On Monday, February 13, the Old Pasadena Management District, Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, Playhouse District Association and South Lake Avenue Business Association hosted a candidate forum with City Council candidates appearing on the March 7th ballot. Unfortunately due to travel I wasn’t able to attend the forum however I am a candidate for District 7 and I wanted to share some of my ideas on supporting business growth in our City given my experience as the owner of two small businesses—SVN Public Relations and Banter & Bliss Candle Co.
I co-founded SVN Public Relations (formerly 7 Second Strategies) in 2013 and founded Banter & Bliss Candle Co. in 2015 and each company has different challenges—consultancy vs. retail— but for the purposes of this article I am going to focus on the small business retail sector because that’s where I’ve seen a host of challenges and, as a result, an opportunity for creative solutions. From expensive storefronts to hiring employees, the retail sector comes with additional hurdles that I haven’t encountered with SVN Public Relations. In fact, Banter & Bliss Candle Co. is currently located at Los Angeles’ largest permanent artisan warehouse, CRAFTED at the Port of LA, primarily due to the venue’s limited operating hours, flexible lease terms, and overall affordability.
As Pasadena Now has noted, the candidates at the forum focused on the need to promote small business over big box retailers, the rise of ecommerce as a challenge to brick-and-mortar, and the increasing number of empty storefronts around the City, among other issues. While the idea of promoting small business is a good one (and one that I fully support as the only small business owner running in District 7 by ballot identification), we can’t minimize the important financial impact that big box retailers have on our local economy and the role that they play as anchor tenants to attract foot traffic to our shopping districts (and the small businesses that operate in their midst!). So, it’s not so much about big vs. small as it is about the interplay of both to create an experience so extraordinary that you can’t get it on Amazon or GrubHub.
What does this mean for our business districts? It means we need a vision that fosters solutions that will actually connect the dots between empty storefronts, rising rents, creating local job opportunities, and our desire to recruit and retain both small and big businesses. It means we should be actively recruiting businesses to Pasadena that adopt corporate social responsibility (CSR) models as a way of doing business. And, it means we should think outside the box to see whether there are opportunities to promote small business via shared retail space similar to what they do at CRAFTED at the Port of Los Angeles (probably on a smaller scale as much as I’d really love to see the Borders on South Lake divided into shared retail space to promote up-and-coming independent brands).
Last week I had the opportunity to attend The Heart Series, a 2-day conference for conscious companies to share and learn best practices for making an impact, and hear the CEO & Co-Founder of Everytable, Sam Polk, talk about his journey from Wall Street to becoming a social entrepreneur. Everytable’s mission is to make good food available to everyone. They price their meals according to the neighborhoods they serve so you’re paying less and bringing better food to more communities. What’s more, they hire from the communities that their stores are located in and, according to their website, “many store employees are graduates from nonprofits like Groceryships and The Right Way Foundation, which supports former foster kids.” According to Advertising Age, “millennials are expected to spend more than $200 billion annually starting in 2017” and it’s a fairly well known fact that we’re the fiercest CSR supporters. So, if we can connect the dots between empty storefronts, rising rents, creating local job opportunities, recruiting and retaining small and big businesses and engaging our next generation residents…well, that’s an added bonus.
Now, back to the idea of creating an experience so extraordinary you can’t get it on Amazon. On the retail front, over-the-top rents and long-term lease agreements are nonstarters for many small business owners. We need to find creative ways to approach both of these issues to make doing business in Pasadena possible and to promote the necessary balance between big box stores and smaller retailers. For example, a Y Combinator-backed company called Bulletin is reinventing retail, recognizing the need for a more flexible approach to shared retail space—it’s basically WeWork for retail. According to a recent article in TechCrunch, “Bulletin takes a physical location and divides it into different sections of varying sizes — some of them are just a little bit of shelf space, some of them are much bigger. Then each of those sections can be rented out by different businesses on a month-by-month basis… In some cases, brands may see this as a way to experiment with brick-and-mortar retail. In other cases, they might just want to rent out space for a month or two to launch a new product.”
I see a lot of opportunity to attract innovative businesses like Everytable and Bulletin to Pasadena, especially in the South Lake Avenue Business District where we’ve seen the addition of hip and trendy retail and restaurant concepts like SoulCycle, Sugarfish, Philz Coffee, Urban Plates, and Floyd’s 99 Barbershop. If elected to City Council for District 7, I promise to always think big when it comes to the issues that affect business owners—both big and small—in Pasadena.
This op-ed originally appeared at www.pasadenanow.com on February 23, 2017.