Growing pains: Tacoma’s resurgent downtown forcing some businesses out

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TACOMA, Wash. -- Seven years ago, Jason Brinar fell in love.

"When I came to 'Antique Row,' I kind of fell in love with this area," Brinar says.

He fell hard -- for Tacoma, and this neighborhood in particular. He opened his business, a second-hand-store called Brandy’s Attic on Broadway. It’s included in a three-block stretch of folksy small businesses, a neighborhood called Antique Row.

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It’s also a neighborhood steeped in history in the shadows of the Pantages and Rialto theaters, both 100 years old. The theaters - and the entire neighborhood - are undergoing a dramatic transformation.

A century ago, this was the cultural center of Tacoma, and it's making a comeback.

“All these buildings were part of this neighborhood, and really kind of defined the character of our city," says former Tacoma Mayor and historian Bill Baarsma.

But character can be hard to define. Restoring this neighborhood's legacy is undoubtedly a good thing for Tacoma.

"I couldn’t be happier about what happened here," Baarsma says.

But for Jason and some small business owners on The Row? Not so much.

“We are personally going out of business because the building sold”, Brinar says.

They call it "the Seattle influence." The Old City Hall neighborhood is hot again. Investors are moving in. Apartments and condos are replacing businesses. Rents are rising.

“The Seattle people are coming down to Tacoma because it’s cheaper to buy, but they are expecting Seattle prices and they’re not there yet,” Brinar says. “We don’t have the population to do that yet.”

Some business owners can't afford to stay. Some renters can't afford to move in. That means vacancies on The Row. That means fewer customers for the businesses that remain.

“That is pressure, you know, pressure in the marketplace,” Baarsma says.

Brinar sees it a little differently.

“They're a bad steward for the community. Not being able to rent those places out. Vacancies devalue the neighborhood. We don’t want that," Brinar says.

As heartbroken as he is over his lost love, Jason is more concerned about his friends and fellow business owners on The Row.

“We want to keep this community. It’s a great community," he says.

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