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Seattle’s new Legacy Business Program won’t save your favorite restaurant or bar from demolition (but it might help it find a new Capitol Hill home)

In business for a decade or more? Check. A community asset? Check. At risk of displacement? CHECK!

A new program will award one lucky District 3 business eternal immunity against dips in the economy, looming redevelopment, and changing tastes.

Those last parts? Not true.

But the city is rolling out a Legacy Business Program. The bad news is the new initiative is not really about preserving the most culturally important spaces in the daily lives of our neighborhoods.

Instead, Seattle’s first step in recognizing its most vital “third places” away from our homes and work will be a bit of a popularity contest:

One Legacy Business will be selected from each of the seven council districts. These businesses will receive public recognition at an awards ceremony in May, in recognition of National Small Business Month. Winners will also receive access to a variety of small business support services through the Office of Economic Development, including a commercial lease and succession planning toolkit, marketing and legal consultation.

The city’s Office of Economic Development officially opened nominations for the program this week and will continue to collect submissions through Valentine’s Day 2020.

Lisa Herbold, West Seattle’s newly re-elected representative on the City Council who has been driving the effort behind the program, said she is “hopeful” more resources will come for legacy businesses including “succession planning, marketing consultations, and incentivizing the development of affordable commercial space.”

Earlier this year, CHS reported on the potential of a deeper program to address ongoing displacement of businesses in the city’s challenging labor market and in a real estate environment that heavily burdens small businesses with hefty leases and long rosters of expenses.

The Seattle City Council first started developing the program in 2017, when an effort spearheaded by Herbold budgeted $50,000 to study the issue of so-called “legacy businesses.” Council staff produced a study that year of what a legacy business might be, and ways the city might help them remain afloat.

The study defined a legacy business as one that has been open for at least 10 years and is small (10 or fewer employees), independent and serves as a community hub. A hub is considered a retail, restaurant or other environment where people gather. While someplace like the Central District’s Cappy’s Boxing Gym and Earl’s Cuts and Styles, or Capitol Hill’s Wildrose might qualify, something like a law office would not likely make the cut. It did not include nonprofits, since they would face a very different set of challenges.

The study found that 1,162 businesses citywide might qualify for the designation using those standards.

The city’s nomination process for the new program has basically the same requirements as the study though the employee threshold has been bumped up to 50. Businesses must have been around for at least a decade (here’s our list of the 50 oldest businesses in District 3, by the way) and must be “an independently-owned, for-profit business.” The nomination process also asks things like “how the business contributes to the ground-level streetscape and/or neighborhood identity” and “the community function the business serves, beyond the basic sale of goods and services.”

After the nomination process, the city says it will offer all nominees that qualify an opportunity to apply for the program. One legacy business will be selected in each district to be recognized at an awards ceremony in May during National Small Business Month. The city says winners will also receive access to “a variety of small business support services through the Office of Economic Development,” including a commercial lease and succession planning toolkit, and marketing and legal consultation. The program is being coordinated by former Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce head Michael Wells, now with the city’s OED.

While CHS can’t promise that eternal immunity against dips in the economy, looming redevelopment, and changing tastes we offered up top, we’ll also throw a bone out there for the eventual District 3 winner. How about a free year of advertising on CHS? Lucky!

You can nominate your favorite D3 “legacy business” here through February 2020.


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4 thoughts on “Seattle’s new Legacy Business Program won’t save your favorite restaurant or bar from demolition (but it might help it find a new Capitol Hill home)

  1. Is this one business a year or just one business. Seems like saving one business in each district isn’t going to do much overall so I hope this is a yearly award

  2. This is such a joke. It is basically a PR stunt for Herbold who wants to look pro-small business. The services listed here appear to be available to any small business that asks the city for help.