Mayor Durkan launches small business advisory council to boost growth

Newly sworn-in Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan visited several locally owned Capitol Hill shops prior to announcing the formation of a small business advisory council at a Thursday news conference inside the Elliott Bay Book Company.

Durkan told several small-business owners along her route in the Pike/Pine corridor that she wants the task force to not only address ways to help businesses thrive in Seattle, but also to examine current policies that may be having a negative effect on their ability to operate.

The mayor’s first stop was at Sugar Pill, 900 E. Pine St., where Durkan met with apothecary owner Karen Schwartz.

“What do you have for fatigue?” asked Durkan, who was sworn into office Tuesday, after a long election campaign.

She said the key challenge she sees in the next four years is how to keep Seattle affordable for both residents and local businesses.

“It’s become a real different city to live in,” Schwartz said of how Seattle has grown and changed. “We’re all struggling.”

The Sugar Pill owner said she knows what people can take over-the-counter to alleviate a number of maladies, adding her business is also open to people in the area experiencing homelessness. She said there is strength from community members and and support from neighboring businesses.

“We’re working our butts off trying to stay in this city,” Schwartz said.

Next, Durkan met with Molly Moon Neitzel above her Capitol Hill ice cream shop, 917 E. Pine, where the business owner told the mayor her team was prepping for 2018 hiring. Neitzel said Molly Moon’s has met its goal of having more diversity in its staffing than there is in the city.

“Now, we just want to double down on that effort,” she said.

Neitzel also told Durkan that Molly Moon’s was making its last call on Thursday, Nov. 30, in its process of becoming a B Corp-certified company.

Rancho Bravo Tacos owner Freddy Rivas told the mayor how he started his business as a food truck in Wallingford, and later lined up a brick-and-mortar spot at 1001 E. Pine St.

“People in Seattle have always been super supportive — they’re great,” he said.

Rivas said he wants to see the advisory council come up with policies the city can enact that support residents and visitors, and also make them feel welcome.

Other stops on the walking tour included Everyday Music, Caffé Vita and Retrofit Home.

Longtime Caffé Vita employee Derrick Jefferies fueled the mayor with an espresso, telling her one issue he has is with homeless individuals coming into the coffee shop that are sometimes violent or belligerent, and dealing with that is not something listed in his job description.

Retrofit owner Lori Pomeranz said she’s happy the city is bringing small businesses into its economic policy conversations.

“We’re the reason why people think the neighborhood is cool,” she said of her store and other local businesses on the Hill.

Cupcake Royale owner Jody Hall told Durkan she’d love to be on the council, or at least part of the conversation, not only based on her experience operating several cupcake shops, but also as the owner of Goodship, a marijuana edibles company.

Elliott Bay Book Co owner Peter Aaron introduced the mayor at his massive book store around noon on Thursday, calling Durkan a “loyal customer and fellow book lover.”

He said Seattle has many opportunities, and also many challenges, and it will take “leadership and political will” to overcome them.

“The political will is all of us coming together in a common cause, from every part of the city, from every faction of the city” to be a part of the solution.

Durkan’s announcement of a small business advisory council was interrupted at the outset by several protesters, who were upset about the shooting of Charleena Lyles and accused the mayor of practicing entrapment while serving as U.S. Attorney. One protester who was escorted from the building was later arrested for trespassing.

“I don’t think there’s many mayors that can organize anarchists,” Durkan said following the outburst from protesters, adding her administration is welcoming voices from all places. “I am not afraid to have dissent anywhere I go. I think it’s part of what we are as a society, and I look forward to that kind of dialogue.”

Durkan said the eclectic feel of every Seattle neighborhood hinges on small businesses.

“Small businesses really are the economic backbone of Seattle,” she said. “And they’re not just the economic backbone they are that thing that pulls our neighborhood together.”

The mayor said she’s spoken with a majority of the city council, and two councilmembers will be involved in the advisory council as it ramps up near the beginning of 2018. The SBAC charter will be determined by Feb. 1, with a first meeting by March 1, according to a city news release.

Co-chairs for the SBAC include Donna Moodie, owner of Marjorie Restaurant in Capitol Hill and CEO of Mint Holding, and Elliott Bay Book Company manager Tracy Taylor.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold could not attend the meeting, but issued this statement following the signing of the executive order:

“Mayor Durkan’s announcement of the creation of a new Small Business Advisory Council serves as a welcome and early signal of her priorities. Just this month the GSBA asked that I support the creation of a Small Business Advisory Council. I said I would.  As chair of the Economic Development committee, I look forward to working with Mayor Durkan to help small business thrive in Seattle.”

During questions, Durkan defended her stance on a proposed employee hours tax that did not get approved earlier this month by the city council, stating she does not want to support any new taxes until Seattle sorts out how it’s using the resources it already has and considers others potential new revenue sources. She didn’t support the EHT as proposed because she worried it could have negative impacts on small businesses.