Leona and Luis at The Station in Beacon Hill are among those using the local gift certificate marketplace.
Leona and Luis at The Station in Beacon Hill are among those using the local gift certificate marketplace. Intentionalist.

Two years ago, Laura Clise and her wife discovered a problem. It was Black History Month, and they had resolved to eat out at Black-owned restaurants; but they were having trouble identifying any in their neighborhood. “We had the intention to support them,” she recalls, but after searching online and asking for recommendations, they found themselves in agreement about the amount of work it took: “this is ridiculous.”

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And so, a new company was born. In the intervening two years, various directories of Black-owned businesses have sprung up (The Stranger has one of its own now), but Intentionalist is more than a list: Clise and her team are building an entire platform where people can meet their neighboring businesses and support them with online orders and gift certificates.

“When we first started, it was me physically walking around the neighborhood, and walking into shops and stores and striking up conversation,” Clise says. She’s kept a narrow focus on establishing one-on-one relationships between her company and other local businesses, emphasizing a personal link with owners.

Now, Intentionalist boasts a substantial directory of businesses that intersect with a variety of communities that neighbors may wish to support. But that directory, Clise says, is only “phase one” of Intentionalist. Once a list of businesses was established, she began adding a focus on content-creation and highlighting the personal stories behind neighborhood businesses. For example, “How the owner of Jerk Shack grew up in the Central District, he fell in love with cooking because his dad worked as a doorman at the Westin and took him down to Pike Place Market after work.”

With all the uncertainty about when it’s safe to leave the house, or whether going out to eat is even a priority right now, Intentionalist’s “killer app” could be its local gift card marketplace.

“One of the things we noticed as businesses were suffering during the pandemic,” Clise says, “beyond the call to action around takeout and delivery, the next call to action seemed to be around supporting a small business by buying a gift card.”

As she speaks, she reaches for a pile of certificates on the desk next to her and holds it up.

“Check this out, this is a gift certificate for Night Light Nail Salon in Wallingford. She doesn’t have an online marketplace to sell those gift certificates to prospective customers, and she’s been shut down for months,” Clise says. “We were able to set her up in our online gift certificate market.”

Another business now selling certificates online: Cedars of Lebanon in the U District. “When UW shut down, they lost all of the foot traffic for their business,” says Clise. “They’re not doing any online delivery... and because of our platform they were able to sell enough gift certificates to make rent last month.”

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Intentionalist’s takeout and delivery directory also allows customers to order food directly from businesses, rather than going through third-party services that impose onerous fees on both the restaurant and the delivery workers. In contrast, Intentionalist is zero-fee, and Clise says that the platform will always be free for businesses to join. (There are some fees to participate in a separate electronic gift card program.)

So who’s paying for all this? “We have been slow to emphasize monetization,” Clise admits. “We’ve had limited corporate sponsorship around content,” such as a Pride video series sponsored by Seattle Public Utilities. More recently they’ve worked with major companies to create curated guides for large meetings and events.

“Right now, it’s maybe stating the obvious,” Clise says, “but folks are really focused on finding and supporting Black-owned businesses.”

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