Seattle’s new small business council has big Capitol Hill presence

Durkan and Taylor on a neighborhood small business tour in November (Image: CHS)

After Amazon announced it was going to open a second headquarters, the Seattle City Council decided it needed to start meeting with the behemoth corporation, carefully orchestrating  who would attend so they didn’t run afoul of open meetings laws.

Small businesses around town haven’t yet gotten the same sort of attention.

“I feel like small business has lost its voice in this city over the last few years,” said Tracy Taylor of Capitol Hill’s Elliott Bay Book Company.

That will change in the coming months. Mayor Jenny Durkan has convened a Small Business Advisory Council and the group plans to have its first meeting this week on Wednesday, February 21st. Taylor is one of the council’s four co-chairs.

Taylor’s comments about the loss of a voice were echoed by others with strong Capitol Hill connections on the council.

“The city is changing so rapidly, and there’s so much at stake,” said Rachel Marshall of Rachel’s Ginger Beer and part of the ownership behind Capitol Hill’s Montana and Nacho Borracho. “Small business owners, who employ so many people, will have a seat at the table.”

“I think there is a growing divide in our city regarding what small businesses contribute to the diversity, character and charm of our city and how we as a community maintain, create, sustain this landscape,” said Donna Moodie, owner of 14th and Union’s Marjorie and another co-chair of the council.

According to the mayor’s office, there are about 36,500 businesses in Seattle with 50 or fewer employees. They employ about 200,000 people.

The small business council has 26 members, each serving two-year terms, representing a wide array of industries, from retail and restaurants, to child care and oil sales.

Taylor, general manager at Elliott Bay where Mayor Durkan announced the formation of the council in November, praised the council’s makeup, noting not only diversity of industries represented, but also noting the number of minority-owned businesses, and a wide distribution of businesses throughout the city.

Capitol Hill is well represented on the council. In addition to Taylor, Moodie, and Marshall, there are also representatives from Molly Moon’s, Crybaby Studios, Terra Plata, Marination, and the Queer/Bar and Lost Lake family of businesses. You can check out the full roster participating in the small business council here:

Capitol Hill Community Post | Mayor Durkan Announces Members of City’s New Small Business Advisory Council

Taylor said she hopes small businesses will be able to weigh in on the sorts of issues where they may typically be overlooked. The city, for example, is considering implementing a head tax to fund homelessness services.

Taylor said that when people think about taxing businesses, the conversation often starts and stops with Amazon and a handful of other large employers, but it doesn’t always consider what it might do to the neighborhood shops and restaurants.

“We don’t have that mechanism. Don’t have a lawyer. Don’t have big bucks,” Taylor said.

In addition to the larger issues confronting small business, some members plan to advocate on more specific topics. Joey Burgess of Queer/Bar and director of operations for the restaurant group that includes Big Mario’s, Lost Lake and the Comet Tavern said he hopes to champion LGBTQIA+ and nightlife businesses.

“I want to prioritize the preservation of culture, community, and safety in our LGBTQIA+ neighborhoods, most of which is fostered and maintained by local small business and nonprofits,” he tells CHS.

Burgess also hopes to work with the city on a wide array of nuts and bolts issues like permitting, construction, and public projects. The current system, Burgess said, often disadvantages small businesses.

Moodie said that she wants to share her story, and also to hear from other small business owners and work to become a model for incubation and success.

Marshall, who notes she is in both the manufacturing and retail businesses, said she hopes to be a voice for those industries. She also would like to find ways to encourage affordable housing, “so the people working with me don’t have to move to Kent.”

While she recognizes it’s a larger issue than just Seattle, Marshall also wants to work to close the wage gap between men and women.

Groups like this one are routinely formed by governments. Just as routinely, they turn out to be little more than a feel-good exercise whose suggestions are ignored. Marshall said she’s been given no reason to believe that might happen, and she trusts the mayor isn’t simply giving small businesses lip service.

Taylor said that all members of the City Council had expressed interest in the council and hearing what they have to say. Taylor was optimistic about the role they will play and said neither she, nor any of the other co-chairs want to waste their time and energy. So they are working to start in quickly and already have some ideas about how the group might organize itself and start discussing issues.

“I think, going forward, we can have a voice,” Taylor said.

The Small Business Advisory Council will meet at least quarterly. Meetings will not typically be open to the public.

Mayor Durkan, meanwhile, is scheduled to deliver her first State of the City address Tuesday starting at 11 AM from Rainier Beach High School. You can watch the address live here via seattlechannel.org.

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8 thoughts on “Seattle’s new small business council has big Capitol Hill presence

  1. I am glad to hear Capitol Hill small businesses have a prominent place at the table. If we don’t want everything to become a bunch of chains, we need to do a much better job of supporting small business. The homeless tax on business is such BS. Rob Johnson trying to locate a SCS in the middle of a Capitol Hill business district rather than in his district is a bunch of BS. Neighborhood small businesses already have to pay to clean up the mess created by junkies camping in their doorways since the city doesn’t have the political will to stop this nonsense. Now City Council wants more money to fund non-profits to hand out tents, blankets and sandwiches to the homeless junkies camping in their doorways and hold rallies to protest against reform. Until the city bans camping and makes shelter beds the only short-term option, we are pouring money down the drain. Once we get everyone off the street and into shelter beds, we can focus on services, treatment and long-term housing. If you give people the option to camp, most will choose that over a room full of bunk beds and the flow of lost souls will continue from the rest of King County and other parts of the country where you can’t camp in a city park, business district or green belt. In other words we will continue to import homeless people at a rate greater than the city can handle, and the crisis will continue to worsen.

    • Some good points here, and some misses. There are those that will not go to a shelter under any circumstances. The alternative to not letting them camp is forced shelter, AKA a jail cell, or running them out of town. I have no idea what the solution to this issue is. Yes, there are the involuntary homeless, those that are priced out or kicked out, but those do tend to use shelters; it’s the addicted that generally prefer the streets.

      It is also true that other municipalities drive the homeless toward Seattle because we do offer homeless services and do tolerate camping to a degree. Which brings me to the point I make on this blog often. The solution must be regional. A locally imposed head tax is well intentioned, but will only make things worse.

      In the meantime the solution for homeless persons will be the same as it ever was: Move them to the next neighborhood.

  2. I do think that if a person refuses going to a shelter, refuses treatment and services, continues to trash a park, shits on the doorstep of a business and steals to fund a heroin addiction they should be arrested and forced into treatment. If they drop out of the treatment program, than the options is jail or get out of town. A society has to have some rules to function. Our acceptance of this kind of behavior in the public square is unique to Seattle and west coast cities of the United States and very destructive to the social fabric of our cities. In other parts of the world, rich and poor, this is not tolerated. Public spaces are for community. Old people sit on park benches and children play in the parks. What we have come to accept as a normal part of living in a city is not normal at all. It is a disgrace. I am a liberal, but on this issue, I am starting to sound conservative, because the liberals running the city have jumped the shark. They have stuck there heads in the sand and made a lot of excuses for their failure to govern, and I am tired of it.

    • Jail + treatment = $. Which is fine, but how do we pay for it? The employee head tax? You’re against it, as am I. More property tax? My property tax is up 23% this year. I don’t know if this is typical, but yes or no, higher property tax equals still higher rents and more displaced people.

      Forced treatment is generally unsuccessful anyway. If AA, NA, and all the other “A”’s have taught us anything, it’s that you gotta be ready if it’s going to work.

      Throwing them out of town is passing on the problem. There’s no simple solution. If I think of one, I’ll be sure to post it.

    • Yours is a “tough love” approach. I’m not sure if I agree completely, but alot of what you say makes sense. We need to stop coddling the homeless in order to stop the scourge of trashy encampments everywhere, and adopt an approach which actually helps the homeless and not enable them.

    • I don’t think of it as a tough love approach. It is just common sense. Our current model for addressing the homelessness crisis (I am referring to just the segment living on the streets) is based on a fairytale (If we just build enough housing…) rather than reality, and it has failed miserably. It is bad for community, bad for business, and bad for the people we are letting rot, freeze and die in the streets. It is also bad for the progressive movement because it is demonstrating to everyone that visits that liberals don’t have the political will to run a city effectively. Like the far right, ideology trumps reality, apparently. It is time we bring the city up to international standards. Most places rich and poor don’t have anything close to the Seattle shitshow. The current state is a failure of our culture and leadership, and it is a disgrace. I think the silent majority realizes and agrees with me on most points. That is why Durkan beat Moon by 10 points.

  3. I support some kind of tax if the city council gets their heads out of the sand and implements, funds and enforces a no camping policy as part of the package. Otherwise it is a waste of money or worse.

  4. This advisory committee is a great first step to re-engaging small businesses at a time when the costs are skyrocketing for a number of reasons – wages, rent, licensing fees, supplies, transportation, parking, etc. Compare this to the ridiculous “Progressive Revenue Task Force” and you will see what a complete joke this City Council is at engaging business interests.