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Mayor Durkan Announces ‘Welcome Back Weeks’ for Downtown Small Businesses

The events are meant to give downtown restaurants and bars a boost, alongside a cash assistance program

Downtown Seattle skyline at twilight, with streaks of lights on highways indicating cars traveling (time-lapse) and the Smith Tower visible to the left
Downtown Seattle has been among the areas hit hardest economically during the pandemic.

On Wednesday, June 23, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and private partners announced a series of new initiatives intended to help small businesses downtown. One component revolves around events in July and September called “Welcome Back Weeks” that include concerts and promotions. The city also intends to dole out $1.9 million in direct cash assistance through the Small Business Stabilization Fund.

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office says the city will soon announce more details for “Welcome Back Weeks,” and they will likely be modeled after the Chinatown International District’s Food Walks and the Passport to Pioneer Square programs. Meanwhile, requirements to apply for the cash assistance program promise to be similar to past rounds of the stabilization fund: a business must have 25 full-time equivalent employees or fewer and an annual net revenue that does not exceed $2 million dollars.

Another portion of the new effort targeted to help downtown businesses relates to workforce development. The city is partnering with labor representatives from the Downtown Revitalization Working Group — a coalition of business, labor, arts, and community-based organizations — on job training and placement for un- and underemployed hospitality workers.

This program comes even as restaurants have reported difficulty hiring for existing open positions, a situation across the country that goes beyond the overly simplistic narrative that expanded unemployment benefits during the pandemic are too high — rather, many employees are looking for wages that will make the risk of going back worth it. Along those lines, the mayor’s office says the workforce initiative will include placing individuals in jobs that provide wages and benefits to support families, while putting the focus on the most vulnerable workers in the city. It remains to be seen how this will play out in practice.

Businesses in the downtown area were among the hardest hit during the pandemic over the past year, as many relied on office workers and foot traffic from tourists, both of which have only recently started to pick up. And there are still quite a few open-ended questions, including when the largest companies will fully return. After initially intending to bring back most of its workforce in late 2021, Amazon recently signaled that a hybrid work model is in the future for corporate employees.

But Seattle has also allocated more than $1 million in the revitalization budget for programs geared toward neighborhoods just outside the main downtown/commerce core, including $200,000 each to community organizations in the Chinatown International District, Pioneer Square, Belltown, South Lake Union, and Uptown. Even with such money spreading out, the discussion on how to best use city funds for economic recovery will no doubt continue as local politicians, including those running for mayor this year, are pushing for a holistic approach that doesn’t focus solely on big business districts.