Sumner’s downtown is prospering and a recent designation by the state could further the local growth.
After more than five years of trying, the Sumner Main Street Association was named an official Main Street Community. The state accredited Sumner this month, which allows the association to collect business and occupation tax from businesses.
Starting in January, businesses can decide to direct a portion of their required business and occupation tax to the local main street organization rather than to the state.
Sumner’s Old Cannery owner Dave Radcliffe said he is going to pay the tax anyway, so he’d much prefer to locally invest his dollars.
“The stronger the main street association is, the stronger we will be,” he told The News Tribune. “It’s nice to take that money and direct it back to the community, rather than to the state funds where who knows where it goes.”
The Sumner Main Street Association can collect up to $133,333 from business and occupation tax in addition to donations, sponsorships and about $77,250 from the City of Sumner.
“The Main Street Association is not just about promotion but also about design, economic vitality and organization,”city spokesperson Carmen Palmer said. “Those are all much needed efforts, even more so now, and the designation honors the work SMSA has done in all four areas.”
The association’s new executive director, Jill Starks, said they are looking forward to project possibilities.
“We’re just really excited to be able to bring the [business and occupation tax] closer to home,” she said.
Downtown Sumner facelift
Board members and business owners of the association have discussed giving downtown Sumner a facelift with the new funding by repairing old buildings and sprucing up facades.
“The more you can improve the outside of stores, like the front porch of a store or the awnings, lighting and benches, it improves the whole environment to a more welcoming atmosphere, which helps all of us,” Radcliffe said.
The Sumner Main Street Association also looks to partner with the Sumner Community Food Bank and local schools. As for project details, Starks said they are looking to help small businesses however they can.
“We feel that with all the uncertainty, we don’t want to make any promises we cannot keep,” she said.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the Sumner Main Street Association has worked with the city to ensure businesses have sufficient personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, and six-feet social distancing stickers. Incoming Sumner Main Street Association president Joleen Jones said they have also prioritized spreading the word on COVID-19 financial relief packages from the city and county.
The association hosts events that draw in thousands of potential customers for the more than 80 businesses downtown. Rhubarb Days, the most popular Sumner festival, brings an estimated 30,000 visitors in a two-day span, Starks said.
In the 2021 city budget, SMSA will receive $35,000 for Rhubarb Days, and an annual $42,250 in membership fees, street banners, events and street music, Palmer said in an email.
Radcliffe says his furniture store on Cannery Way and downtown businesses depend on the nonprofit to bring in more customers. The Old Cannery benefits from the annual events.
“It’s just like a mall. Malls are successful because they cluster retail under one area and we are trying to do that,” he said. “We can’t get that retail if we are a furniture store out in the middle of nowhere.”
Surprisingly, much of downtown Sumner is thriving during the global health crisis. No business has been forced to close due to the financial impacts of COVID-19, Starks said. On a Tuesday morning, nearly all the parking spaces are full and many business owners consider themselves fortunate.
While storefronts are doing well during the pandemic, Starks has aspirations to drum up younger business. Downtown businesses close by 6 p.m. on most nights, leaving the center of the city empty. Starks wants to bring in a wine bar, restaurants and taverns to bring younger, more frequent customers after work.
LuAnn Iselin hasn’t been too hurt by the pandemic at her “A Picket Fence” store on Main Street. Deemed an essential business due to the food sold in her shop, she only closed for four weeks. Iselin pivoted to fit customers’ needs. She posted Facebook lives, sold online and got creative. Iselin built more than 50 Easter baskets and hand-delivered them, something she had never done before.
“The Easter bunny is an essential worker,” she said. “It was amazing. It really kept me solvent, those first four weeks.”
The 28-year business owner is certain that directing a portion of her taxes to Sumner Main Street Association rather than to the state is a great use of local dollars.
“It’s a super big plus, getting stores to designate their B&O taxes or a portion of it to our organization will enable us to do a lot of things that will be much more of a give back to the community rather than just event oriented,” Iselin said. “It’s the icing on the cake.”
In absence of a Sumner business and occupation tax credit, the Old Cannery had been allocating $20,000 a year to Puyallup’s Main Street Association. Radcliffe sees it as local investment that helps businesses in the long run.
“To me, with Puyallup and Sumner we do it to help support smaller shops,” he said. “Being a business now is being a part of the community and supporting it.”