If Lisa Little, owner of Antiques at Pike Place, were to win the lottery tomorrow, she knows exactly how she would spend the money; to buy her building and keep her store open.
After 25 years, the store will close its doors for good on December 24, 2017.
“It was started in 1992 by a lady named Jane Mooney, and I became a vendor here in 2001, then in three years my husband and I purchased the business,” Little said. “My entire life, since I was five years old, I have loved antiques. I started collecting antiques when I was 15. I worked for the doctor’s office for 24 years and started to think of what I could do from my hobby to create a business.”
For the first ten years she owned the store, Little juggled being a business owner, mother and employee at the doctor’s office.
“In 2012, I decided to give up the doctor’s office and work here full time,” she said. “Originally, we had five employees and I was the sixth. The economy in Seattle has gotten so bad and the overhead is so high that it’s just me now.”
Being unable to afford employees wasn’t Little’s only concern at the time. In 2013, her building went from being family owned to owned by a man in Singapore who wanted to tear it down but later found out he couldn’t due to it’s historical standing.
“He turned the building over to a property manager. In January of 2017, she sent me a bill for $27,000, calling it a CAM [Common Area Maintenance] charge. She expected me to pay it by the end of February,” Little said.
For reference, Little’s lease had previously included CAM charges of $415 per month. They went to court, but the case was thrown out. The property manager sent Little a letter saying she could pay the charge in 2018 on top of her rent, which was also being raised, equaling about $4,000 more per month. Her other option was to terminate her lease.
“I felt like it was extortion,” Little said. “What people have told me is it’s the way property managers get around raising rents, is that they come in with these CAM charges that make the little people have to pay extra fees for the building.”
The property manager’s CAM charges included landscaping, elevator repair and plumbing for the building owner’s other properties in the area.
Little said construction impacted her business as well. She used to have a parking lot across the street, where The Thompson Hotel stands. Aside from losing that parking, construction made the area hard to get to for two years. She worries about construction for the upcoming First Avenue streetcar as well, but is glad she won’t have to deal with it.
Despite all the frustrations, Little wants to be able to focus on the good times.
“With this store and this business, it is definitely a labor of love,” she said. “I do it because I travel every day by meeting people without ever leaving Seattle.”
Little recalled a hot Wednesday afternoon when Martha Stewart wandered into the store.
“I was sitting at the front desk eating Cheetos. In my own business, I can be myself, I don’t have to put on any airs, I can say what I want, no one’s going to fire me,” she said. “That’s probably the best part of owning your own business. So I looked at her and I said, ‘Don’t you look a little bit like Martha Stewart?’ laughing, eating Cheetos, and she goes, ‘Well it’s because I am.’ I thought I was going to die. She was here for about an hour.”
Other celebrities who have visited the store over the years include Adele, Jeff Bridges, Carrie Fisher, Natalie Portman, Tori Spelling and Eartha Kitt.
“Every day, I learn something new about antiques and it has broadened my mind,” Little said. “Having employees has broadened my perspective of people and made me much more tolerant of how things operate. As a woman-owned business, I really wanted to treat my employees with respect and fairness and pay them what I could and treat them to lunch, treat them to a night out.”
Little said her customers and vendors are what really made her business special over the years.
“I think the Pike Place Market is this incredible melting pot of people, and I think in the real world, even people that work in a little office are artsy and they don’t get to express themselves,” she said. “Coming to the market, they get to see this flavor of artsy people and it makes them feel a part of the art world.”
Little said she has had customers from San Francisco tell her Seattle is more expensive. When her daughter was three, they took a trip there and visited The Fisherman’s Wharf. Little recalls there being an abundance of small, cute shops with local flavor. When they returned ten years later, those shops had disappeared. She fears the same will happen in Downtown Seattle.
“When people come here from other places, they balk at how much our taxes are,” she said. “And for what? For them to drive around the corner and see all the urban camping? Where is all the money going? They’re going to drive their tourist base right out of here.”
Little said she does not feel Seattle’s government thinks about small businesses.
“I think they think they’ve got Amazon hook, line and sinker, and they’re gonna pave the way for everything,” she said. “It’s all about the money. I think downtown Seattle is driving the little businesses out. I like downtown and I’m sorry this is happening to it.”
After over a decade of seeing beauty in everyone who visited her store and every piece she collected, Little said she is sad to close and doesn’t know what’s next.
Even as she talks about her store closing, Little pauses often to help customers, taking the time to speak with each one. Several regulars pass through, continuing conversations from their last visit and lamenting on the closing of the store.
“I believe the store has added a lot of value to Downtown Seattle that Downtown’s really going to miss,” she said.