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Connecting small business owners to commercial real estate

Rising commercial rents are displacing Seattle small businesses from their own communities, and it overwhelmingly affects businesses owned by people of color, immigrants, women and LGBTQ+ people.

The challenge

Commercial rent in Seattle is becoming unsustainable, especially for immigrant, refugee and BIPOC small business owners. So, in 2022, the National Development Council and the City of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development partnered to launch a first-of-its-kind program to re-anchor small businesses facing displacement from their historic neighborhoods. Through the program, businesses gain long-term control and stability as owners of the ground floor in mixed-use buildings, at an affordable cost.

Strategy/approach

DH helped brand this program — the Business Community Ownership Fund — by tapping into the insight and enthusiasm of small business owners and advocates. We started by listening, hosting several meetings with an advisory group of 10 small business development stakeholders from a diverse set of Seattle’s neighborhoods, and conducting a series of key informant interviews with small business owners, to understand why this program was meaningful to them. Should we lead with the message of affordable real estate? Or was ownership the main idea?

We learned that as important as it is to have a strategy that makes commercial property ownership affordable, what sparked the greatest passion was the power to control your future, build wealth and sustain neighborhood roots for future generations.

What we did

Simultaneously, we put feet to pavement to study and draw inspiration from the textures, colors and shapes throughout Seattle’s historically BIPOC neighborhoods. Inspired by the juxtaposition of the rapid growth of modern facades with the enduring architecture of the past, we chose to evoke the image of a corner store in our logo as a symbol that’s synonymous with the neighborhoods the program will benefit. It’s also the perfect blank canvas to frame the faces of the business owners who participate in the program.

We selected a typeface designed by a Black designer and based on protest signs from the March on Washington. It creates a sense of energy and diversity, while reminding us of the anti-racist values at the heart of the program.

At each step of the process, we re-engaged with stakeholders, carefully listening and adapting colors, fonts, and words based on their feedback before arriving at the final look and feel of the Business Community Ownership Fund, a final product they tell us reflects their vision for their communities.

The impact (results)

As we move toward launching and introducing the program, DH continues to support the growth and development of the BCO Fund with tactics such as a PowerPoint deck, one-page overview and program landing page, to reach key audiences: funders and prospective program participants.

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