By Assunta Ng – Northwest Asian Weekly

November 5, 2015

Seattle’s $15 minimum wage is expected to impact many small businesses. However, challenges for the International District (ID) businesses go beyond the wage issue.

The ID restaurants once known for great food with low prices are no longer enough to appeal to new customers. On many fronts, the businesses are facing unexpected obstacles, including changing their image, getting a fair share of the market, and making the ID a tourist destination.

The assumption is if the owners are willing to pay higher wages, they would be able to select and retain quality workers. It didn’t turn out that way. The city’s changing laws and requirements to do business are hard for immigrant businesses. Their language and cultural barriers make it difficult to negotiate good rents, rates and programs when they couldn’t communicate in English. The lack of police presence is a constant battle for ID businesses to tackle public safety on their own. The access to capital is another hurdle for immigrants.

Taylor Hoang, owner of Pho Cyclo Café and founder of Ethnic Business Coalition, said at a panel, “We are experiencing gentrification and decline for small businesses. Less people are coming down to eat due to public safety.”

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