Ty Swenson
Ana Castro (left, owner of Salvadorean Bakery) and Mikel Davila (White Center CDA, right) speak during the final White Center Business Mixer of 2012 at Ana's restaurant. A dedication poster to murder victim Margaret Ryan was also on display.

White Center business owners look back on 2012 and forward to the future

Congregating at the Salvadorean Bakery on Dec. 18, White Center business owners took an evening to reflect on their collective accomplishments in 2012 and ponder strategies to bring more business to the economic core in 2013.

The event, a monthly business mixer put on by Mikel Davila with the White Center Community Development Association, was the last of the year.

2012 Accomplishments
Davila listed among the accomplishments in 2012 the September launch of www.visitwhitecenter.com, a collaborative effort between the CDA and White Center Chamber of Commerce to highlight businesses in the area and encourage outsiders to come in and spend money.

As a way of making the business environment more inviting, Davila gave a nod to the 13 new murals put on otherwise unsightly walls by area artists and installation of a new wayfinding sign on 16th Ave S.W. by local metalsmith Matt Tilton.

To battle against public drinking, the group celebrated the efforts of 15 convenience stores to not sell high-alcohol, single serving beverages from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Strong community traditions became stronger in 2012, the group felt, with a good CDA Spring Clean turnout, inspiring annual Christmas tree lighting at Veteran’s Triangle, successful Jubilee Days, Rat City Recon, Rat City Roller Prom and, on a more somber note, the collaboration of local citizens and business owners to create a dedication to Margaret Ryan, a local writer and activist who lost her life to murder in 2012.

New businesses opening in White Center and the surrounding area this year included Meander’s Kitchen, Super Charge, Tienda, Meat the Live Butcher, Suzy’s Espresso, Neat Street, Delridge Bakery and Deli, Mago Signs, A&V Restaurant, TT’s Soul Kitchen, Gloria’s Sexy Fashion, Rozella Law Group and, coming soon, Aaron’s Bicycle.

Shopping patterns of White Center residents in 2012
Davila shared the results of a survey taken at the recent CDA Community Summit (where this year, instead of feeding attendees at the event, they were given vouchers to go out and find a White Center restaurant for lunch. $852 in vouchers were spent). The results spurred conversation on what could be done in 2013 to further invigorate the business district.

Davila framed the survey results with a question: Did you know that when you shop at a locally owned business 68 percent of what you spend is reinvested back into the community, compared to 45 percent if you shop at a local chain store?

With that thesis in mind, the following survey questions and results were compiled:

How often do you shop, eat, or play in the White Center business district? (63 votes)
- 33 percent said 3-5 times a week
- 22 percent said every day/almost every day
- 21 percent said once per week
- 11 percent said 2-3 times a month, and the rest said once a month or rarely/never

How do you get to and move around the business district more often? (66 votes)
- 65 percent use a car
- 15 percent walk and another 15 percent use public transportation
- No one said they ride a bike

Please select the main reason why you do not shop locally more often (45 votes)
- 44 percent said they prefer large retailers like Walmart, Target and Lowe’s
- Other reasons (fairly evenly split) included too expensive, safety concerns, cleanliness concerns and no parking

Other than the White Center business district, what other shopping areas do you visit and patronize frequently? (130 votes, respondents could select more than one)
- 54 percent said Southcenter Mall
- 38 percent said the West Seattle Junction
- 32 percent said Westwood Village
- From 16 to 20 percent said downtown Burien, downtown Seattle, or Renton

What types of business would you like to see added to the business district? (120 votes, respondents could select more than one)
- 54 percent said a theater
- 38 percent said an “upscale” grocery
- 32 percent said clothing
- 28 percent said sporting goods
- In the 16 to 20 percent range, a gym, household items, toys and a bookstore

Which of the following would make you shop, eat and/or play in the district more often? (130 votes, respondents could vote for more than one)
- 54 percent said improved safety
- 38 percent said more parking
- 32 percent said a cleaner business core
- 28 percent said a Farmer’s Market
- From the 16 to 20 percent range, people wanted better looking storefronts, better attitude/friendliness/customer service, “greener” public spaces and sidewalks and more marketing.
- Coming in at 11 percent, people want more bike racks

The last question was whether White Center has changed (for better or for worse) in 2012. 79 percent of respondents said it has changed for the better, six percent said for the worse, and eight percent said not at all.

Looking forward
Entrepreneurs in attendance were unanimous in the need for White Center businesses to band together more strongly in 2013. As Davila put it, the more they work together, the stronger lobby to King County they become for changes in public safety, infrastructure improvements and the like.

Several said improved lighting at the bus stops along 15th Ave S.W. would reduce the seedy atmosphere and make the area more inviting.

Others called for better bicycle facilities, including bike racks and bike lanes, to encourage that mode of transportation.

To help out with the lack of parking, they hope to lobby for stricter parking enforcement in 2013.

Many felt the perception of safety is hindered by the homeless population in White Center, and Davila said better social services for the homeless is another lobbying option.

Liz Gordon with Uncle Mike’s BBQ said while the responsible alcohol sales initiative was helpful, it may be time for a responsible marijuana sales initiative. While she held up Chris Cody from Herban Legends (a medical marijuana dispensary) as an example of responsible sales, she worried that the passage of I-502 (legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults) could lead to other outlets loosening their policy to meet greater demand.

To spread the word on White Center’s shopping and eating options, the group felt they should reach out to citywide magazines and weeklies (like Seattle Met and Seattle Weekly) for more coverage.

The group said it is hard to compete with large retail chains that have the marketing prowess to get their ads in front of many more people, causing locals to head elsewhere for their shopping needs. To combat that loss of business, the brainstorming began on ways to illustrate people can get everything they need in White Center, often times cheaper and fresher than the big box alternative.

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