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Small businesses in Seattle continuing to struggle amid COVID and riots

The downtown T-Mobile store, with boarded up windows. (Photo courtesy of Jason Rantz)

How have businesses in Seattle been coping as the pandemic and riots stretch on? Jon Scholes, President of the Downtown Seattle Association, joined KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show to discuss how the early economic relief is not enough to sustain the downtown core, and how rioting is exacerbating an already dire economic situation.

“Well, the federal investment both for small businesses and workers was significant. It was really a big cushion and safety net over the last several months for many small businesses and workers. But that money is largely gone, so I fear that we’re staring at an economic cliff, and we’re already starting to see small businesses go over the edge. We’ve had more than 130 [businesses] across the city close their doors. Those are folks that aren’t coming back,” Scholes said.

“The horizon is darker without that federal investment, and in the challenges of just what we see in the governance of our city.”

What needs to happen now to ensure downtown Seattle can bounce back after the pandemic?

“First, we can do no harm. And unfortunately, our city council — a majority of them — have adopted a historic new payroll tax at levels we’ve never seen before on 800 companies in Seattle. I fear that’s going to push many of those companies to relocate their jobs elsewhere,” he said.

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“It was sort of cleverly dubbed the ‘Amazon Tax,’ but don’t believe the marketing hype because it affects more than 700 companies in Seattle, many of whom, like Nordstrom, for instance, are suffering greatly. I think the headline in the paper today was a 53% reduction in their profits. They’ve faced layoffs, they’re not alone in this,” Scholes added. “This tax affects companies across sectors from maritime to retail to hospitality sectors that are really struggling.”

What’s made it worse for businesses already struggling in Seattle is the seeming regularity of rioting and vandalism, causing damage to storefronts.

“The need to board up on too many nights each week because certain individuals, a small group of individuals, are sort of hellbent on putting other people’s property and lives in danger. And I don’t call these protests. They’re not protests, they’re gatherings of folks that want to go out every night and break stuff,” Scholes said.

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“And there’s legitimate issues to protest in our community and in our country right now. And thousands of people have taken to the streets of Seattle to do just that. But unfortunately, we’ve got a small group of folks that want to go out and break stuff and put the lives of first responders and others in harm’s way,” he added. “And that makes it a difficult environment for small businesses to get back on their feet. So we need to be working together. We need our mayor and our council to be working together on the toughest issue our city’s faced in more than a century.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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