From gentrification to a pandemic, Century Ballroom & The Tin Table have survived the odds
Hallie Kuperman and her staff at Century Ballroom and The Tin Table
have seen more than their fair share of change from the second floor of Capitol Hill’s Oddfellows Building at the corner of 10th and E. Pine streets. From parking changes and the addition of the streetcar and light rail to Cal Anderson Park's many transformations to massive residential and commercial development, for almost 24 years, Hallie has watched her professional home change on every level that a neighborhood can change.
She opened Century Ballroom in 1997, a business with a mission: “To promote social dancing of all kinds, Century Ballroom encourages a diverse community that includes your gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, race, age, and religion. As a DJ and dance instructor herself, dancing is in Hallie’s DNA.
In 2009, she opened The Tin Table across the hall from Century Ballroom. A warm, cozy restaurant with an eclectic menu of Pacific Northwest dishes, cocktails, and an expansive list of bubbles. Hallie felt that every meal out should feel like a celebration and wanted her customers to feel the same when dining at The Tin Table.
With two businesses rooted in gathering and community, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Hallie on all fronts. We asked Hallie how she and her team have been coping this past year and what is on the horizon for her businesses.
GSBA: How have you pivoted both of your businesses to meet the challenges and obstacles brought on by the pandemic?
We made a choice early on not to teach dance online. Century Ballroom is so
steeped in social and partner dancing that it didn’t feel right to take that dancing online. We also knew the internet would be inundated with classes.
We waited to offer take out for the Tin Table since it wasn’t something we had offered pre-pandemic, and we wanted to make sure we got it right. When restaurants could re-open indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, we transformed Century Ballroom into a restaurant to have ample space for tables. It was The Tin Table at Century Ballroom. We spent many, many months going with the flow of the neighborhood, the city, and the country in terms of staying open on any given day or choosing to close. It was unpredictable, at best.
One new idea we launched was “to-go” baskets or bags with themes including Fancy Picnic, Glamping, and date night. And, of course, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and NYE dinners. The latter included candles, glitter, balloons, and fake snow.
GSBA: How has being a Ready for Business grant recipient helped you and your business?
We recognize that both of our particular businesses will be some of the last to open. We have been able to keep operating because of the generous support we have received. Rent and payroll are the obvious significant expenses, but there are so many more expenses beyond those two that need to be paid as well.
GSBA: These days, what keeps you going?
Knowing how vital Century Ballroom has been to the community over the last (almost) 24 years and the outpouring of support we have received makes fighting for the business’ survival all worthwhile.
GSBA: What’s next for Century Ballroom and The Tin Table?
We’re starting a weekend takeout series called “The Tin Table Travels.” Each week we offer a themed three-course meal highlighting cuisines of various countries, including Germany, Italy, France (for Valentine’s Day, of course), and more. We will resume indoor dining once we are allowed to do so. Right before the indoor dining ban, we had started dinner and a movie night in the Ballroom. I am excited to start that up again. As for dancing, once we can have up to 10 people in a class, we will resume teaching classes again. I know large public dances or 70-person classes, which are our bread and butter, won’t be happening for quite some time. But I sure look forward to that first dance, whether it’s OutDancing for the LGBTQ+ community, Swing, Salsa, Kizomba, Bachata, Tango, Waltz…I know it will be epic!
Century Ballroom is one of the 65 BIPOC, LGBTQ, or women-owned small businesses in the Seattle Metropolitan Seattle area who received a grant from the Ready for Business Fund in the fall of 2020. Co-founded by GSBA and Comcast Washington, the Ready for Business Fund provides $2,500 grants and wrap-around support services to minority-owned small businesses most impacted by the economic downturn due to COVID-19. The program's next application will open in March, with a $100,000 fundraising goal. Click here to donate or learn more about the Ready for Business Fund.