Local, Indie Biz Story #1: Coffee Shop

This is the first in a series of stories by local Seattle business owners. There has been a dismaying amount of misinformation about who we are and the financial flexibility we have to cope with a +60% increase in payroll costs. We hope that going public with our stories will help correct these assumptions.

I am the owner of an independent coffeehouse in West Seattle. I’ve been in business for almost 12 years. My small business story isn’t about me, the small business owner, but about my staff and customers who will be affected by the proposed $15 an hour wage increase.  I already pay over $81,000 in payroll costs.  Small business owners in Seattle pay some of the highest taxes in the nation.

My staff consists of seven baristas that range from the ages of 22 to 47.  I guess you could say I’ve been lucky in the 12 years I’ve been in business as I have an above-average retention.  Most of my staff stay with me well over three years, most in the six-year range.   I pay the baristas anywhere from $10.25 to $13.50 an hour.  Tips range from $40 to $60 a day each, depending upon how good of a barista they are.  I’ve given my staff the latitude and encouragement to run the coffeehouse as if they own it, they are well-versed in the art of making coffee and I feel have above-average customer service skills.  Our Yelp reviews are excellent, plus we are known in the community as a hub for fundraising, community support and just about anything that helps the citizens of West Seattle.

Our customers are some of the best people I’ve met in my life.  We know their names, their kid’s names, their dog’s names.  I’ve seen toddlers take their first steps over the threshold (now that same girl is in 4th grade) at the coffeehouse.  I’ve seen dogs grow from puppies into full-grown family members (they still like the dog treats we keep in a bin), I’ve comforted those same owners when their dog passed away.  I’ve seen customers make new friends (two couples are now married) and I’ve helped people who have lost a loved one.   I helped save someone from committing suicide.

What will happen to my business, staff, customers, dogs?  We’re too small for a mega-giant to take over the building.  So, I guess we’ll try to survive this?  I’ll cut hours first, that will mean less time for all of the staff – less tips, less overall pay.   Staff who were working 30 hours 5 days a week will be working only 25 hours 4 days a week.  I’ll give you an example (this is real):  Jess.  I hired her when she was 18 years old.  She’s just graduated from college with an undergraduate degree in social work.  Jess has been with me for over six years.  Jess makes $12.50 an hour, is an excellent barista, and takes home $50 a day in tips.

Let’s do the math:  $12.50 x 30 hrs = $375 + $250 (tips) = $625 week.  Now, I’ll need to cut her hours, so $15.00 x 25 hrs = $375 + $200 (tips – she’ll be working one less day) = $575 week.

Who is going to win here?  Politicians who have never owned a business, never met my customers, don’t know the names of my staff.  If the City of Seattle wants the small business owner to pay $15.00 an hour then please help us reduce costs elsewhere.  Our B&O taxes would be a great start.

In fact, here’s a link to Initiative 104 that addresses just that issue.

Help us Seattle.  Help us pay our workers.  Help us stay in business.  If the City of Seattle REDUCED our taxes, then we could get behind a wage hike.  Help us move forward City Council members.  If you reduced our tax burden, we could move forward with a balanced budget and continue to be the backbone of the Seattle neighborhoods.  If not, then you’ll see us close.  The choice is yours.

Oh, as for me – how much do I get “paid” for the hours I spend managing the coffeehouse:  ordering, hiring, marketing, community boards I sit on, bookkeeping, scheduling?  Usually I’m able to take $500 to $1,200 a month (or $6,000 to $14,400), which is below poverty levels.  I have a second job to support myself.  I’m a single mom too, forgot to mention that.