A small business community is flourishing in Downtown Renton. (Natalie Bicknell Argerious)

Have you ever dreamt of owning a business in a walkable urban neighborhood? You might find that opportunity awaits you in Renton, where the Downtown Renton Partnership is hosting the Main Street Entrepreneur Workshop and Pitch Competition, which kicks off next Tuesday, February 21st from 6-8pm. 

Over six sessions, participants will learn valuable skills about launching and growing a business. They will also have the opportunity to craft and pitch their business plan. Pitch winners will be awarded a $5k cash prize in three different categories:

  • Startup/Idea: Businesses that do not have any sales or revenues yet. Contestants in this category must attend three out of four workshops to be eligible to win an award at the live pitch: Competition Kickoff, Marketing ++ and either Business Plan Basics or Financial Planning.
  • Early: Any business with less than $75,000 of gross sales last year or less than two years in business. Contestants in this category must attend the following two workshops to be eligible to win an award at the live pitch: Competition Kickoff and Marketing++. Attendance at other workshops is discretionary.
  • Established: Any business with more than $75,000 in gross sales last year or in business for more than two years. Contestants in this category must attend the following two workshops in person to be eligible to win an award at the live pitch: Competition Kickoff and Marketing ++. Attendance at other workshops is discretionary.

A $5k incentive will also be awarded to three finalists that take the next step and sign a lease for a storefront or expand an existing storefront in Downtown Renton by October 15th, 2023.

“We are really looking to see if we can get more doors open in Downtown, and how quickly can we do that,” said Christian Switzer, executive director of the Renton Downtown Partnership. “How many barriers can we lower to make that happen?”

The mission of the Downtown Renton Partnership is to “cultivate a vibrant social, cultural and economic center by bringing together the community, non-profits, and city center stakeholders while celebrating the unique historic character of Renton’s Downtown.”

Last year, the organization was designated as a full member of Washington Main Street, which has been working to revitalize downtown commercial districts in Washington State since 1984. The organization is part of the Main Street America coordinating program. Main Street America pairs historic preservation with economic revitalization to support over 1,200 neighborhoods and communities across the country.

In Washington State, that support comes in the form of the Main Street Tax Incentive Program. According to Switzer, Downtown Renton businesses that pledge a donation to the Downtown Renton Partnership can receive 75% back in B&O tax credits.

While the Downtown Renton Partnership has been working hard to bring new businesses into its historic district, the current economic realities of the region have also been working in its favor.

“We’ve watched the exodus out of Downtown Seattle, and we’re really taking advantage of that opportunity here in Renton where we have lower rents and quite a few vacant properties that are ready for new opportunities, both for people that are moving out of that area and those who are looking to start their first small business adventure,” Switzer said.

In recent years, breweries, pubs, and dive bars have made a strong showing in Downtown Renton, and Switzer hopes that new businesses can offer some additional attractions.

“We’re really focused right now on foot traffic and cross promotion between our businesses. So one of our bigger goals is getting the business owners to see each other as teammates and not competition with all the same customers,” Switzer said. “That means people coming down here and moving from business to business to create more cross pollination between these businesses.”

Outdoor seating at Boon Boona in Downtown Renton (Natalie Bicknell Argerious)

Visitors to Downtown Renton today can stop by expansive café and roastery Boon Boona Coffee, which got its start in Seattle, but has really seemed to come into its own in Renton, 8-Bit Arcade Bar, which offers pinball, milk shakes, and beer, or Apparition Books, a used bookstore with a strong showing of sci-fi and fantasy titles. The appealing mix of new and old makes Renton a stand out among the Seattle metro region’s downtowns.

Do you have an idea for a business that would keep good company with those kinds of neighbors? If so, sign up for the Main Street Entrepreneur Workshop and Pitch Competition and see if you are selected to help continue this historic downtown’s growth spree.

Article Author

Natalie Bicknell Argerious (she/her) is a reporter and podcast host at The Urbanist. She previously served as managing editor. A passionate urban explorer since childhood, she loves learning how to make cities more inclusive, vibrant, and environmentally resilient. You can often find her wandering around Seattle's Central District and Capitol Hill with her dogs and cat. Email her at natalie [at] theurbanist [dot] org.