Small retailers share challenges and joy at a Federal Way Roundtable

Jan 15, 2020
Written by Rose Gundersen, VP of Operations & Retail Services

The Greater Federal Way Chamber hosted about 20 small retailers and other interested stakeholders last week as part of Washington Retail leadership’s listening tour. Retail is Federal Way’s largest private-sector employer, so the thoughts of retailers are important to the area’s economic vibrancy.

Mark Johnson, Senior VP of Policy and Government Affairs, and I reviewed recent employment law mandates with the group before asking them what was on their minds as small business owners or operators.

Calvin Yi, a Korean immigrant who owns several gas stations with convenience stores, expressed concerns and fears that new employment mandates either were too expensive to comply with or too difficult to understand for fellow immigrant business owners. Yi said there are about 3,000 Korean American small retailers in Washington State, but legislators have not sought their input in any policymaking processes.

All three Korean business owners who attended said they held second jobs that were necessary to supplement the income of their businesses.

Other small business owners said that they have reduced staff to minimal levels to afford higher minimum wages and comply with other government mandates and regulations. One dubbed the minimum wage act the “teenage unemployment act.” A few shared that their own hourly wage may possibly be less than minimum wage because they have been working a lot more hours to reschedule or fill in for employees while spending extra time to ensure compliance with new laws and regulations.

Two years ago, The Greater Federal Way Chamber conducted a survey of the business community regarding homelessness. Small retailers at last week’s roundtable shared examples of real or unmeasurable losses of revenue when shoppers avoid their businesses because of homelessness. Small business bankers at the table expressed concerns that small businesses fail when they become unable to afford expensive government policies and regulations.

Despite these concerns, some said it was their commitment to the city and their employees’ families that motivated them to remain in business. Mark and I felt blessed to be in their midst. We thank the Greater Federal Way Chamber’s partnership to make this roundtable a productive stop on our listening tour.

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