Seattle Restored gets financial boost to help small business owners

Seattle Restored was launched in 2022 and works to activate vacant spaces with artwork and pop-up shops.

SEATTLE — A program aimed at helping Downtown Seattle recover just got a boost in funding.

Seattle Restored launched in 2022 and works to occupy the city’s vacant spaces with small businesses. The program activates vacant spaces with artwork and pop-up shops. They have activated 31 pop-up shops so far, including Mixed Pantry in Belltown.

“We started out as a pop up retail store in January 2023,” said Takeshi Kunimune, the owner of Mixed Pantry.

Takeshi Kunimune, who goes by Tak, said before the store opened as a pop-up, the building was just sitting empty.

Vacant buildings and storefronts have been a common sight in Seattle since 2020. 

“This is, you know, right after the pandemic. So, the streets were kind of sparse and everything around here was pretty closed too,” said Kunimune.

When the store was a pop-up, Kunimune paid nothing to be able to have his store in the space. Seattle Restored pays the building owner a below market rate for the once vacant space.

But Mixed Pantry is no longer a pop-up shop. Kunimune just signed a five-year lease to be a more permanent part of the Belltown community.

“It’s been a great opportunity for me to learn and just be able to share all these different Asian community cultures with everybody,” said Kunimune.

In 2024, Seattle Restored hopes to help more of their pop-up shop business owners sign long-term leases. They will now be able to support more businesses in doing this because Seattle Restored just received $200,000 from JP Morgan Chase. This is their first private investment.

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said the investment “reflects an endorsement of the ingenuity of local entrepreneurs, and a shared commitment to the work we are doing to revitalize Downtown and create a more inclusive and equitable economy.”

He said the program allows Seattle streetscapes to be filled with new businesses and art from entrepreneurs, artists, and small businesses who otherwise may not have been able to find or afford a commercial home in the urban core.

“Chase has been able to come in and say, ‘Yes, we really want to see those long-term leases secured for entrepreneurs and help them take that lead to grow their business,’” said Andrea Porter, the program director for Seattle Restored.

Porter said not only is filling vacant spaces good for Seattle’s economy, but it also creates safer and more vibrant neighborhoods.

“Just having more foot traffic in the neighborhood, right?’ said Porter. “You have more people that care about a space, care about the community that’s being built there.”

In Belltown, Kunimune said he is proud to be a part of the community and is hopeful Seattle will continue to recover. 

“I feel like more small businesses are coming to downtown neighborhoods. So, I’m very, very, very excited about it,” said Kunimune.

The program also puts a focus on helping Black, Indigenous, and other entrepreneurs of color. 85% of the people that participate in the program are BIPOC.