Two Korean American owned small businesses located in the Exchange Building in downtown Seattle are closing their doors at the end of this week.
Sung and Un “Missy” Bang, the owners of The Original Deli, and Paula Kim, the owner of The Goodie Box, are losing their leases to make way for a seismic retrofit of the historic building, between the First and Second avenues on Marion Street.
“We don’t know what we’re going do at this point,” Missy Bang said. “We’re losing everything we’ve got.”
According to the Puget Sound Business Journal, when Beacon Capital Partners purchased the Exchange Building last fall, a third of the space in the building was empty. These renovations are a part of “an expansive capital improvement project” and an effort to lure more tenants.
The Bangs say they heard from Beacon Vice President Andy Wattula that their deli space will be used as a construction staging area during the retrofit. But they say it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to return once the project is complete.
The Original Deli and The Goodie Box are just two of a growing list of immigrant owned businesses that have been forced to move or shut down around the city as the local economy kicks back into high gear and property values rise.
Pam’s Kitchen, Chili’s South Indian Restaurant and several other businesses on the 5000 block of University Way are all slated to lose their homes when the building comes down to make way for a new apartments this spring.
And big plans for development on three out of four corners of 23rd and Union in the Central District will likely impact immigrant and black business owners currently leasing in existing buildings on those lots.
In a statement sent to King5 last week, Beacon Capital denied that their decisions regarding the building’s tenants are racially motivated.
But the business owners who are losing their leases still say they feel discriminated against.
“I feel that if we were white, they wouldn’t treat us like this at all,” Missy Bang said. “Hopefully they understand … that they shouldn’t do this to other tenants, especially small business people like us. For them it’s nothing, it’s just a small business. For us, it’s everything.”
The Bangs and Kim both emigrated here from South Korea several years before they purchased their businesses. The Bangs have a son enrolled in the University of Washington, and Kim is a single mom who began working shifts at a restaurant on top of managing her business once she heard The Goodie Box had to leave.
“After 30 years of hard work, this was our American dream,” Missy Bang said.
As news of the closure spread over recent weeks, customers and civic organizations began to mobilize.
The Korean American Coalition got involved, and has been posting news and updates about the businesses on their Facebook page.
“The situation didn’t sound right on the surface,” KAC President Cheryl Lee, a first year law student at the University of Washington, said. “It didn’t seem fair.”
Lee confirms that KAC has been meeting with representatives from Beacon Capital and the two business owners this week, looking for a solution.
The Bangs say they were offered $5,000 from Beacon Capital to cover moving costs at one point, but Sung Bang balked at the offer.
“My husband feels that after all the work and effort that we put into our business, just 5,000 dollars is an insult,” Missy Bang said.
Beacon released a statement to the Seattle Globalist earlier today stating that “we’ve had several productive discussions and we are working towards a positive outcome for all those involved.”
Lee says her hope is that, along with finding a solution for these specific business owners, the controversy will be a jumping off point for an awareness campaign to help educate the public and other small business owners about contract agreements.
When the Bangs took out a loan and purchased the deli seven years ago for $208,000, and Kim purchased her convenience store eleven years ago for $138,000 dollars, they didn’t forsee their leases being terminated prematurely, as they were scheduled to last until 2015 and 2016, respectively.
Both leases included a 30-day termination clause. According to Missy Bang, she and her husband did not understand the terms of the lease when they signed it, due to a language barrier.
“It’s our understanding that corporations have been purchasing existing commercial spaces downtown in order to remodel them and upgrade their tenant base for improved revenue,” explained Matthew Benuska, the KAC’s Public Relations Chair, in an email. “As a result, these sorts of family-run businesses are being forced out.”
“The issue is complicated by the fact that the businesses being forced out probably didn’t receive legal assistance regarding their leases,” he continues. “So while Beacon Capital is within their legal rights, the result is the affected families losing their life savings.”
The Original Deli has been given until Saturday Feb. 8 to move out and finalize cleaning, and despite some talk about moving to a space in the Columbia Center, which Beacon also owns, the deli currently has no plans to relocate.
“When you start with no client base and no capital, it’s suicidal for a business,” Missy Bang said.
Kim feels the same way about The Goodie Box.
“Right now, I really don’t have plans to open another location because over the course of this experience, I’ve been treated in a way that makes me feel like I don’t want to do it anymore,” Kim said. “When you have a small business, you go in with a spirit to want to make things successful. I now feel that I’m not in control no matter what I do, and someone else is determining my destiny.”
However the ongoing negotiations with Beacon turn out, Missy Bang says her main goal at this point is to get the word out about the pitfalls facing small businesses that lease from big property owners.
“I am so grateful that I can help out other people out there like us so they can be aware that this can happen to them,” Bang said. “We have a voice, and [these companies] can’t treat us like this.”