Small Business Voices: The Broken Rack’s Wayne & Marilyn Boucher

Published On March 24, 2015 | By Guest Contributor | Community Voices, Minimum Wage, News & Commentary

In light of recent discussions regarding a $14.42 livable wage ordinance in our city that would be the highest in the nation, The E’ville Eye wanted to provide a forum for small business owners and stakeholders to speak out on the impacts this will personally have on them and their opinions on how best to implement this. Our second entry is one of the city’s few adult recreation options: The Broken Rack Pool Hall owned by husband & wife tandem Wayne & Marilyn Boucher. The Broken Rack has been an Emeryville business for 17 years and employees 25 mostly part-time people.

The Broken Rack originally opened in the Emeryville Public Market in 1998. After the Public Market was sold in 2013their business had to either relocate or close. The Bouchers shopped around other spots in the East Bay, but ultimately decided to stay in Emeryville after finding a suitable location at 5768 Peladeau. Their preference for this location partially hinged on its proximity to a planned Greenway segment at Powell & Hollis that would enable outdoor patio access to their patrons and a substantial benefit to their business. This was expected to be complete by 2013, yet the City has still not broken ground here and it remains a dirt strip.

The Broken Rack reopened in July of last year at a considerable personal expense amid many delays including a 3-1/2 month closure. Business has been good since the reopening, but the Bouchers say that had they known that less than a year later the City might increase the minimum wage by 60%, they would not have considered Emeryville a favorable environment for small business and would not have chosen to try to stay in business here. The following letter expresses their thoughts on this proposed minimum wage ordinance.

The complete Proposed Minimum Wage Ordinance Draft can be read here.


Dear Emeryville Councilmembers & Community,

Does the City Council want to drive small, independent businesses out of Emeryville? That could be an unintended consequence if the Council votes to go forward with its proposal to raise the minimum wage in Emeryville to $14.42 an hour—which would be the highest in the country and second highest (next to Australia) in the world!

We all know the minimum wage is going up across America. It’s inevitable and long past due. My husband and I own The Broken Rack, a pool hall with restaurant and bar located in Emeryville. Like many other small business owners we support raising the minimum wage. After all, in a small business the people who work for you are people you know. We simply want to see the minimum wage increased in a thoughtful, fair way that allows businesses like ours to make the adjustments needed to stay in business and puts us on a level playing field with other small businesses in neighboring communities. The proposal before the Emeryville City Council does neither.

Make no mistake about it, in the restaurant industry at least, increases in the minimum wage must be paid for by the consumer in the form of higher prices. In an industry of notoriously low profit margins the increase can’t be simply absorbed. Some of us will try to rework staffing models—reducing the amount of work available and service levels—but all of us will have to raise prices. And it’s an economic truism that when prices go up, demand goes down. When prices rise across the board and over time, consumers adjust. If prices are raised too abruptly, the result can be decreased revenue in combination with rising costs—a recipe for going out of business.

Oakland merchants have been vocal regarding their concern over the impact on their businesses of that city’s recent 36% increase (from $9.00 to $12.25) in its minimum wage. But at least Measure FF raising the minimum wage in Oakland was the topic of many months of public discussion and a general vote. In San Francisco the electorate voted to raise their minimum wage from $9 in stages, reaching $15 in 2018. The Emeryville Council proposes to raise this city’s minimum wage by 60% all at once, with virtually no advance warning or public discussion, let alone public vote. And it would burden Emeryville small businesses with a minimum wage 18% higher than their counterparts in Oakland, the bay area city with the next highest minimum wage. There is the very real possibility that the combination of the magnitude of the increase and the disparity with neighboring Oakland will drive some of our small businesses out of business, putting low wage earners that are intended to benefit out of work instead. Is it likely under these conditions that Emeryville will attract other small, independent businesses to replace those that are lost?

My husband and I would welcome a regional minimum wage of $12.25. It would help us to do something we would like to do anyway—raise the wages of our lowest paid employees—without putting us at a competitive disadvantage with similar establishments. We believe the resulting price increases would be in a range that the public would support. It seems to us that the reasonable and responsible course for Emeryville to take is to align itself with the Oakland model. There will be a meeting of the Emeryville City Council on April 7 where there will be a reading of the proposed ordinance and a study session. The council is fast tracking this with plans to take action on the proposal in May and have the new minimum wage in place July 1. We hope that Emeryville residents will join with us and other small business owners in calling on the Emeryville City Council to reflect on the impact this ordinance will have on local small business and take a more balanced approach by enacting a $12.25 minimum wage—fair to Emeryville workers and fair to Emeryville small business.

– Marilyn Boucher
The Broken Rack Inc.

About The Author

The E'ville Eye Guest Contributor series invites Emeryville City Council members, businesses, residents & neighbors to share their opinions and voice about a broad range of subjects involving our city. Contact us if your interested in submitting an editorial or story.

10 Responses to Small Business Voices: The Broken Rack’s Wayne & Marilyn Boucher

  1. Betsy Cooley says:

    I am in total agreement with everything said in this article. Thank you for coming forward and speaking up. Please come to the Study Session on the Minimum Wage on April 7th at City. We were told it would be before the regular City Council meeting, which would most likely mean 6 p.m. or 6:30 p.m., but the exact time will be known when the agenda is published a week or so before the meeting. I would encourage anyone who has an opinion about the Proposed Minimum Wage Ordinance to attend the Study Session and express your views.

  2. Great post and well-told, first-person testimony. It’s right on point in every aspect. Thank you.

  3. Jac Asher says:

    Hi, All–
    I need to correct misinformation that is being circulated:
    The draft ordinance does not include an immediate hike to $14.42 for small business on July 1. That is misinformation.

    Right now, small biz would begin @ $12.25 and we have an 18 month phase-in toward the higher rate. The council set up a framework to recognize the needs of/impacts upon small businesses (and non-profits). The length of the phase-in is one of the issues before us in the draft ordinance.

    April 7th will provide us with the opportunity to hear more about small businesses, the length of the proposed phase-in (and more). Please contact me if you have questions or would like me to respond to any other misinformation small businesses have been given regarding the minimum wage ordinance.

    Sincerely,
    Jac Asher
    Emeryville City Council
    jacasher@emeryville.org

  4. Jac Asher says:

    Here is the ordinance. There is no “adjustment.” The proposal has been tracked like this from the get-go. Go back and watch the meeting or look @ the draft ordinance on p. 4 of 16. http://emeryville.org/DocumentCenter/Home/View/7793

    I do not appreciate you accusing me of “adjusting” when the facts demonstrate that you are wrong and have been circulating misinformation. Poor reception of misinformation is, indeed, a problem, but it is not one that I engineered. If you would like to correct this for the public, then that would be a step in the right direction. I mentioned this to you last week, yet you persist in circulating misinformation.

    Jac

    • Rob says:

      So apparently there are more than one drafts of this ordinance floating around and when I interviewed Ruth Atkin last week, she was not aware of this structure either. This “misinformation” is being perpetuated by poor clarity by the city in my opinion. And to be clear, The Broken Rack has more than the 10 employee “small business” threshold the city is proposing so this would not apply to them anyway, correct?

  5. Jac Asher says:

    Ruth was absent from the meeting when we voted on this item. It has yet to come back to council. There is a difference between Ruth not yet seeing the ordinance and you claiming expertise and outrage. Admit you made a mistake, correct it in the articles you’ve already posted, let the small businesses know that you were misinformed, and then, using the correct document and the footage of the meetings from Council discussing these issues, pull out the salient points for study and discussion that are ahead on April 7th. Or continue to claim that spreading misinformation is not your fault. That’s another route.

    • Rob says:

      You didn’t answer my question about this being applicable to the Broken Rack (Who in fact wrote this guest piece). The 2/24 article was posted prior to the revised draft being posted.

  6. Reggie Jackson says:

    Certainly a hot button issue it seems.
    I myself am a big proponent of raising minimum wages to “livable wages”. It can be successfully argued that within the bulk of the bay area – Emeryville included, even $15/hr is not a livable wage. 2 people making that on a fulltime wage basis could likely just barely scrape by sharing a 1bdrm apartment in Emeryville.

    To be fair, the inflated costs of living in the Bay Area is not necessarily the fault of all business owners. Obviously there are hundreds of factors @ play and there is more that our local city, state and federal governments could do to help in that regard. That said, there has to be a tipping point where something major is done to attempt to allow for the opportunity for people to live near their work. Maybe by people having more income, it will allow them to spend more in places like the Broken Rack which is sort of the point right? It’s probably safe to say that American’s (in general) don’t save for crap – we spend what we make and hope that things work out when we’re old. If we make more, we spend more. The part about trickle-down economics the republicans like to forget about – actually paying the little people.

    This seems like as just as good as any “shot in the dark” to help out the community and city as a whole – I’d call it a minor-major. As pointed out, customers will eventually either adjust to price increases or not. The fact that surrounding areas are raising their wages as well speaks to that fact. Business’s should not have to compete for customers based on how little they can get away with paying their employees but on the specific merits of the product or service they are providing. As we all know, prices for everything goes up over time – that’s how it works in our country for right or wrong. Wages have lagged behind all other sectors of growth for some time now so we’re now paying catch up trying to fix a long going problem.

    Anyway, my point for whatever little its worth to anyone is that at this point, anything is worth trying. This shouldn’t be sold as the magic fix all to everything but hell if it helps in any way its worth trying right?

    To the point of a phased increase over time, that does make sense to me. Doing a big hike all in 1 go would certainly lead to issues. Maybe the city could do a better job of informing the public on those plans, maybe not. It appears based on our council members posts that some sort of phased increase is indeed the plan.

    To the author of the story – thank you for posting and keeping the public aware of what is going on. I’d say it probably makes sense to get this issue of mis-information sorted out in private with the appropriate parties and posting the final results of the back and forth once understood instead of arguing about it in public – my 2 cents!

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