18 things CHS heard at Sawant small business summit

“The reality is corporate politicians talk a lot about small businesses but do very little for them”

Earlier this week at the Eritrean Community Center just south of the I-90 on Rainier, socialist City Council member and District 3 rep Kshama Sawant held a “progressive small business summit” to raise support for her plans to assist Seattle’s small businesses with a focus on her call for commercial rent control.

The Council member stood by the likes of local bar and restaurant owner David Meinert, AfricaTown founder Wyking Garrett, Sara Mae, owner of 701 Coffee in the Central District—and vocal advocate for businesses along 23rd avenue impacted by construction who eventually got the city to fork over $650,000 in mitigation payments—and a representative from the Central Co-Op on Madison, Susanna Schult, all of whom addressed the crowd in support of Sawant, her proposals, and small business organizing. Sawant rolled out her small business plan along with her unholy alliance with Meinert—a former adversary during the fight for $15—last fall before the November election.

Framing the rising rents, gentrification, and the displacement of commercial and residential tenants as a result of a city government that “mainly promotes the interests of big business” and allows “big developers and big business” to cash in on a hot real estate market, Sawant asked attendees to sign letters addressed to the city council calling on them to act on a statement of legislative intent (SLI) passed last budget cycle to direct the city to convene a small business task force to make proposals for commercial rent control, as well as support Sawant’s efforts in commissioning a study of the feasibility of commercial rent control.

To support her claim that the city government is in the pocket of Vulcan real estate and friends, Sawant distributed and highlighted a memo responding to the SLI sent this week from the director of the Office of Economic Development, Brian Surratt, saying that an advisory committee should be convened but that the city shouldn’t “prescribe any particular actions in advance” and engage the advisory committee in their recommended “range of solutions” to issues facing Seattle’s small businesses.

“They aren’t even considering rent control,” Sawant told the crowd indignantly.

Here are a few things CHS heard Wednesday night.

  1. “The reality is corporate politicians talk a lot about small businesses but do very little for them,” Sawant said. “It [getting commercial rent control] will involve a political fight against the establishment. This is an organizing meeting as far as I’m concerned.”
  2. In reference to Vulcan’s recent purchase of six acres at 23rd and Jackson in the Central District, Sawant said: “The writing’s on the wall. This city is getting gentrified unless we do something about it. We need to get organized to demand a say in what happens in these public spaces.”
  3. “Another challenge we feel as the neighborhood [Capitol Hill] is changing is a influx of venture capital funded retailers and national chains that have little stake in the community but have moved in to take advantage of the busy neighborhood and the attractive consumer market that small, locally owned businesses built,” said Susanna Schultz of the Central Co-Op grocery store. “We support the formation of a small business task force.”
  4. “What we’ve received from the mayor’s office is $650,000 between 21 businesses. The relief is woefully inadequate,” said Sara Mae, owner of 701 coffee. “They’re beginning to despise the checks now, but people are so far in the hole that it’s a drop in the bucket.”
  5. “The Mayor’s anti-small business policies have sold the diversity, culture, and character of the city’s Central District to the highest bidder,” said Mae added. “I believe their intent has always been displacement, but they didn’t count on us coming together.”
  6. Murray does fantastic photo ops with people of color and the community. But when it comes to rubber hitting the road, it’s all window dressing,” said Mae.
  7. Michael Wells, former head of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and current small business advocate for the city’s Office of Economic Development, attended the meeting in the audience.
  8. Jon Grant, former director of the Tenants Union and city council candidate, was also in attendance.
  9. “Don’t get me wrong, light rail is great, I can get around. But I can’t afford to put up a small advertisement inside the train.” said Luis Rodriguez, owner of The Station coffee shop on Beacon Hill.
  10. “There’s barely any black biz out there owned by African Americans and I only hire people from my community. But if my community is moving out, who am I going to hire? I’m not going to hire the white hipster kid who just moved here 6 months ago. Not me,” said Rodriguez.
  11. “This is the type of community we need to end up being on small business commissions—when they actually happen—instead of what I’m used to seeing which is ten white rich guys sitting in a room talking policy,” said David Meinert.
  12. Small business is getting shit on,” Meinert added. “We need to do something about that and come together. Commercial rent control is one really big idea that can happen. Another is expanding light rail service later at night so our workers can get home and our customers can get home as well.”
  13. “They [City Hall] don’t give a damn about us [minority owned businesses on 23rd avenue], in fact they want us gone,” said Gerald Hankerson, president of the King County NAACP. “We’ve seen this before. It’s called weed and seed: weed out the old people, bring in the new people like Vulcan is doing at the Promenade for $32 million dollars. My frustration is that we didn’t have the resources to purchase it for ourselves.”
  14. At one point, Rodriguez pointed out that Ian Eisenberg—owner of Uncle Ike’s recreational marijuana store at 23rd and Union in the Central District—was in the audience. “Ian Eisenberg is here and I know he owns a lot of property there [on 23rd]. A lot of people see you as the problem. Do you want to say anything?” Eisenberg responded with “I’m just here to listen.” (Uncle Ike’s is a CHS advertiser.)
  15. Sara Mae noted that Eisenberg had privately financially supported 701 coffee when they were recently behind on their city light bills and facing a electricity shut off. “Behind the scenes Ian has been very helpful to our small businesses on 23rd avenue and he doesn’t have to be. Frankly, he could sit there and just watch us all die off and watch my building go into foreclosure that I occupy.”
  16. “Our enemies are not our workers,” said Shirley Henderson, owner of Squirrel Chops coffee and a Socialist Alternative member. “It’s big business fighting to get a larger share of the market and push us out to increase their profit margins. The progressive plan that Khama and others have put together is a great way to level the playing field for small biz.”
  17. Andra Kranzler, a legislative aide to council member Lisa Herbold, spoke briefly, saying “Herbold is inspired by the work that is happening here [at the summit]” and is interested in continuing the conversation of how to support small businesses.
  18. “The next steps would be for us to have a meeting at City Hall where we can involve all the other council members so that they can hear that you are all determined to push for studying the commercial rent control policy,” Sawant said towards the end of the meeting.

Meanwhile, Thursday night, Mayor Ed Murray held a press conference at the Taste of the Caribbean restaurant in the Central District to announce new investments in neighborhood business districts through the city’s Only in Seattle program.

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28 thoughts on “18 things CHS heard at Sawant small business summit

  1. Wow. Blatant racism towards white people. Refusing to hire people because of their color is racist and ILLEGAL. We should prosecute this Rodriguez character.

    Furthermore, the “character” of the CD is hardly something that people have nurtured throughout the year. Is character 3 business owners consecutively getting shot at 23rd and Union? Is character a decaying neighborhood that is finally starting to see some renewal and investment.

    And lets not forget that these “local community activists” love to hate the successful Jewish entrepreneur Eisenberg who has brought more economic activity to this area than any other business before it.

    Oh and lets also regret the loss of surface parking lots at the Promenade.

    Wake up people, this socialist social justice war cry we are hearing is nothing more than special interest groups trying to usurp power through their corrupt politician Sawant.

    P.S. Miss Rodriguez. I have sent a letter to the city attorney’s office. I hope to see you defending your racism in court soon.

  2. Taking steps to help lift up a minority community is not “racism” towards whites. Any comments that suggest such betray ignorance about what racism in this context actually is. We’re not talking about prejudice. We’re talking about a systemic imbalance in power and opportunity.

    I think it’s good that there are people and businesses out there who are willing to look at some of the issues they have the power to address (like hiring within their communities) and take substantive action.

    Growth and the influx of non-local brands and chains does destroy some of the flavor of a neighborhood. There has to be a compromise. I don’t think we can keep such businesses completely out. But perhaps a partnering program? Where as a requirement to rent/own in that District they have to mentor/sponsor/joint-venture with a locally-owned small business of the same type? or of any type?

    I’m just saying, there are creative solutions out there that still allow for capitalism, but also recognize that profit isn’t the only thing of value a business can produce. We don’t just have to throw up our hands and accept what has happened in the past as what must happen in the future.

    I’m glad there are those out there who are willing and able to put their time in to figure out a better way of sharing space so that we all benefit, not just those with deep pockets or a certain type of privilege.

    • Replace white hipster kid with any other label: Jewish, Gay, Single Mom, Hispanic, Muslim…

      If you still think it’s not discriminatory, check with your doctor.

    • Yeah, because business owners love competition and will totally allow another business to open near them!

      Such terrible ideas from the district 3 councilwoman…

    • I agree with everything you said. It’s disheartening to see white people (yes I’m white too) claim racism. Clearly there is a lack of understanding about what the word means and what institutionalized power is. Reminds me of all the men I know who refuse to accept that they operate from a place of privilege and often sexism. It’s always up to the minority to try to educate the majority and it gets tiring. Take an entry level class on race in Americe boys before you start screaming “racism!”.

  3. Wel’ll I won’t be going to the station any more. Luis has a very selective memory of a neighbourhood he helped gentrify.

  4. People are worried about Trump taking over this country we have our own racist right in our back yard. “There’s barely any black biz out there owned by African Americans and I only hire people from my community. But if my community is moving out, who am I going to hire? I’m not going to hire the white hipster kid who just moved here 6 months ago. Not me,” said Rodriguez. – I don’t see these people as a representative for my community. In fact I feel ill after reading this. People always say they miss when Capitol Hill was Gay hell I miss when the city wasn’t being backed by these clowns.

    • He hasn’t even lived here that long he moved here in 2005 he is a gentrified on beacon hill. He thinks because he is brown he is a victim.

  5. If assisting small businesses to prosper is a community goal, and I think is should be, we should propose policies supported by the community. And by that I mean politically and financially supported by the residents of Seattle. Commercial rent control is a tax assessment targeted at a very specific group, those who own commercial property (full disclosure. I own commercial property). I would be happy to have some of my general tax dollars go towards innovative solutions to assist locally owned, small businesses. Ideas might include a small business assistance fund, small business counseling services, tax breaks for developers renting spaces to small businesses, etc. These types of ideas require financial support from the City, and by a broad range of residents through general taxation.
    So, please come up with some good ideas to assist small businesses, but don’t rely on a punitive tax targeting a small population of people to advance a worthy agenda.

  6. I wish Sawant would drop this rent control idea. Even Paul Krugman is against rent control. nyc and San Francisco have rent control, and their rents are sky high. Our policy of just building like crazy will work better in the long run, and has already done a lot to level it off.

  7. Although I sympathize, #10 is just a very unfortunate racist statement that makes me ignore everything else said by Mr. Rodriguez.

  8. Man, these coffee shop owners just don’t stop whining about how the city and all the “gentrifiers” are out to get them. Who do they think is actually patronizing their businesses and spending $3-$5 for coffee? It’s certainly not the people who were dealing drugs on the corners or in front of the empty storefronts 5 years ago.

    23rd and Union was a ghost town not too long ago: Ike’s was empty, the Neighbor Lady was empty, the Central Building (lot) was an overgrown lot, and the Chuck’s building was empty. Somehow (smart business plans that cater to what people actually want in their neighborhood), all of those small businesses along with others like Cortona and Katy’s (two other coffee shops) are thriving despite the alleged war being waged on them by the cabal of city officials and neighborhood gentrifiers.

    It would be one thing if the only businesses in the neighborhood were national chains like Domino’s, Subway, etc., but that’s not the case at all. There are lots of successful small businesses (including many owned by POC) that are thriving in the CD and Capitol Hill. As such, I have a hard time sympathizing with coffee shop owners whining about the city’s policies when it was entirely their own decision to open a coffee-selling establishment in what may be the most competitive and saturated market/city for coffee shops in the entire world.

    Also, it’s ridiculous that people see Ian Eisenberg as “the problem.” Really? Why? Because he invested a good chunk of money in the CD before others did and it paid off? Because he’s white? Because he’s better at this whole running a successful business concept than they are? It really just comes off as sour grapes at this point.

    • Yeah, the hate towards Eisenberg is very clearly anti-semetism. Anti-semitism is ready to bubble up from the seams from the protestors. They don’t want the jew to be successful near them, and don’t want to hire one at their coffee shop, as I’ve learned from this article.

    • Yup. It is sick that Ian is vilified. What has he done other than clean up and revitalize the core of the CD biz district?

      23rd & Union was a desperate and dangerous failure when he bought in. He cleaned up and restored the car wash (which was just a nefarious hole previously). He fixed up the philly steak shop and got Med Mix in (the two previous owners of the philly steak shop where shot to death). He hasn’t torn down and redeveloped any of his property (I’m sure that day will come). He did purchase the empty lot that is now the Central apartments and sell that on, but the apartment project was already permitted and approved before he bought it (the great recession mothballed the project). The pot shop… well it is the law and he operates a proper professional biz. The shop being there is primarily driven by the initial restrictions on where the shops could be located. One was going to be there (Ponder) and they couldn’t really be located anywhere else, so why not Ian.

      He is not an absentee landlord, he moved his office to above the Neighbor Lady. He lives a couple miles away. He makes himself available and is at just about every public meeting you can find.

      He seems to me to be EXACTLY the kind of owner one would want in their community… unless you are just an anti-semitic a-hole… or are just a complainer and are morally opposed to someone outside of your chosen clan being successful.

    • These are some pretty rosey pictures of how 23rd and Union came to be under Eisenberg. He did a great job with the car wash but the bakery and Med Mix were never really offered much of an opportunity. At the time the bakery was there, the building looked like a complete safety hazard where something might fall on patrons- it was falling apart. The bakery might not of made it anyway but the building was not maintained, in complete disarray and uninviting. Med Mix was forced out for the pot shop, no other way to accurately describe what happened there. There wasn’t a graffiti/vandalism problem for any other business like Med Mix had to experience. There was zero effort to rebuild for Med Mix after the arson but when they finally gave up and left the building was fixed up to it’s current condition. The owners of Med Mix were told repeatedly there was no insurance on the building and he had no funds to fix up the building. It’s not antisemitism but shady business practices by Eisenberg that pushed out smaller pocket business efforts that lead to criticism of him. The pot shop is a huge success but others without the deep pockets got hammered by him. Need more, go reread what happened over on 15th to other people and Ponder in their efforts to advertise a pot shop of their own.

    • Yes, he plays hardball when it comes to the pot shop biz. All very common knowledge so what? It still seems a very net-sum positive to have Ian as an investor in the neighborhood. Without him Med Mix would never had been there in the first place. If the arson never happened would have he not renewed Med Mix’s lease… it was all part of his ‘evil’ master plan? We will never know because of that jackass arsonist who decided to set fire to the CD that summer.

    • BK – It is worth me noting that Med MIx wasn’t rebuilt after the arson because the tenant didn’t pay his insurance and lied to me about it. It the only lease I’ve even done that put the insurance requirement on the tenant not on me to pass through. Rookie mistake on my part. He paid his business insurance but not the insurance on the bldg proper, although he certainly thought it was insured. I did a piss poor job checking it and keeping up on it. If the insurance had been kept up to date Med Mix would have been rebuilt there as he had a long lease. In reality the business wasn’t doing very well and probably wasn’t viable.

  9. The Promenade at 23rd is not public space, it is private property. The space currently being ‘public’ is simply an attribute of this private property… and attribute the owners of the property have the right to determine and change. Many attributes of what is allowed to be built and what types of businesses operate on the property are limited by city ordinance. But Rep. Sawant, Promenade is private property, sorry.

    Question here – one term I don’t see/hear in Seattle is ‘redevelopment’. Who is in charge of the official Seattle dictionary and has somehow decided redevelopment must be replaced with ‘gentrification’.

    So no good has come from long term residents of this neighborhood selling their 100 year old home for huge sums? In Sawant terms should these ‘greedy property owners’ have their up side regulated?

  10. In short,

    they are not happy to see new comers and jealous.

    I am happy to see the change in Union and 23rd. It gets way better than 5 yrs ago. I can’t wait that site get developed. ASAP please

  11. Sawant uses the word “gentrification” as a pejorative. . I say it is “progress,” as long as it is done right, with an emphasis on small, local businesses and keeping chain stores to a minimum, along with effective measures to create affordable housing.

  12. One more thing; Luis is being given a space commercial at the publicly funded new el centro plaza on beacon hillfor substantially under the new market rate and he has the gall to complain that he is being priced out and say he won’t hire based on race. Maybe he is a shitty business owner is why he cannot afford advertising. His crappie sandwich shop is going under also. Frankly I don’t want my tax dollars subsidizing a bigot of any color.

  13. What Luis Rodriguez reportedly said came out pretty racist, but this is a very selective collection of snippets. What was the context? I’ve gone to Station Coffee and it was a welcoming place, not the least racist. Rodriquez’ point seems to be that there aren’t enough opportunities for minorities and it’s not racist to recognize this and try to offer opportunities. But through the lens of this report, the statement seemed fairly hateful. I’d like to know what Rodriguez actually said, and the context, before judging her.

    The reporter has bolded selected comments which seem to disclose what he thinks is really important. It’s pretty obviously biased. For example, take the comments praising Eisenberg for stepping up to help 701 Coffee behind the scenes, the reporter doesn’t bold the praise that the shopowner was giving Eisenberg, but rather highlights only this:”he could sit there and just watch us all die off ” – a snippet that suggests the opposite of what the speaker is saying Eisenberg actually did.

    From what I read here, there was lots of grandstanding. Sawant sings her one-note hymn to rent control. Lots of overheated rhetoric about how nefarious the mayor and “big business” are. But as I’ve said before, this is a blog, not journalism, so expect advocacy (well, if you agree) or bias (if you disagree).

  14. It’s unfortunate Luis feels that way. Not totally offended, but I won’t go out of my way to go to The Station. Plenty of other coffee shops around. And nothing screams hipster more then that place.

  15. Eisenberg has totally changed the profile and the dynamism of his corner for the better. The buildings are attractive, well lit and there are lines to buy pot. He is advertising his store all over town and getting people to discover it and the neighborhood. Likewise Chucks Bottle Shop on Union. A rising tide raises all ships and the sorry stores that preceded and still exist nearby are eyesores and need updating. If Eisenberg were black, he would be celebrated for what he has done to the neighborhood. Unless Sawant and others want to repeal rule of law and property, those who own these properties will call the shots, consistent with zoning. Running a business that survives and thrives is tough. Not for faint of heart. If you are not making it, look in the mirror, not at others. Create a product that others want to have, at a price that is more than the cost of production and staff, and you have a business that can thrive. Customers are not an entitlement, they must be earned, one at a time.