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Celebrating the Grand Finale of our COVID-19 Recovery Fund with $650,000 in Small Business Grants

Posted March 14, 2024

Market small business grant recipient: Kubode

As we mark four years since COVID-19 arrived in Seattle, the Pike Place Market Foundation is proud to announce the final round of grants from our Power of Pike Place Recovery Fund. 

This closing chapter in recovery investments is a testament to the social service staff, supporters, partners, and community members who leapt into action to support the Market’s merchants during a time of unprecedented crisis. Though the critical days of the pandemic have passed, and most federal and state relief funding has dried up, we know that Market merchants are still facing the complex challenges of running a small business in Seattle.  

The Market Foundation is dedicated to promoting economic stability within our community, and we know the vitality of independent businesses plays a pivotal role in ensuring the overall well-being of our neighborhood. Because the success of a business is directly linked to the health of the crafters, farmers, and workers who depend on it for their livelihoods, small business support will remain a critical part of our efforts in the future.  

In concluding the COVID-19 recovery fund, we are committed to continuing this momentum as we enter a new chapter and work together to meet unique, emerging needs in our neighborhood. 

 Mobilizing the “Power of Pike Place”  

To be a small business owner at Pike Place Market is to face both tremendous rewards and challenges, as farmers, crafters, workers, and artists have weathered many highs and lows over the Market’s 116-year history. After the Market was saved from demolition in 1971, the new governing charter committed that this neighborhood would “promote the survival and predominance of small shops, marginal businesses, thrift shops, arts and crafts, and other enterprises, activities, and services which are essential to the functioning of the Public Market.” 

The arrival of COVID-19 pandemic exposed the challenges of running a business in Seattle as Market merchants were especially impacted by shutdowns, inflation, and changes in buying patterns. Operating on a small scale and lacking access to wholesale and other resources available to larger businesses, many small owner-operated ventures, often without a substantial financial buffer, faced an uncertain future. 

When non-essential businesses were ordered to close in 2020, the Market Foundation’s recovery campaign mobilized supporters to step up for our beloved Market community during this time of need, and our supporters contributed an unprecedented $4.5 million to the recovery efforts.  

We deployed these funds to support the emergency needs of our social service partners and launch new programs like the Small Business Recovery Fund, developed with input from the Market community. Its phased rollout was designed to meet the unique needs of different Market businesses as new needs have emerged over the past four years. 

Not only did the recovery fund help with rent relief in the critical days of the pandemic, but our team also encouraged merchants to think beyond the current crisis and utilize the grants to build up their business for long-term stability – like investing in better equipment, transitioning to online sales, and developing new products. 

“I don’t think I ever would have made the investment in the equipment, it was just too much money to risk,” a Market merchant told us. “I can’t really thank you enough for giving me the chance to take that risk and discover what a wonderful return on the investment it was!”  

This fund has empowered grant recipients to make substantial investments, so their businesses not only survived the pandemic but also pivoted and thrived in the face of uncertainty. Over the past four years, 320 grants have been made to Market businesses totaling over $1.8 million in support.

“Overnight, our business completely dried up and we had to adapt. Then, we realized COVID-19 wasn’t going away and we had to lean into this new business model,” said another Market merchant. “This grant helps us build out the part of our business that is showing promise, but that we don’t have the capital to invest in right now.” 

 Economic Stability and Community Health 

Based on our model for a healthy community, the Pike Place Market Foundation knows that the stability of Market businesses is intrinsically linked to the physical health of our community members.  

If a small business is struggling, workers and their families may experience chronic stress, food insecurity, lack of medical care, and uncertain housing situations. But when barriers to economic stability are reduced or eliminated, merchants can meet their basic needs, focus on care to support their health, and improve their lives overall.  

“Responding to the needs of small businesses is important to the overall health of the Market community,” says Crystal Dixon, Director of Strategic Impact. “If someone’s livelihood depends on their business, an emergency will impact their personal finances.” 

As downtown Seattle’s economy still struggles to regain its pre-pandemic vitality, these challenges reveal complex, systemic inequities that threaten the survival of small businesses in a city increasingly defined by its largest corporations. Despite this, Pike Place Market has remained a beacon of resilience, with an impressive 99% of businesses surviving the pandemic. We believe this resilience is a testament to our community’s unique approach to offering wraparound support to merchants, and promoting economic stability, nutritious food, and a safe neighborhood for everyone in the Market.   

In the face of growing economic inequality in our region, Pike Place Market Foundation’s model for a healthy community allows us to be nimble in deploying support throughout the community, where needed most. Over the past few years, our support has reached tens of thousands of Market farmers, artists, small business owners and workers, in addition to senior residents, families and downtown neighbors living on low incomes. 

“I wanted to let you know what a dramatic difference the $5,000 grant from a couple of years ago made in my business,” said a Market crafter. “It has given us the opportunity to grow dramatically. I’m able to pay my employees relatively well and have even recently begun providing healthcare… In 2023, we expect to do 3-4 times the sales we had in 2019, and that’s due largely to the $5,000 grant you provided. Thank you so much for everything you’re doing to help the crafts community succeed!” 

The Final Round of Grants: Investing in Resilience 

As the Market’s smallest businesses have especially faced increasing challenges over the past few years, this final round of grants has specifically focused on fortifying the longevity of these independent merchants and crafters so that they are empowered to strengthen their businesses well into the future.  

“We’ve seen applications that include everything from infrastructure improvements, like greenhouses or shop upgrades, to tools and machinery to help improve efficiency and create larger profit margins, to new product lines altogether being created,” said Miranda Arney, Outreach Specialist at The Market Commons. “Applicants have expressed a tremendous amount of excitement and gratitude about having the opportunity to think ahead about how to make their business work better for them moving forward into the future, instead of just what they need right now.” 

Since these merchants operate on tight margins and are hit so much harder by market fluctuations, a small business grant can be a transformative investment in stabilizing and expanding their operations. Our programs team says the energy from grant recipients has been palpable, as they are inspired to strengthen their businesses in ways they didn’t think were imaginable. 

“You’ve helped so many of us reach new levels, said a Market merchant. “I wouldn’t have been able to get here without this grant. You are helping people’s products and their pockets! What’s more, is that I am now able to hire an assistant to help with my new products, which I wasn’t able to do before. I can now save my hands a little bit and help employ other moms part-time.” 

When artists make and sell their work for a living in a high cost of living area like Seattle, focusing on the survival of their business can land them in a creative rut. But an investment like this grant gives them an opportunity to try new things, experiment with different methods, and inspire them to dream about what is possible.   

“By offering an opportunity for increasing efficiency and resilience in the businesses, we are investing in resilience of the people,” says Miranda. “There are real, sustainable human effects, as these improvements will affect their own life, longevity, and health as makers.”  

In addition to small business grants, this final round of recovery funding also includes nearly $130,000 in additional grants distributed to our Legacy Partners at the Pike Market Senior Center and Food Bank, and Heritage House.  

These “Rachel’s Reserve” grants are emergency funds to keep operations stable and support unexpected costs, in this case, for the Senior Center and Food Bank’s rising food expenses and for Heritage House to upgrade to a new electronic records system. “We’ve been able to use our connection with the agencies to move quickly in response to emerging needs,” said Crystal Dixon. “We are able to turn on a dime because our programs are built to be nimble and responsive to what our partners are experiencing.”  

 Looking Ahead: The Future of Small Business at Pike Place Market 

As we conclude the Power of Pike Place Recovery Fund, this final round of small business grants is a powerful culmination of efforts to prioritize small businesses in Pike Place Market. 

Although this closes the chapter on the Power of Pike Place, we recognize that the journey to recovery is ongoing. The fallout of COVID-19 continues to expose deep gaps in our health and social systems, while competition from large corporations threatens the authenticity and spirit of small businesses in Pike Place Market.  

But these artisans, farmers, crafters, and small businesses have built this place into one of the world’s most iconic markets, and we firmly believe that they are invaluable members of our community. If we want Pike Place Market to remain a place to “Meet the Producer,” it is up to all of us to shop these businesses, invest in them, and listen to their experiences.  

“For as many years as I’ve been in the Market, it’s hard to believe this is really happening,” said a merchant. “This is a game changer. I am so grateful.” 

By breaking down economic barriers and nurturing a vibrant, diverse community, together, we can pave the way for a more equitable future for the Market’s small businesses. 

Thank you for supporting the vibrant ecosystem of small businesses that make Pike Place Market a unique and cherished landmark!