is its culture. The architecture, music, theater, art, film and old, beloved institutions where people have been crowding into booths to drink beer for generations. But as rents go up in Seattle, some of the Seattle’s favorite institutions are at risk of closing. Which is why Seattle Councilmember Lisa Herbold has introduced the Legacy Business Program.
The idea is to eventually identify particular businesses in Seattle as “legacy businesses” and help keep them stay afloat. But what will this program actually look like?
“No idea yet,” Councilwomen Herbold admits. “We put aside some money in the budget this year in order to do the study. We are expecting to get that study back with some recommendations for the size of the program and where those funding sources might come from.”
The Legacy Business Program idea came from San Francisco, where a similar program is in motion.
“There’s a similar effort in Great Britain around English pubs,” Herbold said. “There is another effort in Paris around their bookstores.”
While the proposed program is celebrated by many, some see it as anti-development or just sappy nostalgia.
“It’s just a fear of change or it’s anti-development or resistance to sharing what we have with other people,” Herbold said. “I think some people think that’s what’s operating in the minds of people who are interested in preservation. I recognize that things are changing and we have to make room for people. But we have to recognize that we have these cultural anchors and we have to figure out a way to maintain them or Seattle won’t become such a rich place to live.”
A Seattle Legacy Business Program
The city did a survey and asked people which businesses they are most afraid losing. Number one on the list is Scarecrow Video.
“One of the greatest things that Scarecrow has to offer is the biggest collection in the world.” said Scarecrow Video’s marketing coordinator Matt Lynch. “We have almost 130,000 titles right now. So much of what we have you couldn’t find anywhere else. So much of what we have would disappear forever if we weren’t here.”
“This is one of the only places on Earth where you can come in and rent a very rare movie anymore,” he said. “You won’t be able to find it on Netflix or whatever streaming channel you decided to use. If we weren’t here, these things would get sold off to collectors or institutions and they wouldn’t be available anymore and we think that’s one of the real tragedies.”
Scarecrow became a non-profit a few years ago, which business manager and executive director Kate Barr said is very helpful.
“The number one biggest is that we can accept donations,” Barr said. “We now have a membership that people can pay into that helps support us. We can have volunteers, we can go after grant money. All of these things are not available to you if you’re a for-profit business.”
She thinks Councilwoman Herbold’s Legacy Business Program plan could be awesome, but she doesn’t know that it will give businesses what they actually need.
“The city itself does not like to give money at all,” Barr said. “So I’m going to make a plug for one of the things I’ve been going to city council and asking them to consider. In Rainier Valley, when the light rail station was being developed, there were a lot of the same concerns that the U-District is now facing. The whole area was anticipated to be completely gentrified. Rainier Valley was unique in that it had an incredibly diverse population and a lot of very small, minority owned businesses. So the city actually put together a fund for them. It’s called the Rainier Valley Economic Development Fund, it’s been in existence since the early 2000s. It is funded by the city, it works to offer low interest or no interest loans to small businesses and organizations. Rainier Valley has had an 85 percent retention rate since this all began.”
She said Herbold is developing a three year plan, so it won’t help businesses in the short term like the Rainier Fund model could.