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Facing an outbreak ‘tsunami,’ Capitol Hill’s restaurants and small businesses make call for support, ideas, and relief — UPDATE: COVID-19 ‘temporary closure’ roster

(Image: CHS)

Forget Seattle’s history of fear about a giant earthquake. For Capitol Hill’s restaurant and small business communities, a natural disaster is playing out right in front of you.

“I feel like my heart is about to beat out of my chest right now. I’ve been in the Seattle restaurant industry for almost three decades. So I’ve seen a lot. I’ve seen WTO, I’ve seen the dot com crash, I’ve seen 9/11. I’m going to tell you right now that I’ve never seen anything like this,” Tamara Murphy, owner of Capitol Hill restaurant Terra Plata said Wednesday at a gathering of neighborhood business owners to bring attention to the immediate crisis hitting especially hard in the city’s food and drink industries. “This is like a tsunami. This is like a wildfire.”

Murphy said she wasn’t sure what “the last trees standing” would look like.

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The gathering brought together by the GSBA and the Broadway Business Improvement Area was mostly a call for help. There were anecdotes about the rapid downturn in business and shared fears about how long this might drag on. Many agreed that buying gift cards and gift certificates now for your favorite restaurants and shops might be the best way to help them survive through the outbreak. The meeting came after a morning announcement from Gov. Jay Inslee of a ban on gatherings of more than 250 people and an overall call for an increase in “social distancing” as the state tries to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The business owners Wednesday afternoon on Terra Plata’s upstairs garden patio said they supported the leadership of Inslee and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and agreed that slowing the outbreak and health should be the paramount concern.

They, too, heard Gov. Inslee say that, for the time being, he didn’t want to see people crowded “shoulder to shoulder” in bars. It is time to hunker down, the governor said.

But the immediate impact of a loss of revenue for small business owners will spark a wave of closures and job losses, the group gathered Wednesday said.

Tamara Murphy at Wednesday’s conference (Image: CHS)

Earlier this week, CHS reported on what neighborhood small businesses were doing to prepare and efforts including a federal COVID-19 emergency program set to come online that will make some $7 billion in low interest loans available to business hit by the virus’s impact.

More locally, City Hall is allowing first and second quarter business taxes to be deferred for businesses with taxable income below $5 million a year. Seattle Public Utilities and Seattle City Light are being directed to provide “flexible payment plans” to commercial and residential customers. The plans also allow customers to avoid any potential utility shut-off. Seattle is also working on waiving the 1% late fee for past due utility bills and will offer a Utility Discount Program.

Meanwhile, Durkan has announced a Small Business Recovery Task Force co-chaired by former Governor Gary Locke and former Council President Bruce Harrell.

But without more immediate help and business, some say they will have to shut down and let go of employees.

For those workers, the safety net — for some, at least — is partly strengthened. Under emergency rules due to the outbreak, Washington workers will be able to receive unemployment benefits if an employer temporarily cuts back or shuts down because of employee illness or quarantine and employers will get relief of benefit charges. Standby — meaning workers do not need to meet job search requirements while they are unemployed — will be available for part-time workers as well as full-time workers — but they must meet a minimum of 680 hours in the past year.

The state has also temporarily reopened the state’s health insurance exchange to allow new sign-ups.

The new rules focus on unemployment claimants involved in situations requiring isolation or quarantine as a result of COVID-19. How the state will respond to the employment issues related to temporary and longterm closures due to the new events and gatherings requirements remains to be seen. A COVID-19 Response Fund has been started with help from Amazon and Microsoft to “help people disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus outbreak’s disruption of the economy” including “people who lack access to health insurance or sick leave, residents with limited English proficiency, communities of color, and health care and gig economy workers.”

UPDATE 3/12/20 2:35 PM: The city will make $1.5 million in grants available to small business being hit by the outbreak’s economic impact:

Building on measures focused on supporting small businesses, Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan announced a $1.5 million City of Seattle fund to invest directly in small businesses financially impacted by COVID-19. The fund is an expansion of the Office of Economic Development’s (OED) Small Business Stabilization Fund, which the Mayor created to support small businesses whose operations were jeopardized by a destabilizing event.

“Eligible small businesses will receive a grant of up to $10,000 to mitigate revenue lost by COVID-19,” the City Hall announcement reads.

OED will immediately begin accepting applications for the expanded Small Business Stabilization Fund:

Eligible small businesses can apply by filling out a simple one-page form on OED’s website, and the City’s Small Business Liaisons will conduct targeted outreach and technical assistance to ensure historically underserved communities like immigrants and refugees, communities of color, and business owners who speak a language other than English apply. Once an eligible business owner applies, OED will send financial assistance within one week. Applications and grants for the Fund will continue on a rolling basis.

Kristi Brown, who is opening the Communion restaurant in the Central District and operator of a catering business, said she had just come from a meeting where she laid off seven workers.

Brown said shutting down temporarily through the next few weeks is not an option. “Your bills don’t stop,” she said. “The bills don’t stop. Like the fact that we’re in the process of opening up a restaurant, there are construction people on site right now, painting there, I can’t stop them. I still have to pay regardless.”

Christy Brooker-Lillard, owner of the Laughing Buddha tattoo shop at Broadway and Pine, said another reason owners can’t temporarily shutter are the leases — she is on the hook for rent, of course. “Even if my business closes, I have to pay two years of rent on the commercial space on Capitol Hill, which is incredibly high,” she said. “I just want to take care of the people I work with.”

Gregg Holcomb said he is considering taking on high interest rate loans to may payroll. He opened Olmstead on Broadway in the old Broadway Grill spot just before Christmas. It was a terrible time of year to open, Holcomb said Wednesday. “We were hopeful all we had to do is make it until spring,” he said. “Well, spring is here.”

Mayor Durkan was scheduled to be part of the session but was unable to appear.

What comes next across Capitol Hill, a few owners said Wednesday, is more shops limiting their hours and more restaurants eliminating service and moving to pickup and delivery only. After that if business does not pick up could come closures and a massive reset of the area’s food and drink economy.

Another missing component at the Capitol Hill gathering Wednesday were representatives from the large developers and building managers that own much of the neighborhood’s commercial properties. Terra Plata, for example, got a new landlord last year when national shopping center developer Regency Centers bought the Melrose Market development for $15.5 million.

Terra Plata co-owner Linda Di Lello Morton said lease relief could be a major help across Capitol Hill and Seattle. Another option, she said, would be relief on the property tax component of the “triple net” costs — real estate taxes, building insurance, and maintenance — most Capitol Hill businesses face in addition to their leases.

But, for now, Di Lello Morton said, the best help is more business. In a social-distanced Seattle, there might not be much to do for customers who want to help beyond buying gift certificates and gift cards.

Meanwhile, one of the neighborhood’s most high profile businesses went public with its pleas for help Wednesday. The Stranger has turned to readers to ask for donations to help it survive a rapid downturn in revenue from “advertising, ticketing fees, and our own events.”

“The coronavirus situation has virtually eliminated this income all at once,” The Stranger’s plea reads. “At a time when the city needs local coverage more than ever, we’re asking for your help to support continued coverage of everything happening in Seattle.”

The events crackdown will also hit businesses like Queer/Bar as smaller gatherings and events where effective “social distancing” measures cannot be applied are also banned.

“We are saddened to announce that all shows & activations will be canceled until further notice due to the-COVID-19 pandemic & mandatory government regulations,” a message posted by the 11th Ave venue reads. “We will continue to operate Monday-Sunday with limited hours and capacity, we are committed to providing a safe and healthy space for our community and will continue to do so as long as possible.”

In February, CHS reported on the plans for the media company to leave its longtime home at 11th and Pine for new offices in the International District.

The group of businesses including Queer/Bar, Grim’s, and The Cuff said it has had to make “temporary layoffs family wide.”

UPDATE 3/12/20 2:10 PM: Add E Pike’s Honey Hole to the list of Capitol Hill businesses announcing temporary closures or service changes. The E Pike sandwich shop announced it was closing for two weeks due to the COVID-19 response.

“We are heartbroken and although this will be very hard, we feel it is the right thing to do for our restaurant,” the message posted at the sandwich shop and bar reads. The message also say it is “impossible” to operate a business in light of calls for social distancing. Honey Hole’s ownership also has a message for a new neighbor — Jeff Bezos:

Congratulations on your new store across the street. Your Capitol Hill small business neighbors have held down the hood for year while you left the entire block of retail space void and vacant. Care to return the favor and help your neighbors out in a time of need?

Amazon Go Grocery opened across the street earlier this year after some five years of planning, more planning, and construction.

UPDATE 3/12/20 5:10 PM: Add Broadway’s Altura and its newly opened sibling Carrello to the list:

Both Carrello and Altura will close after service on Saturday, March 14th for at least four to six weeks. During this period, we will continue to evaluate the current business and community environments to determine the appropriate timing for resuming service at both restaurants. While we fully intend to reopen both restaurants, we want to be sure that it is safe for our staff and diners, as well as economically viable to do so.

CHS will continue to track closures and issues related to the COVID-19 response on local businesses here.

Capitol Hill and Central District COVID-19 Closure and Layoff List (updated: 3/13/20)

Restaurants, bars, cafes, etc.

  • Glo's: Temporary closure "two weeks" -- 3/13/20
  • Atulea: Temporary closure -- 3/13/20
  • Altura and Carrello: Temporary closure starting Saturday for "four to six weeks" -- 3/12/20
  • Honey Hole: Temporary closure "two weeks' -- 3/12/20
  • Queer/Bar, Grim's, The Cuff: Layoffs and canceled events -- 3/11/20
  • That Brown Girl Cooks: Layoffs -- 3/11/20
  • The Stranger: Call for donations -- 3/11/20

The arts

  • Seattle Asian Art Museum: Temporary closure through March -- 3/13/20
  • Seattle Public Library Capitol Hill Branch: Temporary closure through April 13 (starting 3/13 at 6 PM) -- 3/13/20
  • Frye Art Museum: Temporary closure through March -- 3/12/20

Back at Terra Plata Wednesday, Donna Moodie of E Union’s Marjorie restaurant also sounded the alarm. “To shut your doors to the community that you serve all the time, where people come when they’re in need, not just for food and for a meal, but for an experience of finding out what’s going on — sharing news, supporting each other, sharing stories, finding out the names for help,” Moodie said, “that isn’t going to help.”


More coverage…

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42 thoughts on “Facing an outbreak ‘tsunami,’ Capitol Hill’s restaurants and small businesses make call for support, ideas, and relief — UPDATE: COVID-19 ‘temporary closure’ roster

  1. i work in a restaurant/pub – all the geniuses “working from home” were out en masse today and were most certainly shoulder to shoulder at the bar.

    i know there are serious monetary issues here but it feels irresponsible to be open, especially when all these goobers are content to go around like business as usual (of course, while “working from home”) – and why would the owner volunteer to close when people are coming in?

    • Wait about 2 weeks and they will all be infected, and all businesses closed as in Italy. One person on a bus infected 10 others in China over a distance of 4m. You really don’t want to be near anyone at this point.

  2. For those of us who would like to support local venues, has anyone seen a restaurant or bar that’s reconfigured their tables and bar to provide 4-6′ of separation between all tables/unrelated parties? Basically, somewhere I can eat or drink where the situation @reft described is impossible.

    Obviously halving the number of tables isn’t great for revenue, but it seems like demand has already dropped through the floor — from the sounds of it, by more than 50%.

  3. T, that is another issue – we are cooks, bartenders, servers – not disease specialists.

    we always operate with cleanliness and safety in mind but this is a big ask, in my opinion. its nice to want to support “us” but i really think if people are serious about slowing this down they would eat at home. i realize this is tough on many workers and of course business owners but there is a bigger picture here.

    i’m frankly shocked that the owner of my spot hasn’t made the responsible move yet.

    • Right, how is the general public supposed to suddenly be experts? United Airlines sent an email saying they have a good air filters on their planes, so they’re safe. As though it’s going to filter out virus that’s 20 something nanometers, nope.

  4. @reft Thanks for sharing this perspective. It makes sense and takeout is what I’ve been doing. I’d gladly spend more if there was a way to do so without contributing to the spread, though.

    • 100% on this

      can the capitol hill blog or someone the community trusts open a rent relief fund too? Can our councilmember do that? I’m just thinking about all the service workers that got laid off – would love to pitch in some $ even tho my own work is slow

      • What you want is for the city to forgo collecting property tax next month, and banks to not collect interest on debt. Then those of us saddled with property can afford to not charge people use it. The typical return on property is 5% – that doesn’t leave much for free rent.

      • Aloandlord: From what I have seen, most people who have one or two rental houses are negative every month. They feel like they are building equity, so they are taking money from their families to pay for the mortgages.

        Works fine until there is some kind of hiccup. Oh, wait …

    • This is a cost government could, and should, absorb, rather than foisting it on individual landlords. Rent assistance should be made available to tenants adversely affected by this crisis. Again, government, which is representative of all of us, is best positioned to assist in this crisis. Let’s not use this crisis to advance a political agenda. Let’s use it to find creative ways, as a community, to assist people who are really suffering from it.

      • Step one – extend deadline for Q1 property tax to September and remove all draconian fines such as charging 8% of full year tax for late payment, city will get its money once we are stable again. Italy has done it, and has also stopped all mortgage payments.

    • There’s a concept of force majeure which basically relates to unforeseeable situations that prevent contracts from being fulfilled. In a time like this, it’s a question of who takes the hit. Someone has to. If gov’t mandates make buildings less usable, they are worth less. The rent should be reduced or waived during that period. Not deferred or subsidized by the gov’t and certainly not by the small business owners/employees (e.g. by digging into savings or reduced hours).

    • That’s asinine. So if the owner of a small building defaults on their mortgage of the house or apartment building you live in, and they’re forced to evict everyon…then what?

  5. @Mike in that scenario, how would you handle landlords who have mortgages and use the rent to pay them? One possibility would be a mortgage payment moratorium. It seems to push the problem around rather than actually eliminating it, though at least it pushes the problem to entities – banks and holders of mortgage-backed securities – that generally have enough capital and cashflow to handle it. What’s your assessment?

      • Absent a big government emergency reserve fund to tap, any economic downturn creates ripple effects and pushes the problem around the economy. Everyone suffers, and everyone should suffer. That’s social insurance.

        But if the gov’t says you can’t use your building but still have to pay your full rent, landowners don’t share in the pain. Landowners should not bear all the pain, just their proportionate share. The business owner is still hurt by not being able to generate income to pay for all their other obligations (loan payments on equipment & build-out, insurance and everything else involved in running a business.)

  6. Question: Not sure how much unemployment insurance can help tipped workers, since their income is usually not tallied by the restaurant. A special fund?

    • I am not 100% on this but….. If I am reading the rules correctly, I believe, if the employee and employer are properly reporting their tips, all of it is reported as income to the IRS and should count towards the amount of unemployment a person receives…. They may have to take their paperwork to the state to prove it though.

      I’ve not worked in a tipped position, but did work for the federal government for a time (and was furloughed – it was back in the days when a government shutdown was an expected yearly event). Since we don’t have an income tax the feds apparently never had any reason to report my income to the state. In their eyes I hadn’t worked at all for years… I had to photocopy several years of pay stubs and turn them in to prove I actually had a job here.

  7. There are a few growth industries right now:

    Mortgage processing. Processors are working on up 3x the number of packets they normally do. Every loan not processed is money the bank is not making. Right now, many banks have raised rates to try to dissuade people from refis, but all it takes is one lender to lower rates again, and everyone who wants business will have to follow.

    IT Security: The amount of cyber attacks has increased faster than COVID19 spreads around an old folks home. As economies contract and people get laid off, they are looking to any means to try to make money, and since you can learn black hat hacking for free online, and also subscribe to ransomware-as-a-service, cyber crimes are on the rise. Somebody needs to protect the good guys.

    A short list of other career fields that need no explanation: Biotech. Patient care. Cleaning. Delivery. You can probably think of more.

    Economies don’t really “collapse,” they just shift. The money that was in the stock markets isn’t gone, it’s just in cash right now. But cash loses money. Inflation, no matter how low the rate, eats into the value of cash. So investors are always looking for a place to put their cash to try to grow it faster than inflation. Even the slightest break in the clouds of bad news, and cash will start to flow into the markets again. When that will happen? No one knows.

  8. I’d support businesses that enabled me to support rigorous social distancing (+ some evidence-based reassurance that their staff isn’t working while they’re sick.)

    Last visit to Trader Joe’s on Capitol Hill a few days ago, it was an alternative universe in which none of the employees had any self-awareness that they didn’t need to make loud smalltalk at length (spreading saliva in my face) — not to mention the customers.

    I don’t blame the employees (it’s presumably TJ’s responsibility to set worker expectations, which I imagine should be coming from the County?), but the ~$500 I’d have spent on groceries at TJ’s over the next few months are all happening on Amazon Fresh where they support no-contact delivery.

    • Only go TJ off hours. Don’t know the answer, but wearing a n N95 mask, glasses and gloves is starting to be a good idea for those shopping trips. If you are young then just give in and let the herd infect you so you can recover and enjoy post-virus life !

      • – I won’t be going to TJ’s, period.
        – N95 masks need to be saved for health care workers, thank you.
        – I’m not sure how young I am, but I’m here to #flattenthecurve, thank you.

      • again, even if it seems obvious to you, us low level wage slave service industry folk aren’t highly trained in infectious diseases, etc. – you should probably stay home.

        on that note, busy day again where i work – all of you goobers “working from home” ought to stay home, not sit elbow to elbow at a crowded bar/restaurant. i know, i know, its only those gross old people that need to worry, right? i know you are just plum tuckered out from that big two hour workday (from home), but think of the greater good.

  9. If people choose not to go. They choose not to go. They can’t be forced just because “business is down”. A loss of business should not be covered because of “Choice”. Choosing not to go to a particular place because one might get sick. Is just as legitimate as choosing not not go because your not in the mood for that place. I wouldn’t want my tax dollars being spent on businesses because of someones’ choice.

  10. I noticed that Twilight Exit and The Neighbor Lady installed hand sanitizer dispensers near the door. I thank them for at least trying rather than giving up.

  11. List of financial programs to help during covid-19 coronavirus: utility bill deferred payment & discount; state unemployment insurance available; & healthcare enrollment for uninsured. I think these are just the beginning, I think more support will have to come. For an example, Italy just suspended all mortgage payments in the country until further notice. It’s getting real.

    1. City of Seattle utility bill delayed payment options and discount your bill program:

    2. WA State makes unemployment insurance available to workers losing wages or laid off due to coronavirus loss of business:

    3. WA state health exchange opens heathcare enrollment, if you don’t currently have healthcare check this out:

    4. A growing state resource list for workers and businesses affected;

    5. Local charities coalition creates $2 million fund for gig workers:

    6. Amazon creating $5 million fund to help small businesses around its headquarters:

    7. These are the steps Durkan will move to implement relief measures for small businesses that are negatively impacted by the spread of the COVID-19 virus:

    Questions? Contact Yonas Seifu, Small Business Advocate, at or 206-733-9743.

    – Deferral of B&O taxes: Effective immediately, the Department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) will defer business and occupation (B&O) tax collections for eligible business owners, allowing small business owners increased flexibility during a period of financial duress caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

    – Expansion of small business stabilization fund: OED is expanding their small business stabilization fund to support income-qualified microbusinesses.

    – Assistance to access Small Business Association loans: OED will provide direct technical assistance to local small businesses and nonprofits to ensure they can immediately access the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) federal loan program once it becomes available.

    – Relief for Utility Payments: As announced earlier by Mayor Durkan, all Seattle Public Utility and Seattle City Light customers can set up deferred payment plans if their financial stability has been jeopardized by COVID-19.

    – New Small Business Recovery Task Force: The Mayor has appointed former Governor Gary Locke and former Council President Bruce Harrell to lead the COVID-19 Small Business Recovery Task Force, which will advise on long-term policy recommendations and provide technical assistance and outreach.

    Questions? Contact Yonas Seifu, Small Business Advocate, at or 206-733-9743.


  12. 368 people died in Italy today. ONE DAY. We are two weeks behind Italy’s trajectory with COVID-19. I get that people are concerned about their businesses and their livelihoods. What I do not get is why people are not concerned about their lives.
    This is not a joke. Just because Donald Trump is an ignorant and hate filled dumb ass, does not mean the rest of us have to be.

  13. I’m wondering how a smart city like Seattle could possibly think about the impact of this CV on Restaurants?? Encouraging spending money on take out orders and food delivery??
    But ok to not pay rent and not encouraged to do so by enacting temporary no Eviction law??
    When people have no money, Restaurants are worthless entities and have no business being part of a rational discussion concerning a major depression on the horizon.

    Another great example of Seattle Politics ass-backwards rationale

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