As Jazz pointed out yesterday, the situation in Seattle is difficult enough that even Nike can’t withstand it. The company just announced that its flagship store downtown will be closing this Friday for good. But if the situation is tough on Nike you can imagine how much tougher it is on small businesses that don’t have nearly the same resources.
Last week a group of business owners got together for a town hall event held in a barber shop by KOMO News. Nearly all of the owners had very similar concerns, from break-ins and the cost of repeatedly replacing broken windows and doors, to rampant theft and worry about the safety of their employees.
Matt Humphrey, the owner of the barbershop, asked “What happened to Seattle?” “It’s painful to see that the word on the street is you can get away with coming in and robbing me,” he said. He continued, “My whole life is tied to this place. If I go down I lose my house, my family loses their house. I lose everything and 40 people go on the street looking for jobs.” Humphrey mentioned earlier in the discussion that around Thanksgiving someone had smashed a window which had cost him $6,000 to replace. He wanted to know what could be done to help business owners dealing with problems that were ultimately public safety issues.
Another speaker at the event was Ethan Stowell who owns a series of restaurants in Seattle. “I love Seattle…this is my home,” Stowell said. “As far as the issue of crime, it’s exponentially higher than it was before,” he said. He estimated that in the first 17 years he was in business his restaurants collectively had 10 breaks ins. Over the last three years he put the number at somewhere between 60 and 80 break-ins. He made it more personal by adding that he’d walked the 1/2 mile from his house to come to the evening town hall event but he said didn’t feel safe bringing his two younger children along for that walk so he left them at home.
Other business owners echoed all of the same concerns:
“We’ve been broken into four times in the last couple of years, and when we’re making our insurance claims, it’s really hard because we’re at the point where they could drop us,” said Karen Jahn, with The Wax Bar.
Some like Burke Lyman with Ascent Outdoors said they talk about their future in Seattle and if they will be able to stay.
“That’s a painful conversation to bring up, and we want to stay here for a long time, but it has to make sense for us, for our business,” Lyman said.
“Our crew are often left to deal with increasingly aggressive behavior,” explained Steve Naramore with Sip and Ship. “A common position for one of our baristas is to stand by the front door with her hands on the deadbolt lock because somebody is pacing back and forth in crisis in front of the store, and we’re just worried, terrified, that they’re going to come in and we don’t know really what’s going to happen from there.”
Steve Naramore also said that his business has been dropped by their insurance. He was told it was because they’d made too many claims and “because we’re located, as we were told, in the city of Seattle.” He added, “That’s why we were dropped.”
All of the assembled business owners told KOMO and the city council member who was on hand to listen that what they really wanted was more public safety, primarily in the form of more police able to respond to calls and walk a beat in problem areas. Matt Humphrey summed it up: “It’s really simple, we’d like to see more police on the streets, especially in business districts where people gather. We’d like to see prosecution of petty crime or what’s considered petty crime or even felonies.”
To her credit councilwoman Sara Nelson seemed convinced that solving the crime issue with more police was the first step. But she didn’t offer any false hope that real changes could happen anytime soon. There are still too many members of the city council who seem more interested in making the city a socialist paradise than they are in helping struggling businesses survive. At some point, Seattle is going to have to shift its priorities or most of these people are going to go out of business and leave Seattle’s downtown an empty shell that no one wants to visit.
Here’s the full 40-minute town hall event from KOMO News.