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Small businesses feeling overlooked

Ryan McLaughlin, left, and Kelly Todd of all Aspects Construction, Inc. put away some tools after doing remodeling work at Discordia Games new business site on Sixth Street. - Photo by Rogerick Anas
Ryan McLaughlin, left, and Kelly Todd of all Aspects Construction, Inc. put away some tools after doing remodeling work at Discordia Games new business site on Sixth Street.
— image credit: Photo by Rogerick Anas

If you want to know what it feels like to wait in limbo day after day, just ask a few of the business owners in downtown Bremerton.

“This is very stressful,” said Mary Schweiger, who owns The Dressing Room, a dance supply company on Fifth Street behind the Admiral Theatre.

She says that in the current wave of redevelopment sweeping through the city, some small businesses like hers are being buried in the sand.

Currently, Schweiger is waiting for her building to be demolished due to an expansion project at the theater next door. Then, she can get federal money for relocation and moving costs. Unfortunately, she has also spent thousands of dollars renovating her interior. All her work will be lost when she is forced to move.

Until Schweiger finds out when she is getting the boot, she’ll play the waiting game.

Down the street on Pacific Avenue, businesses like Smiley’s Subs and McCall Music are counting the days until their stores are demolished to make room for a federally-funded park.

Along with the waterfront conference center and the government center, the maritime park is a core element of the mayor’s redevelopment plan.

Mayor Cary Bozeman heatedly denied the statement that his focus on multi- million dollar projects suffocates small businesses in downtown.

“We think a rising tide raises all boats,” Bozeman said.

He cites the recently opened sandwich eatery and candy shop Goodies that is thriving in the heart of downtown. Opened by Jackie Souza, Bozeman said she offers something progressive and modern, which many Bremerton businesses lack.

“She is not stuck in the 1950s like a lot of businesses are,” Bozeman said. “We think the major projects we have will bring people down and people will want to shop in these places.”

Meanwhile, Ray Clarke, owner of Smiley’s next to the gate of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, waits for his building’s execution date. “It could be a month, two months or it could be a year,” he said. “That’s what’s frustrating about it.”

Clarke was originally told by a federal agent that he has until the end of July to vacate. Then, he was told that it would be longer. Now, he is just playing the waiting game too.

He recently wrote a letter to U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks that describes his frustration. Even though Clarke says he is behind the revitalization and redevelopment in Bremerton 100 percent, as a small business owner, he is being shoved out without proper reimbursement.

“Currently under federal law, the maximum amount awarded for relocation or termination of business is only 20,000 dollars,” Clarke wrote. “It will cost me more than double the 20,000 to just move across the street.”

When a business moves, it costs money to fix it up for the specifications. In Clarke’s case, he needs new plumbing for bathrooms, proper lighting and ventilation, counter and storage space.

“So now I am at the stage where I am going to lose either way,” he says.

Further north on Pacific Avenue, across the street from the Bremerton Naval Museum and Collective Visions gallery, the collective owners of Discordia Games, a gaming facility that caters to young people, are packing their boxes after the new owners of the Dietz building asked them to leave.

Last week, they moved their final boxes to a location on Sixth Street between 7- Eleven and Monica’s Social Club, a bar.

Even though Discordia Games will have slightly more space in the new second story loft, the owners (there are several) are worried that business may not keep up at the new pad.

Every afternoon, Discordia is jammed with teenagers playing fantasy games like Magic and Dungeons and Dragons.

“Hey, five minutes outside,” 19-year-old Jason Rouse yells at one gamer in the store last Monday. “I don’t like cussing in here,” he said.

Rouse has worked at Discordia for three years and says he knows all the kids who come in, and he lets them know if they violate the language policy that founders David Lavender and Logan Wakefield (both are part of that group of owners, but it was the two of them who spearheaded the shop) maintain.

They believe shop keeps kids safe.

“They are not on the streets, they are not getting in trouble,” Rouse said. “The worst trouble they get into is they lean back in their chairs.”

Rouse shares the same complaint most teens share in Bremerton — there is nothing to do. Discordia offers a solution.

“It is also a real good way to relieve stress,” said Lavender. Even at 33, Lavender’s boyish looks make him difficult to distinguish from the young gaming enthusiasts. “It’s a way of forgetting about your daily problems,” he said.

He and his team of employees have already spent weeks re-configuring their new location to the mystique of the old.

“I am definitely ready for a vacation,” Wakefield said.

“You are sore and you haven’t gotten as much sleep as you should,” Lavender agreed.

Wakefield estimates they have moved about 100,000 pounds of materials to the new store. Add to that the approximately $15,000 they have spent on construction costs, and the move will be remembered as anything but fun.

“We could probably end up losing a few kids,” Lavender said. “There’s always that fear. You never know what happens.”

In the coming years, many large buildings will rise into Bremerton’s skyline. According to Bozeman, the small business owners here will all have to ask themselves the same question: what can I do to keep my doors open?

“That’s the nature of business,” he said.

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