(Pictured above, l-r: Randy Massengale of SU RAMP, business owner Earl Lancaster, Amelia Marckworth of SU RAMP, student Latio Cosmos, ’20, and Brad Lange of Capitol Hill Housing discuss the new lease for Earl's Cuts and Styles)
Earl’s Cuts and Styles—the iconic Central District barbershop owned and operated successfully for nearly three decades by Earl Lancaster—is claiming a slice of Seattle’s rapid growth and development. Lancaster is among several local business owners working with Seattle University’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center to retrofit their current business models in ways that provide passage into modern retail spaces in this historically African-American neighborhood.
After raising $220,000 in loans and grants to build out and lease a street-level space in the Liberty Bank Building, Lancaster signed his new lease on April 15 and celebrated this milestone with his team of community partners.
“It’s a beautiful day, everybody,” said Lancaster, after signing the lease documents at Capitol Hill Housing’s offices.
“It really is an honor to have you move into our building, to keep you at that corner,” said Christopher Persons, CEO of Capitol Hill Housing, which developed the building that will house Earl’s Cuts and Styles. “It’s been a privilege being part of this development, Earl. We’re very, very pleased.”
In 2016, Seattle University’s Albers School of Business and Economics received a $500,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase to develop the Resource Amplification & Management Program (RAMP), which is led by Sue Oliver, director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center. RAMP matches highly trained SU teams of faculty, staff and students with Central Area businesses.
“JPMorgan Chase is committed to helping communities make long-term investments in programs that provide viable pathways for low-income entrepreneurs to flourish in our city and to achieve self-sufficiency and success,” said Phyllis Campbell, JPMorgan Chase Chairman of the Pacific Northwest. “We feel our support of Seattle University’s Albers School of Business and Economics is an important way we are helping to build long-term success of the local economy.”
RAMP provides business coaching, consulting and deliverables such as marketing, business and financial plans, as well as access to SU interns, subject matter experts and referrals to community resources. Since 2016, RAMP has served more than 150 businesses with more than 2,000 hours of training, coaching and technical assistance from teams of students, mentors, volunteers and community partners.
“RAMP’s goal is for these businesses to build their capacity to thrive in the midst of Seattle’s booming economy and concurrent gentrification,” said Randy Massengale, who leads RAMP’s community outreach efforts and who worked closely with Lancaster and Seattle U students assigned to his project. “The ability for Earl and other local business owners to remain in the Central District is essential to Seattle’s economic, social and ethnic fabric. The key to affordable housing and commercial retail space is allowing business owners and their families to stay and work in the community where they started.”
Lancaster began working with the RAMP team in 2018 when a developer bought Midtown Center, where Earl’s was located, to build a seven-story apartment building. His is the last black-owned business to remain along the 23rd and Union corridor by moving to the Liberty Bank Building, a high rise on 24th and Union. The new shop is expected to open this summer.
“RAMP is a great venture because it can help a lot of small businesses in the neighborhood transition to the new situation in Seattle, the new demographics of Seattle,” said Lancaster. “RAMP gave me all of the help I needed. Of course I had to do a lot of the work myself. They were there for me on the legal work, writing proposals, doing their due diligence, talking with people . . . . SU and the RAMP team made it possible for me to get further along.”
The RAMP program brought together a customized team that included an experienced business mentor, a student client account manager and student volunteers. Together they worked with Lancaster to convert his practical business experience into assets such as a business plan, bank-ready financial projections and credit history, while collaborating closely with a variety of community partners.
“RAMP was the hub for orchestrating all of this,” said Massengale. “We negotiated the leases, worked on the loan applications and helped to arrange bridge financing . . . We had to attack this like a major commercial project and we treat our clients as if they were of equal stature.”
Lancaster’s funders are a mix of public and private sources: Craft3, a regional nonprofit community development financial institution, Capitol Hill Housing, the nonprofit developer of the Liberty Bank Building project, Seattle’s Office of Economic Development and the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture.
“I had the opportunity to watch the RAMP team work very effectively with Earl Lancaster over many months to understand his 30-year old business and role in the community and to prepare a business plan for his new venture at the Liberty Bank Building,” said Walter Zisette, senior development manager at Capitol Hill Housing. “RAMP didn’t just do a lot of business development work for Earl, they brought him along in the process so that he understood and participated in each step.”
SU public affairs student and client account manager, Latio Cosmos, ’20, said the opportunity to work with a community leader like Lancaster on such a high-profile project has made a deep impression. Cosmos plans to continue working for RAMP and one day, return to Africa, where he was born, to lead community revitalization efforts.
“Earl pulls weight in the community and being able to sit across the table from him is very empowering,” Cosmos said. “It’s not something every young man gets to do. These businesses are willing to step into the unknown and not just for themselves but to set an example for others. It’s inspiring to continue the work they are doing and to see them take that work to a whole other level.”
Because Lancaster had owned and managed a successful business for decades without borrowing money, his business model did not fit a traditional lender’s profile. Together, Lancaster and his Seattle U team created a solid, fundable portfolio, while convening multiple players to secure financing and leasing options for retail space in the new location. Named to honor the region’s first black-owned bank, the building provides subsidized housing on its upper floors and retail space on the first floor. It was hailed as an equalizer to displacement when it opened in March 2019.
“It means the world to me to remain in the Central District,” said Lancaster. “I grew up on 23rd and Union and I’ve been working on 23rd and Union for 30 years. It’s been a bittersweet feeling seeing a lot of people leave.”
Earl’s Cuts and Styles is not the only business with which RAMP is working to secure retail space in the Liberty Bank Building. The SU group is also working with two businesses with strong cultural ties to the neighborhood—Café Avole, an Ethiopian coffee house, and Communion, a That Brown Girl Cooks restaurant.
And nearby, RAMP has another project underway with Community House on 23rd and Jackson. Community House, which has multiple locations throughout Seattle, offers communal living and on-site care for people with mental illness. This location has street-level retail space that RAMP is working to secure financing and lease options for the Brown Sugar Bakery and the Catfish Corner restaurant. Opening Catfish Corner at 23rd and Jackson would mean reviving a beloved Central District destination.
“For our students to have the opportunity to work with someone of Earl Lancaster‘s stature and with other small businesses in the community is a real blessing,” said Joseph Phillips, dean of the Seattle U Albers School of Business and Economics. “This service learning opportunity for them is a wonderful example of the experiential learning our students engage in. It will help them become leaders pursuing a just and humane world.”