Temporary Seattle garage businesses allowed during pandemic are expected to stick around
Julianne Duncan owns Nightshade Botanicals, a small plant shop she runs out of a garage in Seattle’s Phinney Ridge neighborhood.
“I was dreaming about a space because my bathroom was overwhelmed with plants everywhere, my living room — any space!” Duncan said. “It got to the point where it was like, OK, I can’t even sit down and eat because there are too many plants. But I didn’t ever think I’d be able to find an affordable space.”
As a new small business owner, Duncan said she never would have been able to afford a retail space.
“I was looking off Phinney Ridge and I know someone who just started renting a space for over $3,000, and Ballard is $4,000,” Duncan said.
But Duncan is able to have a storefront thanks to Seattle’s “Bringing Business Home” bill. The temporary bill was passed last year and spearheaded by City Councilmember Dan Strauss.
“It provides flexibility with the land use code so that entrepreneurs can use their garage to turn their dreams into the businesses that succeed,” Strauss said. “So that as we emerge out of this pandemic, we’re able to fill those vacant storefronts with businesses that are homegrown.”
The bill was inspired by Yonder Bar, Caitlin Braam’s hard cider company. She’s been selling cans and growlers out of her garage since 2020, to the delight of neighbors walking by.
“Yonder Bar allowed us to start at home without rent and be able to build a groundswell, and a community, and a following, which then allowed us to sign a lease for our new taproom in Ballard,” Braam said. “That is the hope for this. Why not take advantage and get some new businesses incubated, so that in six months, a year, they can find a big beautiful space to move into.”
The temporary bill is set to expire on April 21, but Strauss plans to pass a six-month extension so the program can stay in place while they work on establishing it permanently.
“The biggest thing I keep telling people is this does not take away the licensing that you need,” Braam said. “I still had to go through three months of Liquor Control Board licensing to get licensed to have Yonder Bar in our garage. The health department is another process — if you’re having food or anything along those lines. So it is a process and it won’t be overnight that businesses just start popping up.”
Columbia City’s Bao-Tram Do worked in philanthropy for a decade before starting Emerald City Flowers out of her townhouse garage.
“I just was feeling like I needed some type of inspiration outside of work, as someone who was working in the social impact sector,” Do said. “It started as a creative outlet during the pandemic. I was arranging flowers that I got from Trader Joe’s and then people were wanting to buy them, so I started doing floral arranging and getting my floral resale license.”
She quit her job four months ago to run the business full time. But just like Duncan, she couldn’t afford to pay thousands of dollars in rent.
“I’m pretty rooted in the neighborhood, it’s where I grew up,” Do said. “So being able to serve south Seattle and being a woman of color florist that is particularly keen to serving diverse communities, whether it’s Eid celebrations or the Lunar New Year, that’s something I’ve been fortunate to be able to do in a really accessible way. [The bill allows me to run this business without] needing to have a lot of money and capital to invest in a space, given that I know the space I have at home is sufficient.”
As for Yonder Bar, Braam is planning to shut down her garage taproom the first week in March, but they’re doing something special up until then.
“Yonder Bar is technically a tasting room, that’s what we’re licensed as,” Braam said. “But because we opened during COVID, we were always to-go. But because some of the restrictions have been loosened around being able to consume on-site, we’ve put six seats in and we’re selling reservations for $5, and that is donated to the Phinney Neighborhood Association. That reservation gets you 50 minutes at Yonder Bar. You can sit here, talk to the bartenders, enjoy this lovely garage, and have a pint of Yonder Cider.”
As much as Braam and her community love Yonder Bar, she says her husband is looking forward to getting his garage workspace back.
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