Yonder Bar could reopen under new city council legislation designed to support small businesses

In response to significant public outcry following the forced closure of neighborhood garage-based cider shop Yonder Bar, Seattle City Council is considering a bill that would give greater flexibility to small businesses—specifically those operating out of private residences.

Councilmembers Dan Strauss and Lorena Gonzales have proposed a bill titled “Bringing Business Home, a Small Business Flexibility Bill.” The bill is designed to, “provide additional support and a means towards economic recovery for small businesses adversely affected by current land use codes during the pandemic.”

Yonder Bar owner Caitlin Braam started selling cider out of her garage last August. Her block became a Stay Healthy Street in May and was closed to traffic, giving her a great opportunity to transform her garage into a walk-up cider shop. At the time, the city said it was a “grey area” and allowed Braam to open up shop.

All was well until several complaints were filed about the cider shop’s proximity to local churches and schools. The complaints then led to an investigation around Yonder’s ability to operate out of a private garage, which led to the forced closure earlier this month.

However, after Strauss and Gonzales learned about the situation, the councilmembers drafted legislation to adopt interim regulations to allow business greater flexibility to operate out of garages and residences.

The proposed changes recognize that while the current COVID-19 economic recession has forced small, independent businesses to find creative solutions to survive, City regulations have not kept up,” the Council Connection reports. “This legislation allows small businesses to bring their businesses home, reducing one of their largest expenses, rent.”

The neighborhood support for Yonder Bar has been impressive, with thousands voicing their concerns over the closure.

“The land-use code is not set up to be responsive to emerging needs, such as the changing environment created by the pandemic,” Strauss said in a statement.  “Knowing that small businesses are already struggling, or in many cases going under, I knew swift and immediate action was very necessary. This legislation provides flexibility to local entrepreneurs to survive and thrive through the pandemic. Bringing Business Home prioritizes small businesses and families, and ensures zoning laws reflect the emergent needs of our community.”

Strauss added that with so many people working from home, the legislation would, “help make neighborhoods more vibrant.”

“There are home-based businesses in my neighborhood currently operating out of compliance with current code. While they have not been reported or cited, it is important we provide an even playing field for them, because they add vibrancy to our neighborhoods. Supporting local neighborhood businesses keeps small businesses open, our neighbors employed, and helps our local economy recover.”

Yonder Bar owner Braam said she appreciates the City Council’s efforts to help save her cider shop.

“Starting a small business – COVID or not – is hard and it’s expensive. Allowing small businesses to safely and securely operate out of their homes not only frees them of the financial burden and stress that come with long term commercial leases, it gives them a chance to be a vibrant and contributing part of their community,” Braam said in a statement.

The new ordinance would allow for small businesses to operate more easily out of a home with less restrictive conditions for at least the next year as the pandemic continues.

Specific current small business requirements that would be suspended include the following:

  • Customer visits are by appointment only
  • There is no evidence of the home-based business visible from the exterior of the structure
  • No more than two persons who are not residents of the building may work in a home-based business
  • The home-based business shall not cause a substantial increase in on-street parking congestion or a substantial increase in traffic within the immediate vicinity

Additionally, home-based businesses would be allowed to operate in a house’s off-street parking stall or garage and have one non-illuminated sign with the business name if it is not larger than 720 square inches.

The legislation will be considered in Strauss’ committee on Wednesday, February 24, and the full Council vote is expected on Monday, March 15.

Photo: Yonder Bar on Facebook