Seattle officials have begun handing out mitigation money to small businesses struggling to cope with road work along 23rd Avenue in the Central District.
Seattle officials have begun handing out money to small businesses harmed by ongoing road work along 23rd Avenue in the Central District.
The owners of six businesses received $25,000 mitigation checks last week: Flowers Just 4 U, Magic Dragon, 701 Coffee, Earl’s Cuts and Styles, 99 Cent Plus and Midtown Coin Laundry, said Brian Surratt, Seattle Office of Economic Development director.
Seven more businesses have completed intake forms and plan to apply, Surratt said. Eight other owners have met with members of Surratt’s team, he said.
“We want to ensure these businesses come out of this even stronger,” Surratt said. “We’re not going away. We want to be their partners in this.”
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The source of the money is a $650,000 fund Mayor Ed Murray created in February to help mom-and-pop enterprises struggling to cope with the yearslong project to repave, restructure and improve 23rd Avenue.
Murray was responding to growing anger about the road work, including the closure of a stretch of 23rd Avenue to northbound traffic.
For weeks, officials said they could not and would not offer cash assistance, insisting the city never provides construction-mitigation money, as a matter of policy.
The mayor changed course after the situation generated news headlines, with many businesses owned by people of color saying they were in danger of closing down.
State law prohibits cities from giving money to businesses, so Seattle is using federal dollars for the 23rd Avenue fund.
Expecting about 22 businesses to receive assistance, officials are initially capping the payments at $25,000 per business.
Officials are asking owners to demonstrate that their revenues have decreased since the road work began. Only businesses of five or fewer employees are getting money.
They must be within East John Street, South King Street, 21st and 25th avenues, and their owners or customers must be low- or moderate-income.
Separate from the fund, officials are encouraging businesses to apply for deferrals on bills with Seattle City Light, Seattle Public Utilities and Seattle Business Licensing.
Earl Lancaster, who has run Earl’s Cuts and Styles near East Union Street for 20 years, called the $25,000 check he received last week a blessing.
“Things are working out,” Lancaster said. “I’m being positive. I’m happy for the city.”
Saad Ali, who owns 99 Cents Plus, also was glad to get $25,000 and will use it to settle bills and repay loans from relatives. He said the money won’t last long, however.
The project, which began last year at South Jackson Street, is expected to continue until it reaches East John Street early next year. The work was supposed to occur in three separate phases.
But after a light-pole design mistake, officials combined the first two phases, shutting down a mile of 23rd Avenue to northbound traffic for months.
“We appreciate this,” Ali said. “But in the long run, I don’t know what will happen.”
Atkelte Gibay, who runs Midtown Coin Laundry, also near East Union Street, sees things the same way. Some days, his business has as few as five customers, he said.
“This can give me breathing room for one or two months. Not enough,” Gibay said.
Frank Taylor, who owns Frank’s Barbershop in the Promenade 23 shopping center, said officials turned him down last month because he didn’t show a decrease in revenue.
Surratt said Taylor’s application wasn’t rejected, but more information was needed.
Taylor said Wednesday he would be submitting additional documentation soon. He said he talked about getting a lawyer involved in making his case for assistance.
“I just have a sour taste in my mouth,” Taylor said. “Everybody in this area has been affected (by the road work). To tell somebody, ‘Well, you don’t qualify,’ that’s crazy.”
Sara Mae Brereton is among those who collected money last week. The owner of 701 Coffee at East Cherry Street will spend it on bills and inventory, she said.
The mayor in February said businesses in other Seattle neighborhoods shouldn’t expect mitigation money for future projects.
Brereton shared a different perspective.
“We made the mayor do something he didn’t want to do,” she said. “We created a template for other businesses to get together and demand relief. I’m happy about that.”