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A Small Business Owner on 23rd

In our March issue, we featured the plight of the business owners on 23rd Ave. during the long construction project. Madrona newsletter editor, Barbara Parker, detailed the obstacles in running a business when no one could safely reach your business due to torn up streets and huge equipment. Re-routing buses eliminated would-be traffic as well. For long periods, one could not bus, drive or even walk to these businesses.

We interviewed Sarah Berentson, owner of 701 Coffee; this is a relatively new business that came to 23rd when the plan for a 23rd Ave. “road diet” was already made. When I arrived at the coffee shop, Sarah was discussing the possibility of sharing yard waste, recycling and garbage containers with the other small businesses in the building. Her landlord seemed to agree that no one business filled the containers. This is just one example of Sarah‘s attention to expenses and detail. She has been the most vocal voice in the protests from the embattled business owners and the person who has urged them to organize.

Sarah said she had been in business for one year on the date we talked (3/17/16.) I asked if she had known about the plan and she said, “Yes, the original plan.” (The original plan was to fully complete the section of 23rd between Jackson and Cherry before moving on to section 2 between Cherry and Union.) She felt she could handle disruption on the south side and when that was re-opened, the disruption would move to the north side of the business. But SDOT and SPU began tearing up 23rd from Jackson to Union and even beyond to Madison.

She said she had been in negotiations to rent the retail space for nine months before the actual opening. She was proud of the fact that she was debt-free for many months; by September, she had 80 customers a day and met her expenses easily. It was in October that the business collapsed. The re-routing of the 48 had a big impact on business; Garfield students would wait across the street for the northbound 48 and the crowd was as much as 50 students. Many would dash across the street for an after-school snack. Since the students have limited time during school hours to purchase outside the school, any obstacles that keep them from reaching the café quickly, discourages the attempt. Sarah said that even Ezell’s right across the street from the school has seen a loss of business.

Sarah said she was behind a few months in rent and they had sold their vehicle to stay afloat. Her family of six (with two high school and two middle school students) is living in a studio apartment. She even had to return their Vitamix to pay other bills; this was a blow as Fruit Smoothies are a popular item on the menu. She has since been able to replace the Vitamix.

Sarah has completed a couple of inches of paperwork in an effort to obtain some financial help from the city, but has heard nothing yet. She feels that the gas explosion in the Greenwood area has changed the city’s focus. She still feels strongly that the business owners need to stay organized.

We shared stories on “planned gentrification” of the area. I had been told by a local activist that the demise of the small minority-owned businesses was part of the 23rd Ave. plan. Sarah said she had seen drawings of the area where her small building was replaced by a multi-story apartment building with retail at street level. It would be too bad to lose the small businesses that exist and have them be replaced by big chain operations. Let’s support these small businesses and try to keep them open!

Sarah takes pride in her ability to serve vegan food that even carnivores like! When mangoes are in season, she serves a delicious mango salad. She gets her croissants, pastries and bagels from the local Golden Wheat Bakery (reviewed in this issue by a Madrona resident.) The owner, Angel, was able to use her suggestions for a butter substitute to create delectable bakery items. I want to go back for lunch and try the cashew butter that she puts on bagels!

~Diane Snell

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