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Trafficking in pastries
It’s been a rough few years for Sequim’s small businesses.
A number of family businesses have shuttered. Even a few national franchisees have closed their doors, no doubt due in large part to the economic downturn.
In 2007-2008, at the tail end of the boom, 656 business licenses were registered in the City of Sequim.
By 2012 more than a quarter of those (171) no longer had an active Sequim business license.
One bright spot includes the few brave souls who followed their dreams to open up a new business, among them Linda Engeseth, owner of Crumb Grabbers Bakery at 492 W. Cedar St.
Engeseth recently related the story of her first year in business at her new location on the corner of North Fifth Avenue and West Cedar Street. The City of Sequim, she says, put “one roadblock after another” in the way of her success.
In her own words
“I decided to open this place in about October 2011. That’s when I started actively searching for different venues. I had a commercial kitchen in my garage, but I realized that instead of just wholesale, I wanted to retail.
I looked at a lot of different places but this one was absolutely perfect for what I wanted to do. The owner was totally on board with me putting a bakery in here. I think it was a construction office before. It had never been any sort of food outlet.
I contacted all of the agencies, including the state and the health department. I had the health department come out and look at this building.
I got approval from the county and I got approval from the state. I went to the city. I was working with (Building Official) Ann Hall because she was the person that I worked with when I built the kitchen in my garage.
I wanted to make sure everything was done perfectly right.
Before I built the kitchen in the garage, I involved the county health inspector. He came over and he designed everything for me. He did the same thing here. Basically, I figured it would be just as easy as opening a kitchen in my garage. That took me a month. I had people come and build it, it was inspected and boom, I was in business.
I think that is why I was so perplexed about this whole thing …. How absolutely easy it was when I started out of my house — and then when I came here it was one road block after another after another.
Fast food frenzy
Everything was set to move in. We weren’t in the building yet because we were waiting for the city to tell us yes, it was OK.
The city had a new guy. I don’t remember his name — and I don’t want to use names.
He said this place had never been any kind of food establishment before. He said, ‘You’re going to have to pay this traffic impact fee.’
I said, ‘What is that?’
I think it was Ann who helped me and said, ‘There’s a little issue and you need to go down and talk to this guy.’
“Well, I brought Asa Smith who is the owner (of the building) there with me. We went down there and we talked to the guy and he was adamant.
Rob Caldas was doing all of the construction, so he was waiting to get in here. Meanwhile, time is tick-tick-ticking. We go and meet with this guy and he says it is $17,000 and some-odd dollars for a traffic impact fee.
That was something I had never heard of. Apparently they put this law on the books in 2010.
I was the first one that it had affected. It’s for when you’re taking a building with one kind of business and turning it into a different kind of business. Then they impose a traffic impact fee on you.
And he wasn’t going to budge. He said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m just doing my job. It’s nothing personal.’
At the time, I was so …! I needed to get started. I needed to keep my business going but we were going back and forth and back and forth.
They told me they weren’t going to budge. They got out all of this paperwork and he said that (the fee) was based on a fast food restaurant. To which Asa and I said, ‘It’s not a fast food restaurant!’
They had estimated like 53 cars per hour or something like that. A huge amount of traffic coming through here.
I said, but that’s not … you’re not basing it on a bakery, you’re basing it on fast food where they have drive-throughs.
They said that it was the closest thing they had. They didn’t have any numbers for a bakery and that if I wanted to get the statistics for a bakery, I would have to hire somebody. They said it would be probably cost more than the fee they were charging me.
Open until 4 p.m.
I’m thinking, what can I do? So I called the city manager, Steve Burkett, and I arranged to see him.
Asa and I went down to see him. He asked us the whole story and I told him, look, (the bakery) isn’t costing us $20,000 to open.
I don’t have that kind of money.
He said, ‘I’ll think about it.’ He called me a while later, and said, ‘I’ve made my decision and it is no. We are not going to allow you to do that without paying the impact fee.’
I was very angry and he understood how angry I was. He called me a day later and said he had arranged a meeting with myself and the city planner, the city attorney — there were like eight or nine different people from that building. He didn’t attend the meeting. They came up with a way for me to avoid that traffic impact fee. I would have to be closed by 4 p.m., because they figured between 4 and 6 was the busy time. That was when there was all the traffic coming down the street.
Somebody in the meeting said, ‘It’s four o’clock. It is not four-oh-one. It is not four-oh-five. If we drive by your building and we see cars in the parking lot, if we see any employee, if we see anything in that lot past four, we will impose this fine on you.’
I think the fine was the fee of $17,000.
I said OK. I needed to get going so we came in and we closed at 4 every day.
A couple of them were very, very nice — the city attorney — a very nice man. They did make it very clear to me in the meeting that this was not how they felt. That they were doing their job. They said, ‘We don’t exactly agree with this, but we have to enforce the law.’
It worked for a while. We sometimes had people knocking on our door at 4:00. ‘I just need a quick dessert to take home.’ And yeah, I would give it to them.
I would be watching out the window thinking, Oh, my God, somebody could be out there watching.
Nothing ever happened but I would say it was probably the most stressful thing of opening this business. It definitely … I shed quite a few tears about it. I was very upset.
I had this perfect dream, I had the perfect building, I had the perfect everything and no matter what I did and what I said, they said, ‘No we can’t make this happen for you.’
They thought it was a destination. I think it’s a place where someone can stop by on their way home from work.
The feeling that I got when this was happening was they weren’t supporting anybody in this town except big business. I thought that they just didn’t want to work with anybody that obviously … it was obvious that I didn’t have a lot of money.
I was just trying to make a go of this and I thought that it was almost like a game. Like I was an example because I was the first person that had gone in and turned one business to another since that law was put into place.
In January (2013) I made a call to Steve Burkett — almost a year since we opened. He called me back the very same day.
He was very pleasant, very cordial. I said I need to stay open past four — ‘This is just not working for me. It’s impacting my business very negatively.’
And he said, ‘Well, how late do you want to be open?’
I said, ‘at least till 6.’
And he said, ‘That’s fine, just stay open till 6.’
I wouldn’t say, ‘Wow, just a huge jump in business,’ but then again a lot of people don’t know that we are now open till 6.
The lesson for other business owners? Be persistent. Don’t be mean, be persistent. I think that I understand why it happened, I do. Because obviously we have laws in place for a reason. However, when people come from a big city and they try to impose big city laws on a city like this … It just doesn’t work and it’s unfair. In a town this small, you have to have support from the city. It not like we have a whole lot of patrons here. When they’re making it that difficult for you it’s almost like they’re setting you up to fail. So be persistent.
I don’t think they took into consideration the actual impact it would have on the small business owner. I think maybe the amount of time that lapsed between what happened and me calling them back … they probably had a change of heart. For that I commend them.
This isn’t a Walmart. This is a one-woman show and probably everybody could have handled it differently. And actually there are a couple of guys that were in that meeting that are very loyal customers of mine. I think that’s their way of showing that there really aren’t any hard feelings.”