A hand-up with a pop-up: LB Economic Development Department seeks to help small start-ups with free retail space

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Cory Bilicko | Signal Tribune
The Corner Pop-Up, 2640 E. Anaheim St., will officially open Thursday, Oct. 24 as a space in which several local small businesses can operate free of charge.

It may sound like just a dream for small-business entrepreneurs, but, beginning next month, the City of Long Beach will offer 900 square feet of retail space to several local start-ups– free of charge.

The Corner Pop-Up, located at 2640 E. Anaheim St., will officially open Thursday, Oct. 24 and will be available from Thursday to Sunday for several consecutive weekends at a time to small businesses that apply, qualify and participate in an orientation program.

“The Corner Pop-Up is a place to experience Long Beach’s entrepreneurial scene, where residents and visitors can discover new, locally developed products and services as they launch,” states the city’s webpage for the project. “The creative space is an innovative partnership among the City of Long Beach, LINC Housing and Pacific Gateway that combines entrepreneurial support, youth programming and workforce development.”

Semira Araya, business-development specialist in the city’s Economic Development Department, explained that the idea emerged about two years ago from the city council’s adoption of the Blueprint for Economic Development, which has seven focus areas.

“Two very important focus areas that relate to the work that we do are business assistance and economic inclusion,” Araya said. “There are a number of objectives and recommendations listed there, and a lot of it is around supporting local entrepreneurship, helping them break down some of the barriers to entry. So, we found that, a lot of times, businesses don’t have the resources they need to start up and grow: access to space, access to technical assistance, access to capital. We look at the Corner Pop-up as a place where they can think about ideas. It might be a very small micro-business, so they can test products and think about how they can market their brand, and then we connect them with the proper technical-assistance providers that would then help them see that branding and marketing, or whatever it may be, through to an existing business.”

Araya, however, indicated that exactly how that will happen has not been determined– but with good reason.

“We’re not really defining a lot of that at this time because we want to make sure we’re working with each business and working with them on their idea,” she said. “So, if we have a business who maybe wants to come in and teach yoga, we’re open to them partnering with another business who can then come in and provide maybe candles or [something else] that can complement their business. So, there’s no limitation, as far as that goes.”

As for which businesses are matched up, Araya said it is expected that the process would happen naturally and that her department is open to the entrepreneurs’ suggestions and requests.

Another area of flexibility is the duration of time the businesses will be able to occupy the space. That decision, as well, will be at least partially determined by the participants based on their individual needs, Araya said. However, at this time, there is one year to figure everything out.

“Right now, it’s in pilot mode. We have a lease for a year,” Araya said. “If it’s successful during that year, we will look into ways that we can continue the programming, but our hope is that this will be here for some time.”

Yet another aspect that is open-ended is how to determine success.

“At the end of the day, we want businesses to benefit from it,” Araya said. “So, we’ll be tracking sales, different resources they were able to connect to through this space. We’ll look at some of the other programming that’s going to be happening here. We’re going to have some workforce-development workshops. So, just a number of metrics that we’re going to be tracking over the first year to see if this space is really a value-add to the local small-business community. That will be defined as we continue to firm up the program.”

Araya said the hope is to have a wide range of business types occupying the space, but it is essentially being offered for the retail of goods or services, but no food preparation may be conducted there. She explained that the Corner Pop-Up does not have the proper facilities for cooking, nor the necessary permits to do so. Likewise, cannabis sellers and alcohol-service businesses would not be able to use the space.

Nevertheless, the lack of an operating license is not necessarily an obstacle to applying.

“Our hope is that they would have a business license, but we can work with them to apply for a business license because a lot of small businesses don’t have a business license,” she said. “They don’t know they need one. They don’t know the process. So, that’s part of the work that we do as the Economic Development Department. We help them navigate through the permitting, planning, business-licensing process.”

Holly Ferris, who handles media relations for LINC Housing Corporation, a nonprofit organization that builds, owns and operates affordable housing for seniors and families throughout California, said the project emerged from a partnership between her organization and the City. Directly above the Corner Pop-Up is housing for young people who have been emancipated from the foster-care system.

“Upstairs is 14 units for emancipated foster youth and transitional-age youth,” Ferris said, during an interview inside the Corner Pop-Up. “That’s what this building has been for a long time. This space has always been a retail space, but it just hasn’t been activated yet. This is the activation of it, and LINC Housing has become far more involved in community development and working with cities to expand– it’s not just about housing, it’s about small business– and there’s talk of, [with] this blank slate, how we can get the young people upstairs to participate in some of the small-business training that might happen in here with the entrepreneurs. Maybe they can volunteer, or maybe they can get paid to work in the space during the weekends. So, LINC is looking for that kind of partnership and collaboration as well.”

Ferris said that it is not yet known how much of those ideas can be brought to fruition, but, in the meantime, the space serves multiple uses, such as the site of exercise classes and a food bank for the local community.

Regardless of just how the space is activated in the next 12 months and what types of businesses occupy it, Araya sees it as a chance to link start-ups with what they need to be successful.

“We see this, really, as not just a physical space,” Araya said. “It’s a space that’s going to connect entrepreneurs to a wide range of resources.”

More information is available by visiting popuplb.com or emailing [email protected]