Tacoma is full of surprises

The city has a more than a few gems tucked among the clutter.

To say that Tacoma is full of surprises would be the ultimate understatement.

Most, if not all cities (or neighborhoods) have reputations and identities that, for better or worse everyone “knows”.

Sometimes, but not always, there is a grain of truth or history to these images, rumors and reputation.

Tacoma, I am sure, confirms whatever biases most visitors (and a few residents) bring to it.

But it also has a more than a few gems tucked among the clutter.

Location, location, location

Some of us hold the idea of soup as a metaphor — the premise of soup is that, as a taste test, any spoonful will give a relatively representative taste — any given spoonful is what the whole soup tastes like. To put it mildly, cities are not like that.

Every neighborhood, even every few blocks within a neighborhood has, in most cases, a very different pace, sense of energy, safety and identity.

In other words, every spoonful of almost any urban “soup” will be different.

Maybe every city has its own little corners and businesses tucked away, off the main thoroughfares and barely visible in, or beyond the familiar strip malls.

Some areas are perpetually ignored and neglected, others are appealing for a while and then abandoned. Some areas (like many warehouse or brewery districts) find renewal in rehabbed spaces. Urban architecture is often a brick and stone remnant of the best intentions that stand like fossils of a distant incomprehensible era.

But I know Tacoma best, and as familiar as I think my local streets, neighborhoods and business districts might be, I am always surprised at what exists or emerges when I have not been looking.

Way Off-Broadway

Great businesses often start small — but with a big idea — or at least a vision of what they could become.

Established businesses are great, and they have proven their determination and adaptability as they face ever-changing market forces and personal challenges.

But small businesses, even nascent businesses with just a few flickers of identity, vision and purpose are, to me, the most fascinating and intriguing.

Small businesses have a staggering failure rate.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 20 percent of small businesses fail within the first year.

By the end of the second year, 30 percent of businesses will have failed.

By the end of the fifth year, about half will have failed. And by the end of the decade, only 30 percent of businesses will remain — that’s a 70 percent failure rate.

As you might expect, there are different definitions of “failure” — down-sizing or re-organization could (or could not) be seen as benchmarks for “failure”.

And “failure”, far more than success, for better or worse, is both an unforgiving and unforgettable teacher.

Some industries, regions or eras have unforeseeable challenges from interest rate changes to pandemics. These tend to hit new and smaller businesses the hardest.

But smaller business are also uniquely situated to take advantage of market shifts or unexpected opportunities. Smaller businesses also tend to be renters, so shifts in real estate prices may be an incentive to buy, re-locate or set up shop semi-permanently remotely.

Smaller businesses are of course more nimble and flexible in the face of unexpected economic headwinds.

About half of all Americans work for small businesses.

And while large corporations often grab the headlines, it’s small businesses that form the foundation of the American economy. By some measures, small businesses are well over 90% of all businesses across the country.

And of those small businesses, 80% operate without any paid staff. In other words, they are one-person (or one small team or family) operations.

About 15% of small businesses have one to nineteen employees.

That means that only about 5% of small businesses have more than 19 employees.

When it comes to a fledgling business, or even an entrepreneurial vision, the rules, routes and expectations are often, by necessity, a bit more fluid than a traditional business plan might have led one to expect.

Here’s profile of two small businesses I’ve recently discovered. They both have an eye on a far larger horizon. I expect both to do well in the future and certainly encourage all of us to support them in their early stages.

Creation Station

One, Creation Station (www.tacomacreationstation.com), has only been around a couple months.

Creation Station is, as you might guess, a place of creating.

With a variety of drill presses, industrial laser cutters (for wood or metal) sewing machines and a full range of 3D printers — and your local neighborhood welding workshop — and, of course, teachers on hand to guide their use, almost anything can take shape in the hands of creators of all ages and interests.

In other words, if you want to precision laser cut metal (or almost any other material) or print anything from a banner to a T-shirt, you can do it here.

And, as a bonus, the classroom space is available as a no-strings attached, free publicly available co-working space (from 11am -7pm, M-F) when classes are not in session.

In short, you can find creative tools and a few creative companions (and make connections) at 1934 Market in downtown Tacoma.

On the small stage

It’s far from the big screen, and technically it’s not even a stage, but it is a performing space.

You won’t find big names at Dukesbay (dukesbay.org), but you will find passion — and creation of an entirely different kind — and you just might find people you share a passion with.

Dukesbay is the ultimate hands-on, local, immediate performance company that takes Tacoma area history and turns it into a story and then a performance.

These are often period pieces with a local flair, a distinct voice and point of view.

If you have any interest in the barest of bare bones theater, or any aspect of it, from building sets to developing costumes, or just want to catch a performance by a stalwart set of thespians with an unquenchable vision, don’t miss the opportunity to see actors “strut upon the stage” as they bring a vision to life.

Some performers are seasoned practitioners, others are just beginning, either way, they are literally putting their energies, passions and muscles into an art form as old as time.

We humans do our best to make sense of the bizarre, mundane and ridiculous events that transpire around us. Dukesbay puts them into a form to inspire, encourage and remind us that, if nothing else, we are not alone.

Or as Macbeth put it;

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot