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'How is that a compromise?': Iconic Dick's Drive-In slams Seattle head tax

The focus was largely on Amazon, but small businesses like Dick's Drive-in say it will hit them hardest.
Dick's Drive-In in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood (Credit: KING)

With the new employee head tax hitting Seattle next year, big businesses will pay big bucks; $275 per employee, per year.

The debate has most often focused on Amazon, but there are roughly 600 businesses that will be affected, some more than others. One of those is the iconic Dick's Drive-In.

"That's what's really frustrating, this isn't about Amazon at all," said Saul Spady, whose grandfather founded Dick's back in 1954. "This is a tax on high-volume, low-margin businesses, like restaurants, and that's where it's going to put the most pain. And it's making restaurants like Dick's Drive-ins think really strongly about do we make our workforce more efficient, do we give less money to charity, or maybe we just don't be a business in Seattle."

For some, Dick's Drive-In is as much Seattle as the Space Needle, or Starbucks. It's been here longer than both but now must face the fact of doing business in a city that's rapidly changing.

WATCH: Dick's Drive-in slams Seattle head tax

Meanwhile, restaurateur Ethan Stowell is primed to open his newest venture in fine dining, Cortina. It's unclear whether the head tax will affect him directly, but he'll be paying for it one way or another.

"There's dozens of purveyors that we buy from that all have to pay it, and they have to raise their prices," said Stowell. "If milk costs me x amount of dollars and now it goes up, my percentage is my percentage, I need to make sure I'm fiscally responsible with my business and they're going to be reflected in the price."

Like Dick's, Stowell and other Seattle businesses have given back to their community but admits more could be done. The question is who spends that money the best.

"I'd be happy to write a check for homelessness. Am I happy to write a check to the city of Seattle for them to manage my money? Not super stoked about that," Stowell said.

The city council considered a $500 tax per employee but settled on $275, which will raise $47 million per year over the next five years.

Some see compromise, but Spady cites Denver's head tax equivalent, the Occupational Privilege Tax, saying, "If the nearest, largest head tax in the country is $50 and [Seattle's is] six times the nearest head tax, how is that a compromise?"

While big companies focus on big bucks to cover the tax, Spady will undoubtedly focus on change.

"Six of our nine council members are up for vote in 2019 and I think the city of Seattle is going to send a pretty clear message," he said.

Spady says Dick's, which is building a new location in Kent, is unlikely to open another location in Seattle in his lifetime.

"That's because the city of Seattle is making a very clear message is this is not where business is done," Spady said. "And they have no interest in having an honest conversation about homelessness, having an honest conversation about the massive spending that's going on."

RELATED: Seattle City Council passes smaller head tax with end date

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