The Magnolia Chamber of Commerce is hoping a city grant can provide it with the tools and resources to help keep local small businesses open at Magnolia Village.

“In the end we want Magnolia to thrive,” said Magnolia Chamber of Commerce director Jason Thibeaux.

Rising home prices and a population boom in Seattle are driving up commercial rental rates, which can be part of the reason businesses in Magnolia Village and Magnolia seem to last less than a few years.

Thibeaux said the group is applying for a city grant to help study the shopping habits and business trends in Magnolia, which could help businesses stay open.

“I think the perception is the local chambers like Magnolia have more resources than they do,” Thibeaux said, “or more power than they do. Traditionally, we have been a volunteer-run organization. Only in the last four or five years, thanks to a grant from the city, they were able to add a paid part-time role, which is mine.”

The chamber is applying for an Office of Economic Development grant to fund the chamber’s first full-time position, which would allow Thibeaux to do more work in the community. The grant application also asks for money to fund a part-time assistant position and a work-study position at the chamber. Leftover monies would be used for a neighborhood business study.

The grant is part of the city’s “Only in Seattle” initiative, which gives grants to business districts to help small business survive in a world of larger corporations, such as Amazon and Google.

“The goal is doing bigger things,” Thibeaux said. “With the hours that are available, you are getting new memberships recruited, managing current business members and putting on events … at the end of the day there is little time for strategic things like recruiting retail. Assuming the city finds favor on us, the big goal in 2019 is to start a process of creating relationships.”

The chamber is looking to perform a study that would show how, when and where people in Magnolia like to shop, how long a business lasts in Magnolia on average and what type of businesses succeed in the neighborhood.

The chamber is hoping the answers to the study will help them market to business owners, startups and landlords.

Some of the answers the Magnolia Chamber of Commerce are looking for can be found in a Seattle Department of Transportation survey study, which was performed in October and released in early December.

The Magnolia Neighborhood Intercept Survey questioned residents and visitors who were seen shopping at Magnolia Village for a week in October. More than 470 people were given short surveys about their transportation and spending habits at the shopping center.

Some of the key findings of the study include:

• Four out of five, or 81 percent, of survey responses were from Magnolia residents who either lived or lived and worked in the neighborhood.  Only 11 percent of those surveyed lived and worked outside of Magnolia.

• The majority of shoppers either drove alone (38 percent) or walked (37 percent) to Magnolia Village. Another 13 percent of shoppers took a carpool, and 8 percent took public transit. Twenty-two percent of those who drove alone said public transit took too long for their liking.

• The main reasons for visiting Magnolia Village were for shopping, running errands, eating out and visiting the post office. Eighty-two percent of those surveyed planned on spending money in the area.

• The average amount respondents expected to spend at the shopping center was $39.25. Those who said they used their own car to get to Magnolia were likely to spend slightly more on average, about $45, but they visited Magnolia less often then those who said they biked or walked to Magnolia Village.

If the city gives grant money to the Magnolia Chamber of Commerce, Thibeaux said the group will perform its own study that would focus more on specific shopping habits. With this information, the chamber is hoping to cultivate relationships beyond the owners of the local businesses, such as the few local landlords who are renting retail space.

“What are the pluses and minuses of owning a business in Magnolia?” Thibeaux said. “What are the challenges and awards? What does well?”

Thibeaux said the number of locally owned retail spaces is small. LLCs or large real estate companies from out of the county and out of state own many of the business spaces in Magnolia.

Magnolia Village is owned by Allen Peyser with Peyser Family LLC, according to the King County Assessor’s website. The LLC is based out of Langley but Peyser’s civil engineering business, Pizer Engineering, is based in Seattle. Peyser could not be reached for comment by press time.

Businesses in Magnolia Village and other local retail spaces have complained that higher rents have cost them profits and have even shut the doors on new businesses.

Recently, Sprocketts Recycled Bikes, a used bicycle shop in Magnolia, had to close its doors after a leaky pipe flooded the store and ruined the floor at the bike shop and The Hub coffee shop next door.

Sprocketts owner Michael Benson declined to comment on his store closure, but posted on the business’s Facebook page on Dec. 5 that he is planning to reopen his shop soon. Benson posted on social media that a spike in rent caused him to close his store longer than he wanted.

Last fall, the popular Magnolia Restaurant and Lounge closed its doors permanently after the Madapati family was involved in a serious two-vehicle collision.

Thibeaux and the chamber attempted to help raise money for the Mandapati family,  but Hesch & Shain Commercial Real Estate, which specializes in restaurant real estate in Seattle, listed the location for sale.

Thibeaux said out-of-state landlords have little to no relationship with the neighborhood and are “waiting for a check.”

The chamber’s goal is to keep places like Magnolia Village viable, he said, but help from Seattle residents and the city is needed.

The chamber expects to hear whether it will receive the OED grant, and to what amount, sometime in January.

“We want to have the time to have a learning session with departments within the city or maybe other neighborhoods that have implemented programs,” Thibeaux said. “There is a wide variety of things the city can offer … one of our goals is to find the community connection for Magnolia or to do some learning for our community.”

SDOT 2018 Intercepts Report by Danielle Chastaine on Scribd