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Community Profile: Dennis Comer – Executive Director at Central Area Collaborative

Dennis Comer is a member of the Department of Neighborhoods’ Generational Wealth Initiative cohort and a designer of the pilot project Community Controlled Capital.  

“Community Controlled Capital is a direct attempt at bypassing systemic racist financial institution practices that prevent minority-owned small businesses the opportunity to receive fair treatment in the access of capital.  This pilot project looks to provide emergency funding for small businesses that may incur immediate hardship, without having to go through the process of lending institutions and layers of bureaucracy which lead to incurring more debt.”  ~Dennis Comer  

Comer moved to Seattle from Washington, D.C. in 2011. At the time, almost everyone he spoke to had warned him not to open a business in the Central District because it wasn’t safe. But Comer didn’t listen to the warnings. He and his wife opened both a vegan dessert bakery and a vegan deli which is now closed. Today, they use the commercial kitchen as a food incubator for other BIPOC food startups.  

“Small business is what holds up the economy of the United States. Running a small business helps you generate wealth for yourself, and it levels the playing field.” ~ Dennis Comer 

The Power of Micro Businesses 

As part of his work at Central Area Collaborative, Comer values the contributions micro businesses make to the local economy.  

“It’s really about paying homage to DeCharlene Williams [local activist and business owner] who reminded us all the time that it’s not just about the brick-and-mortar businesses. The people working out of the trunk of their car are also bringing money to the table. DeCharlene didn’t want to allow those people to fall through the cracks. And with the upzoning that was happening, many of those small independent businesses working out of their car or home couldn’t afford to rent a brick-and-mortar place.”  ~ Dennis Comer 

As part of their Generational Wealth Initiative pilot cohort, Central Area Collaborative, which was founded in 2016, disbursed $55,000 in emergency funding to small and micro businesses facing unexpected expenses starting in June 2023.  The loans are low-interest or no-interest and can be repaid with work done in the community. 

Dennis Comer said that the pilot didn’t come without its own challenges. They learned that financial education and budgeting is a critical part of the emergency funding process. And now that the program will be handed off to the Seattle Office of Economic Development, Comer hopes that the City will integrate the program into an official and ongoing policy.   

Learn more about Central Area Collaborative on their website.