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Sunday, November 28, 2021
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Sourcing Local Support For Seattle’s Central District

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Passers-by can watch through a row of street-side windows as a line forms at the pastry counter of Golden Wheat Bakery the morning of Nov. 2, 2021. Customers can view a wide assortment of goods for sale, including several pieces of local artwork. (Photo by Renee Diaz)

By Renee Diaz and Hunter Bos, For The Seattle Medium

A worn mural covers the brick exterior wall of a local pub, anchoring the long row of businesses and homes lining several blocks of Cherry Street from 23rd to 30th Avenue. The row is capped on the far end by a Latino-owned bakery, and across the street stands a Black-owned coffee shop with a bright orange door.

Amid population changes and competition from larger commercial chains, the small businesses on this block are finding ways to stick together, collaborating to ensure money cycles through the neighborhood and a sense of community sustains everyone.

Central Cafe and Juice Bar is a Black-owned shop on Cherry Street that rests between the Garfield Community Center and a long row of businesses owned by people of color.

The cafe has become something of a local hub, showcasing work made by local artists, collecting school supplies for students in the area, and hosting regular community events, such as pop-up art markets.

“I love the community,” said Bridgette Johnson, owner of Central Cafe and Juice Bar. “I just remember the small little stores, and you know, you go to the corner store, they knew you, they knew your family, and that’s the kind of thing that I want for my cafe.”  

A calendar denoting the cafe’s day-to-day happenings hangs just inside the door next to a community board, featuring fliers, cards, and pamphlets brought in by local patrons to advertise events in the area. Getting involved, Johnson explained, is as easy as reaching out and talking to people.

“It’s not really about the money,” Johnson said. “I want the vibe, I want the culture, the fun of doing all the other stuff.”

The pandemic, Johnson explained, was detrimental for many small businesses in the area. She lost indoor seating options and the routine business from Garfield High School next door. But pandemic conditions also led her to diversify her product sources by buying goods from other small sellers nearby.

Johnson buys wholesale goods for her cafe at a discounted rate from Golden Wheat Bakery, a Latino-owned bakery serving bread, pastries and many Latinx foods, just a few blocks east.

Golden Wheat Bakery opened its Cherry Street location in 2013 and after some success opened a second store on 31st Avenue. Worker shortages during the pandemic forced the owners to close the second location.

“A lot of the people in the community showed up for us,” said Angel Diaz, son of the owner of Golden Wheat Bakery. “The beginning of the pandemic we had people buying gift cards and just giving it to their friends like ‘Hey go shop here, grab a coffee here; it’s a very good place.’”

Wholesale, Diaz explained, makes up a significant portion of Golden Wheat Bakery’s business. Prior to the pandemic, much of this business came from buyers at Pike Place Market, but since the pandemic began, nearly 70% of that business had been lost.

Golden Wheat Bakery also sells pastries to The Melo Cafe, a Black-women-owned, cafe and juice bar located a few blocks north of Cherry Street on 25th Avenue. While primarily a juice and waffle bar, The Melo Cafe also offers coffee from Boon Boona Coffee, an African roaster in Renton.

“Our philosophy of just mutual support is really important to us,” said Ambrosia Austin, co-founder of The Melo Cafe. “And the idea that we frequent other coffee shops or other juice shops, and we enjoy their products and believe– that it’s important to partake in that.”

For her restaurant’s merchandise and sandwich-board art, Austin features designs from local artist and teacher Kamyar Mohsenin.

Next to The Melo Cafe is Shikorina Pastries, a pastry shop that opened in 2020.

With the demographics of the area changing in favor of higher-earning individuals, Shikorina Pastries founder and pastry chef Hana Yohannes, who offers a sliding scale pay option for low-income customers, said gentrification has put a lot of financial pressure on the area. 

“I didn’t feel pressure at first,” Yohannes said. “But with new buildings, there are new commercial businesses and coffee shops. A new population of wealthier and whites moving in is upping the cost of living for homes and businesses.”

To combat this, Yohannes finds it essential to maintain good relationships with her fellow small business owners by checking in routinely over text, donating to their fundraising platforms, visiting their storefronts, referring customers to them, and above all, shopping local whenever possible.

“That supports both of our businesses,” Yohannes said. “So we’re always constantly checking in with each other to see how we can support each other.”

The presence of larger stores such as the nearby PCC Community Market has put pressure on Golden Wheat Bakery’s business in recent years. It can be a bit of a double-edged sword, Diaz explained, as businesses that choose not to partner with PCC may lose on sales there, but those that do may lose revenue because the market takes a portion of the profits from each sale.

“I’m not saying they’re bad,” Diaz said. “It’s a good way to get exposure, get your brand out there, but usually, people will shop there instead of coming to your actual storefront.”

Small business owners have the front-row seat to changes underway in the neighborhood.

“One thing that saddens me is a lot of these old buildings are being torn down for those skyrise apartments. They’re trying to kick out the old people,” Johnson said.

Small businesses are a pillar of the local community, Johnson explained, so the best thing for everyone is to keep buying local. She wants everyone to be mindful and intentional with where they put their money. “As I say, Walmart, Starbucks, they’re always going to be there, but if you want your local coffee shop, your local ice creamery. If you want them to hang out, you’ve got to support them.”