by Amanda Ong
On December 10, 2021, the city of Seattle Economic Development Office (OED) and then Mayor Jenny Durkan announced the launch of Seattle restored – a new program focused on activating vacant storefronts in downtown Seattle neighborhoods. The program has partnered with Seattle Bargain Network and Shunpikealong with other landlords, to provide spaces and support to local artists and entrepreneurs who can then use their designated space for 2-4 months, in hopes of possible longer term leases and expansion into different neighborhoods.
In addition to a free space downtown, selected participants will receive an additional $2,500 and support to build their business, including developing retail spaces, developing and executing a marketing strategy and technical assistance. Participating owners will also receive $1,500. These pop-up shops and art installations will showcase BIPOC artists and entrepreneurs. Applications for artists and small business owners have been open since December 10 and will remain open on a rolling basis until 25 spots are filled.
This approach to community support has its roots in earlier work by Seattle Restored partner Shunpike, who began activating empty storefronts with art in the 2010 ’08 Recession,” said Shunpike’s executive director. , Line Sandsmark, in an interview with the emerald. “They realized more neighborhoods could benefit and reached out to Shunpike to work on expanding it beyond the two neighborhoods. So for us now, with Seattle Restored, we’re going back to the program’s roots.
Seattle Restored was born out of another crisis that hit small businesses. The idea for the program grew out of OED’s growing awareness of community needs after the onset of the pandemic, when Seattle saw many small businesses struggle.
“When the pandemic hit, we were really trying to help businesses immediately,” said Ken Takahashi, OED adviser and program manager. emerald. “As the pandemic continued, we started to learn more about businesses and their needs, and businesses really need affordable space. We thought this could be a really good way to help businesses that may have lost their space or are trying to enter a new market and try new ways of doing business to restart.
In June 2021, the number of small businesses opened in the Seattle metro area was 38% lower than in January 2020. Businesses in BIPOC suffered excessive losses. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that on average, 41% of Black-owned businesses, 32% of Latino-owned businesses and 36% of immigrant-owned businesses experienced closures, compared to an average of 22% in all companies. . Additionally, more than 62% of arts and creative workers reported being unemployed and 95% reported a significant loss of income. Seattle Restored has come together to find solutions for these two hard-hit communities.
Additionally, they offer spaces in downtown neighborhoods, where the barrier to entry can be particularly high. “I’m very excited about commercial affordability,” said Chera Amlag, owner of Hood Famous Cafe + Bar and business district advocate at OED. emerald. “We understand the need and the challenges that BIPOC-specific small business owners have to be able to access affordable commercial spaces and [commercial spaces] which have areas with high pedestrian traffic like the city center in addition.
Takahashi stresses that the program will not just attract people to the space, but will help activate the entire neighborhood – and with it, other small local businesses that have battled the pandemic. Rather than focusing on ongoing support for a few artists and entrepreneurs, Takahashi says they see the program as activating an entire community.
“I just think it’s so exciting to give people in our community reasons to come downtown, to shop, to support local businesses, and to see new things happening in these neighborhoods,” said Andrea Porter, program manager at Seattle restored and Seattle made, an affiliate of the Seattle Good Business Network. “We recognize that some of these neighborhoods have really been hit so hard by COVID. It’s really good for us to give people a map and a grid to say, “Okay, I’m going to visit four or five different places today and go support these local artists and entrepreneurs.”
Jamie Lee, director of community initiatives at the Seattle Chinatown-International District Preservation Development Authority (SCIDpda), says that by offering Seattle the restored use of their buildings, they can highlight the diversity of CID businesses.
“We are not just one type of community. We are a community that has traditional dim sum places but also a place for expression and artists. We are a multifaceted community, and we are an Asian American community,” Lee said in an interview with the emerald. “There really isn’t anything like that out there. It will be highly visible to the public, so it’s a great example of everything that makes up the neighborhood. »
Porter echoed a similar sentiment. “It’s essential to animate our neighborhoods, to activate them and to bring that vitality and excitement to our neighborhoods,” Porter said. “What makes Seattle so special are the entrepreneurs and artists who make up our community. This is an opportunity to see them and support them.
OED and its partners are all hopeful that the initial pop-ups will turn into longer-term leases, as they focus on long-term recovery and growth. Hopefully, if many attendees eventually become long-term tenants, Seattle Restored might have a hand in a bustling downtown that’s much more accessible to BIPOC small business owners.
“It’s so, so, so important to give a voice to people who might not have a voice in our society,” Sandsmark said. “I have been in many situations where I have seen how the arts have a real impact in supporting a healthy society. It’s a wonderful way to make space available and accessible for people, for artists, who have lost so much space, who have been displaced due to gentrification, to focus and create more opportunities for those who have had fewer opportunities in the past. ”
At this time, the team hopes to encourage applications from a range of potential participants, artists and businesses, as well as landlords interested in partnering with them to provide space. According to Takahashi and Amlag, the application process for Seattle Restored will be very open, as they hope to keep the barrier to entry low. Whether you have an established business or just started an Etsy shop, as long as you have a vision of what you could do with a storefront open for two months, don’t hesitate to apply.
“It’s a win-win situation for everyone,” Amlag said. “Art is also very healing. And I think our city needs it.
Apply online to be part of Seattle Restored: Owners can apply through the Seattle Restored Property Owner Application. Artists and entrepreneurs can apply for space and support through the Application for art exhibitions and pop-up shops.
Amanda Ong (she) is a Chinese-American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate in the University of Washington’s Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in Creative Writing and Ethnic and Racial Studies.
📸 Image courtesy of the Seattle Office of Economic Development (OED).
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