Business owner: Seattle is ‘way past’ the point of affordability

Mar 20, 2017, 1:37 PM

Seattle affordability, minimum wage, Self-sufficiency...

Seattle approved a move to a $15 minimum wage in 2014. The benefits of that change are still in dispute. (AP)


Some of Seattle’s small business owners say they’re not feeling the love, despite politicians continuing to tout how important they believe local establishments are.

In September of last year, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray voiced his support of small businesses and released recommendations to help ensure that Seattle remains an “affordable and equitable place for small businesses.” This is what he said after announcing the recommendations:

Affordability is vital to Seattle’s future. Whether it is ensuring people can make a living wage, afford to live where they work or start a business, we must address affordability from every direction. Seattle’s small businesses are what make Seattle a city we love to work and live in. As the city grows, we must maintain the uniqueness and high quality of life made possible by small businesses today.

The city said the recommendations from a special committee were the result of collaboration between small businesses and developers.

“The interests of small business owners and developers really are aligned,” one committee member and a developer said in a city press release.

But not all business owners feel that way.

Take Dave Meinert, for example. The restaurant owner told KIRO Radio’s Jason and Burns that Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed soda tax to benefit education programs is an example of Seattle politicians sitting down and writing up new policies without speaking with all the people impacted by their decisions.

“That’s my biggest beef,” he said. “Some of this stuff doesn’t make sense.”

Meinert says while politicians will take any opportunity to talk about the importance of small businesses when it comes to making laws, they “rarely do anything” to support them.

“It’s a frustrating place,” he continued. “This city seems to think the business success that happens here is because of the city. I think that’s kind of laughable.”

Meinert believes the success of even the largest businesses happen despite the city’s politics and the people who get their voices heard are developers and labor unions.

Some local business owners with a smaller economic footprint felt the squeeze as the city’s minimum wage increased. Employers with 500 or fewer employees are now required to pay at least $11 an hour — $13 if they do not pay toward medical or provide at least $2 an hour in tips.

Stories have surfaced of business owners being unable to survive in the city — though some give less weight to the wage law being the cause of shutting their doors.

The former owner of Louisa’s told KIRO Radio’s Tom and Curley she was closing due to a city that is increasingly more expensive to operate in.

The Tacoma News Tribune reported at the beginning of the month that since 2016, eight Seattle-based restaurant groups have said they plan to or already have, opened a restaurant in Tacoma.

Kittie Davidovich told the Tribune that she was looking at opening a new restaurant in the South Lake Union until she was attracted by Tacoma’s low lease rates and potential lower labor costs.

There is an estimated 2.2 percent job growth in Pierce County this year, according to the Tribune.

Whether those local business owners who have come forward against the city are the voice of a larger group of frustrated connoisseurs remains to be seen.

Last year, as the city moved toward higher wages, a researcher commissioned by the city told KIRO Radio that, anecdotally, he sees small businesses struggling. However, it was still too early to give a solid assessment.

If you ask Meinert, however, the city is now past the point of pricing people out.

“We’re way past that point,” he said.

Jason Rantz on AM 770 KTTH
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