Kirkland businesses 'Weather the Storm'

Parkplace Bookstore co-owners Mary Harris (right) and Rebecca Willow say the store could soon close if business doesn
Parkplace Bookstore co-owners Mary Harris (right) and Rebecca Willow say the store could soon close if business doesn't pick up.
— image credit: Kendall Watson/Kirkland Reporter

After nearly closing last year, Parkplace Bookstore co-owners Mary Harris and Rebecca Willow say their business is once again struggling to survive and may soon close.

But a local partnership of bankers, business owners and city officials are working to get existing and new businesses back on track with financial tools to help businesses like Parkplace Books stay afloat until good times return.

Titled "Weathering the Storm: Small Business Survival Tools" the March 31 seminar at the The Heathman Hotel offered local business owners advice from a number of panelists representing Kirkland businesses, banks and government officials in a position to help.

"It's a good opportunity to network," said Kirkland Councilman Bob Sternoff, who attended most of the meeting with Mayor Jim Lauinger. "It's also a confidence builder."

The audience of about 80 people was introduced to a number of federal and local programs that are intended to ease the burden of start-up and expansion costs, marketing and managing local taxes and fees.

City of Kirkland Economic Development Manager Ellen Miller-Wolfe presented city efforts to help small businesses, including a new "Kirkland First" buy local program that will help advertise and promote local businesses through a city-sponsored Website.

"We want people to come in and innovate," she said.

Nancy Porzio of the U.S. Small Business Administration said the Federal government has tried to spur lending in the region, down 58 percent from last year. She addressed a number of opportunities for small businesses to tap into the federal stimulus package funding, such as the SBA 504 loan for purchasing commercial real estate. The loan program allows 40 percent of a 90-percent financed transaction to be supported by a federal loan at low interest rates.

One of those innovators the city is looking for could be Kelli Lee, 39, a former marketing and brand advertising manager. She wouldn't reveal any details about her new product or store she planned to open, but said the financing information was great news that would help her start her business.

"If you don't already have a business it's really difficult to get a loan," she said.

US Bank branch manager Shawn Carlson added that the loans could be used not just for start-ups or to expand, but to sustain their business until the recession ends and consumer spending rises.

"You're being asked to take the risk," he said. "You guys are going to bear the brunt of this economy for six to twelve months until consumers come back."

Back at Parkplace Books, despite increased foot traffic from King County's temporary library set up inside the store, Harris and Willow are still starved of customers. They've cut back just about everywhere they can - including cutting their staff from five to two.

"If that means sweeping the floor and changing the light bulbs, we'll do it," Harris said.

After the credit crisis spooked consumers in October and the snow storms in December ruined their holiday season, Parkplace Books is down nearly 20 percent in sales and while the owners wouldn't say if they'd take advantage of the Federal and local aid, they could use all the help they can get.

Local author Janet Lee Carey dropped in to check on holding a book-launch party for her latest work, "Stealing Death," when she heard the store was again on the ropes. While the book traders undoubtedly help her own business as an author, Carey said she couldn't imagine Kirkland being Kirkland without Harris and Willow in business.

"A good bookstore, a community swimming pool, a library ... That's what makes a town," she said.

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