A case study on small business survival: Earl’s Cuts and Styles relocates to Liberty Bank Building

Earl's Cuts and Styles storefront in Liberty Bank BuildingEarl’s Cuts and Styles had been an important cultural center and meeting place for the African American community in the Central Area at 23rd and Union since 1992. With the planned redevelopment of Midtown Plaza, many in the community worried that the barbershop would not survive. It was hard to imagine the Central Area retaining its identity without Earl’s. The surrounding community made a commitment to saving, and therefore, moving, Earl’s business.

Construction of the Liberty Bank Building across the street presented a not-to-be-missed opportunity. It had available commercial space and a developer, in Capitol Hill Housing, that takes advantage of its affordable housing developments to also address broader community development needs. Capitol Hill Housing had made a commitment to honoring the legacy of Liberty Bank, the first African-American owned bank in the Pacific Northwest, in its new building on that historic site. Leasing the commercial spaces to Earl’s Cuts and Styles, an African-American-owned business serving that community, was an ideal way to carry out that commitment.

One of the keys to Earl’s successful relocation was the assistance of Seattle University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center’s RAMP-up program, Randy Massengale and Amelia Marckworth from RAMP-up worked with business owner Earl Lancaster to help him make the transition not only to a new space but also to new ways of managing his business.

On December 19, at the Crescent Collaborative’s monthly policy group meeting, the story of this transition provided a powerful example of small business survival in gentrifying neighborhoods. Massengale and Marckworth discussed their work with Lancaster and shared lessons learned from their experience. The move required about three years of planning, including small business technical support, putting together the necessary funding from many sources and managing the design and construction of the new space. Financing for the relocation came from grants and loans from Craft3, Capitol Hill Housing, the City of Seattle Offices of Economic Development and Arts and Culture, and the Central Area Collaborative.

About 30 collaborative partners from community-based organizations, financial intermediaries, city government and subject matter experts contributed to the discussion. Many policy group members, including Ken Takahashi (Seattle Office of Economic Development), Che Wong (Craft3), Inye Wokoma (Wa Na Wari), Jill Fleming (Capitol Hill Housing) and Dennis Comer (Central Area Collaborative) also had a part in helping Lancaster move his shop. They each shared their perspectives on the experience with the group.

Ellen Kissman (Crescent Collaborative Consultant Team member) Massengale and Marckworth, are preparing a case study of Lancaster’s story that will inform the Collaborative’s policy and systems change agenda, as well as being a resource for others working to help small businesses in changing neighborhoods.

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