When we opened the Clock-Out Lounge's doors in 2018, we wanted to fill what we perceived as a hole in Beacon Hill’s nightlife scene—a community space to celebrate culture and life. While running an entertainment venue has never been easy, we’ve had a lot of fun building up the Clock-Out into a welcoming community center: a bar, a restaurant (thanks to our partners at Breezy Town Pie), and one of the most eclectic event spaces in town, with regular live music, drag shows, trivia nights, and comedy showcases. We were building a loyal customer base and getting the word out about our cool little space.
Back when we opened, we couldn’t have predicted that the coronavirus pandemic would wipe out the attendance at our up-and-coming venue, or that the Clock-Out would be closed to indoor activities for the majority of 2020 in a necessary effort to get the outbreak under control. And while some restaurants might be able to limp along until the pandemic has passed with diminished seating capacity and takeout service, the Clock-Out, as an event space, is basically trying to keep our bills paid so we can still be here and reopen again as a viable business when vaccines have been distributed to everyone, sometime in 2021.
No business school would ever prepare an entrepreneur for that kind of situation. We get it: it sucks, we’re all in the same boat, and it’s a necessary step to take to secure public health. We can’t complain about something that has affected literally everybody.
Throughout this crisis, we’ve heard a lot of state leaders and groups say we should wait for the federal government to provide relief, that the crisis is too big to wrap our arms around here at home. But the pandemic has raged in our state for almost a year now, and even the most optimistic predictions suggest that we won’t see anything resembling a return to normalcy until this summer or fall.
It’s clear that Speaker McConnell isn’t really interested in cooperating with the incoming Biden Administration to help small businesses weather the remainder of this storm. Any federal response is likely to be far too small to reverse the massive economic damage that businesses like ours have absorbed since the first lockdowns back in March.
So now we’re at a crossroads. When the pandemic finally ends, Washingtonians will either emerge from their lockdowns to find neighborhoods filled with small businesses eager for their return, or they’ll find barren streets, a stagnant economy, and out-of-control unemployment. It should be clear now that state leaders must step in and do what the federal government has failed to do. Without bold action, the next few months will see unprecedented business closures around the state.
While titans like Microsoft and Amazon have largely switched to a work-from-home model, many of Washington’s small businesses don’t have that luxury. And that affects all of us: As of last fall, more than 600,000 small businesses were operating in Washington state, accounting for more than half of the state’s non-government workforce. It’s in all of our economic interests to keep our small businesses afloat through the end of the pandemic and to help keep enough money in peoples’ pockets so they can drive economic recovery when this is over.
If we want a recovery and not a depression by this time next year, it will have to start with neighborhood businesses like the Clock-Out, not in the boardrooms of big corporations. When it finally comes time to fully reopen, pre-existing businesses will have to adapt to the new reality and keep staff employed. If too many small businesses go under, unemployment will skyrocket long-term, rents will go unpaid, and neighborhoods will suffer from blacked-out storefronts for months and maybe years to come.
As our state leaders prepare to head back to Olympia for a new legislative session, they need to understand the size and scope of the economic downturn affecting businesses like ours, and plan their response accordingly. Seattle’s City Council managed to pass an emergency progressive revenue tax that will help Seattleites stay in their homes and ride out the storm of the pandemic. But a city can only do so much. It’s time for our state leaders to take action by putting together a progressive suite of solutions that can keep our businesses running, our communities lively, and our people housed and fed until the pandemic has ended.
And we want to be clear that this isn’t a problem that can be solved with austerity. Slashing budgets and firing public employees will harm local businesses further by decreasing consumer spending. We may not be economists, but we understand that people only walk through our doors when they have money to spend. Cut state assistance programs and sack employees, and you have even fewer people in our neighborhoods who can afford to be small business customers. We need our government to invest in the neighborhoods that have suffered from this pandemic, to keep us all afloat long enough to get the recovery going.
To fully invest in Washington families, businesses, and our economy, our state will need more money. We don’t pretend to know exactly what the solution would be, but as small business owners we do know that we, our employees, and our customers bear the brunt of this crisis. There is massive wealth in Washington, among people and corporations who saw their profits grow after the Great Recession and have been largely untouched by this disaster. Whatever the mechanism, we are in this together, and the state government needs to support our greater community across Washington state by enacting progressive tax measures that can bring an equitable recovery to those who have been hit the hardest by both this pandemic and the recession: BIPOC communities, women, and LGBTQ+ communities and their businesses..
Investments in the community are in everyone’s best interests, right now—nobody will thrive if the economy collapses. To save as many neighborhood businesses as possible, the response should be big, delivered quickly, and focused on balancing our tax code. The Clock-Out is by no means the only small business sitting at this particular crossroads. Without decisive action to keep our neighborhoods alive, we could come out of this pandemic to darkened streets and a depression unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes. In the days and weeks leading up to the election, our state leaders have talked endlessly about their concern and their empathy. Now we need them to take action.